‘Lohengrin’s Sweetest Song’ – The History Behind Lohengrin Chocolate

By Scott Rose

Over time, enough foods, wines, and spirits have been themed to “Lohengrin” that all gathered together; they could well be presented during that opera’s opulent wedding feast.

The Alsatian producer Victor Hertz, for example, offers a Cuvée Lohengrin, a pinot gris. In 2012, when La Scala opened with a Claus Guth production of “Lohengrin” starring Jonas Kaufmann, Milan’s late, great chef Gualtiero Marchesi then feted the occasion with a swan-shaped bignè filled with chestnut puree.

And the dessert we know today as peach Melba actually has Lohengrin-related origins. Soprano Nellie Melba, friends with the legendary French chef Auguste Escoffier, gave him tickets to hear her as Elsa.

Inspired by the performance, Escoffier created a culinary dazzler; poached peaches over vanilla ice cream served in a silver bowl set inside a swan hand-carved of ice. Escoffier had this served to Nellie Melba with the name Pêche au cygne, peach with a swan. Only later was the recipe revised and named peach Melba.

Chocolate Bar Designed by National Theater Architect

Among Lohengrin-themed delicacies, however, a certain pride of position attaches to the elegantly crafted Lohengrin chocolate bars made by the Norwegian company Freia.

In 1911, to coincide with performances of “Lohengrin” given at Oslo’s National Theater, management commissioned the architect and designer Henrik Bull to design a chocolate confection. The self-same Bull had previously designed the National Theater inside and out.

The result of that design commission was the original Lohengrin bar, made of dark chocolate, to be sure. The confection featured stylized rose blossoms at its two ends connected by a thinner central shaft, all filled with fragrant rum cream. The packaging was a silver wrapper with a red sleeve bearing the name Lohengrin. If you look at enough photos of the National Theater’s interior décor and compare them with photos of unwrapped Lohengrins, you readily see that the same designing hand was involved in both.

Through 1914, Lohengrin chocolate was sold exclusively inside the National Theater. Thereafter, it was offered throughout Norway, becoming a tradition handed down through the generations. The National Association of Norwegian Architects gave Henrik Bull a medal for his design. Over time, that design was occasionally modified, yet in 2009, a Norwegian government ministry declared the Lohengrin chocolate bar part of the country’s cultural patrimony.

Taking to the Streets to Fight for Chocolate

Here is a measure of how significant Lohengrin chocolate is to Norwegian culture; a leading contemporary Norwegian artist, Håkon Bleken, painted a portrait of Richard Wagner holding an outsized Lohengrin chocolate bar with the legend “Wagner likes Lohengrin too” written across the artwork in Norwegian. The piece received considerable notice in the Norwegian media.

In the 1970s, when Freia Chocolates moved to abandon Lohengrin, a public outcry swiftly led to the classic bar’s remaining in production. More recently, alas, an American conglomerate acquired Freia, which moved to discontinue the chocolate bar in 2019.

That action led to Norwegian protests, sustained to this day, which so far has not resulted in the company relenting. On its Facebook page, the Norwegian National Opera & Ballet called attention to the emergency by advising people to join the group Lohengrins Venner (Lohengrin’s Friends).

That group grew to over 16,000 members, who posted emotional pleas for the return of Lohengrin chocolate. One participant said that she had hoarded the remaining bars and now occasionally places two of them atop her grandparents’ graves—as, for decades, this was their favorite candy.

When an official of the German History Museum in Berlin posted they were mounting an exhibit on Richard Wagner, they wondered if anybody could donate a Lohengrin bar for their show. One Norwegian smartie responded by saying, “Oh sure. You just want to eat it.”

Then there are the entertaining and elaborate accounts of how the Norwegian Eirik Chambe-Eng went about producing homemade Lohengrin bars, meticulously refining the recipe until it met with approval from his elderly grandmother.

As commercial reproduction is prohibited, Chambe-Eng can only make enough bars for family and close friends. And instead of infringing on the brand name, he cleverly christened his bars Ikkegrin, a portmanteau name combining Lohengrin with the Norwegian work for not, ikke.

More than one source alleges that when Lohengrin chocolate was first introduced inside the National Theater in Oslo in 1911, they used it as a prop in the opera. As of this writing, though, I could not discover exactly how the sweet was deployed onstage. I hope that somewhere, there will be an OperaWire reader who can answer this intriguing question. Meanwhile, for Lohengrin, Das süsse Lied verhallt . . . .


Special Features