Die Walküre

(Perfs 11th and 25th Feb 2014)
Revival Director: Genevieve Raghu
Siegmund: Andrew Friedhoff (11th Feb), Nick Buxton (25th Feb) Gerhilde:  Justine Viani
Sieglinde:  Laura Hudson Ortlinde:  Emily Blanch
Hunding:  Oliver Hunt Waltraute:  Jemma Brown
Brunnhilde:  Zoe South Rossweise:  Olivia Barry
Wotan:  Ian Wilson-Pope Siegrune:  Jennie Witton
Fricka:  Elizabeth Russo Grimgerde:  Joanna Gamble
Helmwige:  Cara McHardy Schwertleite:  Lindsay Bramley

Running Times:

(please note these are approximate)
Curtain Up: 6pm
Interval 1:  6.50pm
Act 2: 7.10pm
Interval 2:  8.25pm
Act 3: 8.45pm
Curtain Down: 9.55pm

Traditional Synopsis of Die Walküre:

Background:  Wotan, as chief of the Gods, seeks to rule the world.  He sacrificed one eye to drink from the waters of knowledge that flow from the roots of the World Ash Tree, broke a branch from it to make his governing spear, and subjugated giants, dwarves and men to his will.  The spear is his symbol of power, on which contracts and treaties are sealed, but Wotan has now enmeshed himself in a dilemma: having bargained the goddess of love Freia to the giants Fasolt and Fafner for the building of Valhalla, and eventually paid them by stealing the magic gold and ring of power from Alberich, he now cannot regain possession of the ring.  If it should fall back into Alberich’s hands, then all he has worked towards will be destroyed.  In order to find answers, he leaves the heavens to seek out Erda, the wisest earth-goddess, who warned him to flee from the curse of the ring, and finally overpowering her with the magic of love, gains wisdom from her.  Her price for this wisdom is to bear him Brünnhilde, chief amongst his Valkyrie daughters, and Wotan’s favourite.  These Valkyries serve as wish-maidens in Valhalla, and collect the dead heroes from battlefields to serve as an army against the might of Alberich’s forces of darkness.  Wotan also seeks to create a free hero, one who, despite no help from him, will do his bidding and take the ring from Fafner, who slew his brother Fasolt over the ring, and has now turned himself into a monstrous dragon and guards the gold and the ring deep in the forests to the East.  To this end, Wotan has lain with a mortal woman, who conceived and gave birth to the Wälsung (Volsung, or wolf-son) twins, Siegmund and Sieglinde; he has made their lives harsh and miserable.  Sieglinde was married to the brutal Hunding, and Siegmund followed his father, under the name of Wälse (Volsa, or Wolf) into the woods, whereby Wotan suddenly disappeared.  At Sieglinde’s wedding feast a stranger in a long cloak and large black hat arrived, and placed a magic sword into the ash tree which grows in Hunding’s home.  None can pull the sword free – for it is Wotan’s gift to Siegmund in his greatest hour of need.  Siegmund is pursued by kinsman of Hunding after he slew men he saw trying to marry a young girl to a man she didn’t love.  During a violent storm, he finds shelter in Hunding’s home, which is where the action starts.

 

Act One: Siegmund, wounded and weaponless, takes shelter from the storm, (depicted graphically in the Prelude by the orchestra), in the forest dwelling of Hunding.  Collapsing by the fire, he is approached by Sieglinde, unrecognised as yet as his lost twin sister.  He begs for water, and Sieglinde goes to fetch him some. Refreshed by the water, Sieglinde tells him that he is in Hunding’s home, and that she is Hunding’s wife, and that he must wait until Hunding returns.  Siegmund answers that he is unarmed and wounded, Sieglinde wishes to see his wounds, but he says they are nothing, he outran his foes, and even though the storm exhausted him, now the sun gazes on him.  Offering him a drink of mead, they share the drink and a powerful bond begins to grow between them.  Siegmund is about to leave, when Sieglinde asks who pursues him – his reply is bad luck follows him wherever he goes, and he does not wish to bring it on her.  She replies it cannot, for it already dwells in the house.  Siegmund calls himself Wehwalt (Woeful) and resolves to wait for Hunding.

