Götterdämmerung:(Perfs 16th Feb, 2nd March 2014)
|Norn 1: Lindsay Bramley||Gutrune: Laura Hudson|
|Norn 2: Jemma Brown||Alberich: Mark Holland|
|Norn 3: Janet Fischer||Waltraute: Jemma Brown|
|Brunnhilde: Zoe South||Woglinde: Emma Peaurt|
|Siegfried: Jonathan Finney||Wellgunde: Emily Blanch|
|Hagen: Oliver Gibbs 16th Feb / Gerard Delrez 2nd March||Flosshilde: Lindsay Bramley|
|Gunther: Stephen Svanholm 16th Feb / Emilien Hamel 2nd March||Vassals: The London Gay Mens’ Chorus|
Background: Wotan, as chief of the Gods, sought to rule the world. He sacrificed one eye to drink from the waters of knowledge that flowed from the roots of the World Ash Tree, broke a branch from the tree to make his governing spear, and subjugated giants, dwarves and men to his will. The spear symbolised Wotan’s power, on which contracts and treaties were sealed, but he enmeshed himself in a dilemma: having bargained the Goddess of Love – Freia – to the giants Fasolt and Fafner for building him Valhalla, he eventually paid them by stealing the magic gold and Ring of Power from Alberich (who had stolen the gold from the Rhinemaidens by cursing love); Wotan’s contract with the giants meant he could not regain possession of the Ring. If it fell back into Alberich’s hands, then all he had worked towards would be destroyed. In order to find answers, he left the heavens to seek out Erda, the wisest earth-goddess, who warned him to flee from Alberich’s curse on the Ring, and finally overpowered her with the magic of love, and gained wisdom from her. Her price for this wisdom was to bear him Brünnhilde, chief amongst his nine Valkyrie daughters, and Wotan’s favourite. These Valkyries served as wish-maidens in Valhalla, and collected the dead heroes from battlefields to serve as an army against the might of Alberich’s forces of darkness. Wotan also sought to create a free hero, one who, despite no help from him, would do his bidding and take the Ring from Fafner, who slew his brother Fasolt over the Ring, and turned himself into a monstrous dragon, guarding the gold and the Ring deep in the forests to the East. To this end, Wotan lay with a mortal woman, who conceived and gave birth to the Wälsung twins, Siegmund and Sieglinde; he made their lives harsh and miserable. Sieglinde was married to the brutal Hunding, and Siegmund followed his father, under the name of Wälse, 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 grew in Hunding’s home. None could pull the sword free – for it was Wotan’s gift to Siegmund in his greatest hour of need. Siegmund and Sieglinde eloped when Siegmund took shelter in Hunding’s home, but Wotan was forced to uphold the sanctity of marriage by Fricka, who made Wotan realise that Siegmund was not his free hero. Having initially commanded Brünnhilde to fight for him, he rescinded his command, but she chose to disobey him: the price for her defiance was to be cast out from the Gods and left asleep on the Valkyrie Rock, surrounded by impenetrable, magic fire. Sieglinde escaped from Wotan to the forests in the East, and gave birth to Siegfried. Before she died, she asked Mime, Alberich’s brother, to take care of the boy and the fragments of Siegmund’s sword. Mime did so, but not out of pity or any other such noble intent: he wanted to use Siegfried as a way to gain the Ring and gold from Fafner, and to punish his brother Alberich for the wrongs he suffered in Nibelheim. Siegfried fulfils his destiny and forges Nothung, then slays Fafner, after the Wanderer (Wotan) offered advice to Mime that only “He without fear will forge Nothung anew”. Siegfried has gone on to win the gold, Tarnhelm and Ring, and has also shattered Wotan’s spear and has passed through the magic fire to claim Brünnhilde as his bride. Wotan has returned to Valhalla, and commanded that the World Ash Tree be cut down and the trunks and branches piled up outside, in readiness for the end. He has gathered his heroes and all the gods in solemn silence, awaiting the inevitable.
Prologue: The three Norns (Fates), daughters of Erda, are weaving the Rope of Destiny where the World Ash Tree once stood. The glow from the Magic Fire confuses them into thinking morning has come. The First Norn tells how she used to weave the Rope on the Ash Tree, and underneath there was a bubbling spring, that whispered wisdom. Wotan came to drink at it, and sacrificed his eye. He then broke off a branch for his spear shaft, from which wound the tree never recovered, and the water dwindled in the well. She fastens the rope to a fir, and throws it to her sister, the Second Norn. She tells of how Wotan became the ruler of the world by the covenants carved on his spear, until a hero shattered it. Wotan then ordered the heroes to fell the Ash Tree and pile the logs outside Valhalla. She fastens the rope to a jagged rock and throws it to the Third Norn. She foretells the end of the Gods, and asks if her sisters would know more to spin again. She throws it back to the First Norn. She cannot recall the past, her sight grows dim. She asks the Second Norn “What happened to Loge?” The Second replies that he was tamed by Wotan’s spear, and gained his freedom by gnawing and nibbling at the notches in the shaft. Now he burns around Brünnhilde’s Rock. She asks the Third what will happen to him? She replies that the splinters of the spear will be plunged into Loge’s heart, which will start the fire to burn Valhalla. She asks them to pass the rope