Sieglinde is startled to hear her husband approach, and when he enters explains to him how Siegmund came into the house wounded and distressed, and when Hunding asks if she looked after him, she says she gave him refreshment and treated him as a guest.  Siegmund asks if Hunding will scold his wife for this, to which Hunding replies his hearth is holy, as is his home.  Hunding tells Sieglinde to serve the meal for the men, and notices how similar in appearance the stranger is to his wife.  He questions Siegmund over the meal, telling him that he is lord of this house, and that kinsmen to the West guard his honour.  He asks Siegmund to tell his wife who he is: again Siegmund calls himself Woeful and describes his upbringing by Wolf, how he and his father came home one day from hunting and fighting to find his mother dead and sister missing.  As outlaws they escaped, and he then tells how he and his father were separated, how he searched for him but found only a wolf-skin, and how he was drawn to other men and women, but was unpopular and caused strife and pain – hence his name, as woe is all he possesses.  He then explains the recent events of the girl forced to marry a man she did not love, how he slew her brothers, how she was filled with remorse for their deaths, then kinsmen attacked him as he protected the girl, and when he was disarmed saw her die.  Hunding declares that he knows of a savage clan that hold nothing sacred that others do, and he has been called upon to avenge family bonds.  He has now found this villain in his own home.  He tells him that he will be safe until morning, when he will kill Siegmund.  Sieglinde has positioned herself between them, Hunding orders her to leave and make his night drink.  He catches her looking at Siegmund and signalling to the sword in the trunk of the tree as she prepares his drink, and violently drives her away and takes his armour down from the tree.  He reminds Siegmund that he will fight him tomorrow, and then retires to his bedroom.

Siegmund is now alone, and lies down on the rug before the fire, and reminds himself that his father promised him a sword when in greatest need.  He catches sight of the dying fire gleaming on the hilt of the sword in the tree, and imagines it to be Sieglinde’s burning gaze.  Suddenly, just as the fire has gone out, Sieglinde enters from the bedroom and walks over to Siegmund.  She tells him she has drugged Hunding to help Siegmund escape.  She shows him the sword, and explains how it was placed there on her wedding night by a mysterious guest.  Siegmund, overcome with love, embraces her and swears to protect her with the sword.  Suddenly, the main doors swing open and a beautiful spring night with a full moon is seen outside.  Inspired by the dawn of spring, they sing of their growing love for each other, and finally recognise each other as siblings.  Sieglinde names him, Siegmund jumps to reach for the sword, and pulls it from the tree, naming it Notung (Need), and offers it to her as a wedding gift.  Calling her bride and sister, he clasps her to him in a burst of passion, and with a cry she falls on his breast.

 

Act Two:   Wotan and Brünnhilde in their full battle gear, face one another, as Wotan instructs her to prepare for the fight and aid Siegmund against Hunding.  With great joy, she sings her battle-cry, but suddenly notices Fricka approaching in her chariot drawn by rams, in a furious rage.  Brünnhilde prefers the battles of men to marital arguments, and withdraws to a cave.  Wotan must face the storm.  Fricka demands Wotan’s help in the ensuing fight between Siegmund and Hunding, and as guardian of wedlock, she must see that Hunding’s complaint is upheld or men will no longer believe in the wisdom of the Gods.  Wotan argues there is nothing wrong in what the twins have done, but she counters that since Wotan was the first to flout marriage’s sacred vows, why does she even bother to complain to him?  Did she not have to accept the Valkyries and especially Brünnhilde – at least he taught them to respect and obey her as sovereign – but he has not taught this to the wild pair.  She accuses him of wanting to ruin the world, and lose all that he has held dear if he protects Siegmund.  Wotan tries to argue that she has only ever seen what was before her, or conventional, and explains his plan for the need for a free hero to win back the ring.  She sees through his own self-deception, and Wotan now becomes increasingly frustrated.  Fricka sees she has hit a nerve, and drives home her point, telling him to take away the magic sword, and offer Siegmund as her victim.  She tells him that he created all the strife for Siegmund, but if he does not uphold marriage it will bring shame on the Gods forever.  Outwitted and despairing, Wotan concedes to her wishes, and Fricka departs in triumph.  Brünnhilde has returned to see the final part of this argument, and Fricka smilingly informs her that Wotan will now tell her how the lot has fallen.

Wotan is in abject misery and raging inside, Brünnhilde has never seen him like this and asks what is wrong.  He answers that he is caught in his own trap, and is impotent to resolve it.  In a sudden outburst he rages on the shame of the gods, and that he is the saddest of all men.  Brünnhilde anxiously begs him to tell her what is wrong, and he explains all about the curse of the Rhinegold, how Alberich won the Ring of Power, how Wotan stole the ring from him, learnt from Erda the power of the curse, and gave the ring and gold to the giants in lieu of Freia, and how he then sought out Erda to learn more.  She asked for a pledge in exchange for her knowledge, telling him of the end of the gods, and bearing him nine daughters, the Valkyries, and his one joy: Brünnhilde.  He explains how, in an attempt to guard the Gods from Alberich’s might, she and the other Valkyries bring him heroes to Valhalla, and she asks have they failed?  He responds that it is not this he fears, but the fact that if Alberich ever gains possession of the ring, he could turn Wotan’s army against him.  How then to gain the ring from Fafner?  Wotan is tied by fair dealing, so cannot regain the ring, though he does not desire it, either.  But, he has tried to create a hero, who free of the God will do what the God so desperately desires – return the ring to the Rhinemaidens, thus freeing the world of the curse.  But, he cannot create a free hero, for in all he creates he sees himself, and Fricka has pointed out that Siegmund is not the hero, as Wotan has created all the troubles and situations Siegmund has faced.  How can he find this free hero to do what he wants?  He must now kill his beloved son for Fricka’s honour, and the curse of the ring has not left him.  In a terrible, despairing rage, he curses all that he has built and created, longing only for the end, an end that he knows Alberich plots for.  Erda told him that the end of the Gods would not be long away when Alberich begets a son, and now Wotan has heard rumours that using gold, he has bribed a mortal woman to bear his fruit of hatred.  How can this happen to the loveless one, when he, the God, who wooed with love, cannot create his free hero? Despairingly, he offers all godly pomp and power to this offspring of Alberich.  Brünnhilde asks what she must do, and he says she must uphold Fricka’s rights and protect Hunding.  She is horrified, but in a fury he threatens her with his anger if she does not do as she is commanded.  Telling her that Siegmund must now die, he storms off in a furious rage, leaving her alone and anxious about the forthcoming battle.  Her armour feels heavy, as she faces a fight she does not relish.  She retreats to the cave.

Siegmund and Sieglinde enter, she running ahead, Siegmund calling for her to rest.  She is raving, begging him to keep away from her and the curse on her.  Siegmund offers his protection again, but she hears the horns drawing ever nearer, and finally, in a paroxysm of fear, she faints.  Siegmund draws her to him and rests with her.

Brünnhilde comes out of the cave and leads her horse down to Siegmund – she has come to announce his death, telling him that only those who are doomed to die see her gaze.  He recognises her as a Valkyrie, and asks if he will see Wotan, his father Wälse, and Sieglinde in Valhalla.  Brünnhilde responds that he will not see Sieglinde, at which Siegmund says he will not follow her to Valhalla, he will stay by her side.  Brünnhilde says that death will force him to go, but he asks by whose hand he is to fall: when she replies Hunding, he scornfully laughs at her, showing her the sword.  She tells him that its powers will be lost by the one who made it for him.  Feeling betrayed, Siegmund threatens to kill Sieglinde where she lies, rather than lose her in death, but Brünnhilde, promising to look after her and their unborn child, is suddenly spurred to change the fight in Siegmund’s favour.  She tells him to prepare for the coming fight.  She withdraws back to the cave.

Left alone with Sieglinde, Siegmund wonders what has induced her peaceful sleeping.  Hearing the horns, he gets up and goes to meet Hunding and certain victory.  Sieglinde awakens, having dreamt of her mother and father, and crying his name calls out for Siegmund.  She hears Hunding calling for Woeful, and Siegmund’s response, but she cannot see them through the mists.  As the men fight, Brünnhilde appears in a bright light to shield Siegmund, but a second red light breaks from behind Hunding; it is Wotan, who shatters the sword.  Brünnhilde recoils in fear, as the sword breaks in Siegmund’s hand.  Hunding now strikes Siegmund dead.  Thinking fast, Brünnhilde gathers the sword and runs to Sieglinde, and rides off, as Wotan, grief-stricken looks down at the dead body of Siegmund.  Addressing Hunding, he tells him to go to kneel before Fricka, and tell her that Wotan’s spear has avenged her shame.  Hunding falls dead at Wotan’s contemptuous wave of his hand, and then Wotan breaks out in a terrible rage over Brünnhilde’s disobedience, and rides off to follow her.

 

Act Three:  The Valkyries are assembling on their rock before the final ride to Valhalla, laden with the bodies of dead heroes.  They greet each other, and joke as the horses are forced apart due to the animosity between the heroes they carry.  As each arrives, they call out their battle-cry “Hoyotoho”.  When all eight are present, they expectantly await the arrival of Brünnhilde, and spotting her horse riding furiously, see that she is carrying a woman, not a hero.  She runs in with Sieglinde, and begs her sisters to help her avert Wotan’s fury.  He follows on his eight-legged horse, Sleipnir, in such a rage that storm clouds are seen coming from the North.  Bemused and confused, the other Valkyries ask her what has happened, and she explains that she disobeyed Wotan’s orders and protected Siegmund.  Desperately, she begs to borrow one of their horses, but none of her sisters will go so far as to disobey Wotan, father of battles.  Sieglinde suddenly asks why she was saved, as now Siegmund is dead, that is all she wishes for.  Brünnhilde tells her of the child she now carries, and at this Sieglinde begs the other Valkyries to save her.  They suggest she escapes to the East, for in the forest she will be safe, as Wotan will not go there, for this is where Fafner now lies, guarding the hoard as a monstrous dragon.  Brünnhilde encourages Sieglinde to weather every storm and hardship, and to keep the child safe, for he will be the greatest hero the world will ever see.  She gives Sieglinde the fragments of Notung, and names her child Siegfried, and telling Sieglinde that she will delay Wotan, sends her on her way.  The other Valkyries form a protective circle around Brünnhilde, as Wotan is heard, calling for her to stay, in the distance.

Wotan now arrives and asks where the lawbreaker is?  The other Valkyries feign ignorance and ask why he rages so.  He replies that he knows they hide Brünnhilde, and when they respond that she evades persecution, he wonders if it was from him they inherited such cowardice?  He then explains what Brünnhilde has done, defying his will and commands.  Wotan asks her to face her accuser and her punishment, and humbly but firmly she steps out from the Valkyries to receive it.  Wotan explains that by her own actions she brings her own punishment; because she has defied his will, she has willed her own fate: a Valkyrie she is no more.  He explains she will be banished from Valhalla and his sight, a mortal woman, left asleep and defenceless on this rock for any mortal man to find.  The Valkyries try to plead for mercy, saying that this shame will bring shame on them all, but Wotan says any that try to help Brünnhilde will face the same fate.  He orders them to leave and never venture to this rock again, leaving him alone with Brünnhilde.

She now reproaches Wotan, asking what was it that she did that has brought such shame and dishonour on her now.  He says her own guilt will explain it, and when she argues that he commanded her to fight for the Volsung, he replies that he rescinded that command.  She then counters that Fricka made him his own enemy, but he carries on by claiming that he thought she had understood his commands, thought him foolish and cowardly, thus he must punish treason.  She says she knew only one thing; that he loved the Volsung and she saw what Wotan could not see: she warned Siegmund of death and saw the strength of love he had for Sieglinde.  Still inwardly faithful to Wotan, she chose to disobey his command.  Wotan argues that it was necessity that compelled him to do what he did not wish to, while she enjoyed love’s delights.  Let love now guide her: they must never meet again.  She pleads that if he must part with half of himself, then he would demean himself if he saw men mocking her.  She begs that he will not let a coward take her, but rather someone worthy to win her: the Volsung offspring no less.  She explains that she has saved them and the fragments of the sword, but Wotan will not hear of this and tells her he will have nothing to do with Sieglinde or her child.  He goes on to tell her that she must now await her fate: sleep will enchant her, and he will never see her again, he merely waits to see the sentence carried out.  Brünnhilde passionately pleads with him that if sleep must enchain her, then let a magic fire protect her that only the bravest hero may face.   He replies that she asks too much, but she begs him to trample on her, or destroy her with his spear rather than leave her to such a demeaning fate.  At this, he relents, holding her tightly he bids his bravest daughter a fond farewell, telling her that the brightest fire will burn as never did for any bride, and leaves her for one freer than he, the god.  Tenderly, he looks into her eyes one more time, and sings how he will no more look on her childish face, or embrace her, or have her bring him mead in Valhalla.  Kissing her forehead, he takes away her immortality and godhead, and enchained in magic sleep he rests her on the rock, protected by her helmet and shield.  Looking about him, he calls on Loge, as god of fire, to encircle the rock, before he finally says only he who fears his spear may pass through the fire.  Wotan then leaves, as the flames burn brighter and the opera ends.

RICHARD WAGNER (1813-1883) – Die Walküre – The love of power vs. the power of love

Richard Wagner’s epic cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung) comprises four operas: Die Walküre (The Valkyrie); Siegfried, Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods), and a preliminary evening Das Rheingold (The Rhinegold).  It is unlike any other operatic work seen before or since.  It stands as a testament to the genius of a man who is probably the most talked and written about composer in the world.  George Bernard Shaw once said of him:  ‘If Wagner had not existed, it would have been necessary to have invented him!’  The Ring marked a change in Wagner’s own compositional styles and to drama and music throughout the West in general.

 

When in 1848, having completed Lohengrin, Wagner began working on the text of Siegfried’s Tod, (Siegfried’s Death, which eventually became Götterdämmerung), he realised that he would need to explain many of the earlier events that lead to the destruction of the Ring and the Gods of Valhalla than could feasibly be performed in one opera.  In 1851 he started writing Der Junge Siegfried (The Young Siegfried), which we now know simply as Siegfried, but at the end of this he still felt more explanation was needed.  This led to the text of Die Walküre, also in 1851, and finally of Das Rheingold which he completed in 1852.

 

At the same time as writing the libretti for The Ring, Wagner also wrote numerous essays and books, the most important to the composition of The Ring were The Work of Art of the Future (1849), Opera and Drama (1850-1) and A Message to my Friends (1851).  Inspired by Greek tragedy, Wagner realised that opera had the potential to combine several art forms, (he used the term Gesamptkunstwerk or “total art work” to describe this combination), from poetry, drama, costume, mime, dance, song and instrumental music in the presentation of myth as subject matter.  As Wagner said ‘The unique thing about myth is that it is true for all time; and its content, no matter how terse and compact, is inexhaustible for every age.’  He applied his new theories of composition not only to The Ring, but also in Tristan und Isolde, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg and Parsifal.  He himself called these works music drama, where the orchestra gives the audience the emotional context of the drama unfolding on-stage – what goes on inside rather than outside people – the ‘emotionalizing of the intellect’.

 

He drew his inspirations for The Ring from Germanic and Scandinavian myths and legends, particularly the 13th Century German Nibelungenlied (Song of the Nibelungs) and in particular for the story of Die Walküre, the Icelandic poet Snorre Sturluson’s Edda and Saga of the Volsungs, and adapted the stories to suit his own needs.  The Volsungs in the Edda and the Saga of the Volsungs point to generations of Volsungs before we reach the twins Siegmund and Sieglinde, let alone Siegfried, but by careful analysis, Wagner freely adapted, compressed and moulded the stories to meet his requirements.  Many characters become amalgamated into one, others are simply not important enough to warrant an appearance.

 

Having started the musical composition of Das Rheingold in November 1853 and completed it in September 1854, Wagner had already begun composition on Die Walküre, but seems to have struggled with it.  It took him from June 1854 until March 1856 to complete.  This is possibly due to his own personal circumstances, for having been a leading member of the failed Dresden Revolution of 1849, he was now a fugitive, fleeing from state to state in an attempt to outrun the Dresden authorities, and others from whom he was either wanted as a political prisoner or owed substantial debts.  Wagner portrayed himself heroically in his autobiography, Mein Leben (My Life), and it is difficult to know how much is actually based on the truth and how much is exaggeration.  But, he was on the run during this time, and obviously this lifestyle was taking a severe toll on his creative powers.  In a letter to Princess Caroline Sayn-Wittgenstein of November 1854 he writes from Zurich: “I have kept working on The Valkyrie a little it is true, but it is going down much more slowly than I thought it would at first.”  In another letter to Franz Liszt the following month he writes: “… For the sake of the fairest dream of my life, Young Siegfried, I must still, I suppose, finish the parts of The Nibelung.  The Valkyrie has exhausted me too much for me to be able to forgo this joy-making work.”  Then in a letter to Otto Wesendonck from London dated 5th April 1855 he states: “… I have almost entirely forgotten my composition (The Valkyrie) and often have to meditate a long time as to how I once meant for this or that to go.”  He managed to complete the first two acts by October 1855, as he writes to Liszt on 3rd, again from Zurich: “To-day I am sending you the finished first two acts of The Valkyrie.  It is an intense satisfaction to me to know that they will presently be in your hands…” *

 

If Das Rheingold dealt with the struggle for power in a loveless world inhabited by gods, dwarves and giants, then it is the first night proper, Die Walküre that launches the struggle between love and power, the over-riding symbolic theme of the whole epic cycle.

 

It is in Die Walküre that we meet the first human characters of the drama, Siegmund and Sieglinde, (twins and off-spring of Wotan and a mortal woman); and Hunding, Sieglinde’s brutal husband.  Encapsulated within these three characters, Wagner ingeniously portrays the whole of society.  Hunding represents convention and the oppressive control of people through laws and customs (ironically, in The Ring these are Wotan’s laws), which Siegmund must rebel against if he is to fulfil what Wotan wishes him to achieve.  Sieglinde is both the embodiment of love and the oppression of women in society, yet it is through her love for her own brother Siegmund that leads to Wotan’s greatest wish, the birth of the free hero he so desperately needs, even if he is seemingly blind to this fact.  Siegmund represents free-thinking heroism and rebellion against convention, even if he eventually becomes nothing more than a pawn in Wotan’s power games to secure the future of the Gods, and is sacrificed by the God when reminded by Fricka that the purpose of his rebellion has been created by Wotan in order for Siegmund to carry out his wishes.

 

From the opening of the opera, we see Wotan’s laws and his desires in conflict with one another.  His own son, fleeing from the world of men, lies captive by the hearth of his enemy.  His daughter is married to this enemy, and Wotan allows them to have carnal knowledge of each other, even though this goes against all the laws of Heaven.  Having gained his power by bargains and contracts, Wotan’s spear would shatter in his own hand were he to break any of these contracts, but it is Fricka who must shatter his illusions.  Wotan represents mankind and his learning to deal with power and justice.  Often the price paid is a sacrifice of love.  This is personified in Wotan’s relationship to his wife, Fricka.  This is her final appearance in the cycle, but one that is important because it leads to our understanding of Wotan’s ultimately tragic, heroic nature.  Only Brünnhilde clearly sees what Wotan cannot: that by carrying out his wishes, and disobeying him, she fulfils that which he himself could never see – the power of love.

 

Here we realise Wotan’s remaining eye symbolically represents his far sighted quest for power, and his missing eye that which could see love.  Brünnhilde effectively becomes that eye for Wotan, and as she says in her reproach to him in Act III, she always guarded his back from that which he could not see.  In Act II sc. iv, when she must announce death to Siegmund, it is her ability to see his love for Sieglinde which leads to her ultimate decision – carry out Wotan’s original instructions and protect Siegmund against Hunding, despite his (or really Fricka’s) command to the contrary.  This decision leads to a two-way sacrifice: Wotan must intervene to uphold Fricka’s rights as guardian of marriage, or man’s belief in the laws of Heaven will end, sacrificing his own son, Siegmund – and Brünnhilde must yield her position as Wotan’s wish-maiden (i.e. the one who carries out his will), by acting as she was first instructed to by Wotan, yet breaking faith with him.  Having sacrificed his beloved son to uphold the status quo, he must now sacrifice his beloved daughter, in order to appear in the eyes of mortals as guardian of vows.  It is eventually his love for Brünnhilde, (after she begs him to crush her with his spear rather than leave her asleep for any man to have; and her wisdom in seeing that Sieglinde will give birth to Siegfried), that finally leads him to protect her with impenetrable fire that only the bravest hero will not fear.  As Brünnhilde sleeps on the rock, symbolically Wotan’s own will is now sleeping, and from this point on in the drama, Wotan’s will (as in his ability to influence the events happening on earth) is now in stasis.  Only when Brünnhilde awakens in Act III of Siegfried will fate start working again.  Wagner makes this symbolic structure and process clear musically throughout Die Walküre, as the “Fate” motive heard at the beginning of Act II sc. iv, (which consists of two powerful chords followed by another two similar chords a whole tone higher), becomes “suspended” (i.e. the second chords do not rise by a tone) at the end of the opera, and this motive is not heard again in its progressive form until Act III, scene iii of Siegfried, when Siegfried awakens Brünnhilde.  However, it is Brünnhilde’s destiny to complete the fateful act of salvation by sacrificing the ring, Siegfried and herself, and in the process allow Wotan to atone for his wrongs.  Wotan’s will becomes impotent in the face of so many contradictions, hence his becoming merely an observer of the drama (the Wanderer) in Siegfried, and not even present in Götterdämmerung.  He loses his ability to influence events on earth any further, and must be content to see what he so madly desires occur.  Told on an epic scale, this is the most human of stories, a tale of love between a father and a daughter, torn apart by influences now beyond their control, and is a great example of the battle between the love of power set against the power of love.  Although willing to sacrifice love, and unable to see its influential power in the world, Wotan is not a loveless being, and in Brünnhilde we clearly see the maturity of a young girl becoming a woman.  What all fathers must eventually face is the acceptance that their “little girl” has grown up and become a mature, sexual woman, and “release” (or part with) them to another man.  This is the symbolism of Act III, Wotan must cast out his daughter so she can find her place in the world, and in the latter two operas, Wotan bequeaths the world to Brünnhilde and Siegfried; the rest of the ring story now belongs to them.

 

But Die Walküre is more than this: there is Wotan’s own tragic heroism, a god who must finally accept his mistakes and welcome the end of all he has created.  The crux of the whole cycle occurs in his Act II monologue, which reaches back to the start of Das Rheingold, and looks forward to the eventual end in Götterdämmerung.  Although no direct motives are actually associated with Wotan himself, his epic struggle to control events unfolding are given musical personification through motives closely associated with him; his Spear, the Sword, his Frustration, Rebellion, Valhalla, and of course, through Alberich’s Curse motive.  At the end of his argument with Fricka, the curse motive is heard again, just before Brünnhilde asks him what troubles him.  At each turn, the motive known as Wotan’s Frustration is heard, before this develops into the Wotan’s Rebellion motive, which in turn drives toward the Curse motive.  Even though Wotan no longer possesses Alberich’s Ring, it seems that the curse has not altogether left him.  In this monologue, Wagner gives us all the clues as to what the drama is really about – sacrificing everything you hold dear for a better world.  At the moment Wotan is unable to see this, but his eventual sacrifice of Brünnhilde and her saving the Volsung line will redeem him and his world, ridding it of the curse forever.  But he will pay the ultimate price for he will also have to face his own death – in other words, Wotan must learn to die.  This is what makes Wotan a tragic hero in the drama, along with Siegfried himself, and both stories eventually unite at the end of Götterdämmerung, with Brünnhilde the catalyst.

 

A final point to note about Die Walküre is that all the characters, (with the exception of Hunding), are related to Wotan: Siegmund, Sieglinde, Brünnhilde and the other eight Valkyries are all his off-spring, and Fricka his wife, though she is not the mother of any of these children.  In effect, the drama becomes a family feud, with the eventual murder of one, and the expulsion of another from the family.  Hunding represents the outside world and the catalyst for the family at war with itself, the trigger for this “domestic explosion”. Perhaps this is why the Ring cycle, and in particular Die Walküre remain popular: its essence is a human story, the story of each one of us, a story of family wrongs that cannot be righted, mistakes that cannot be undone, sacrifice, loss and love.  Whether it is love or power that triumphs in the end is up to each one of us to decide.

 

* Extracts from “The Letters of Richard Wagner” translated by M. M. Bozman, published by John Dent & Sons Ltd.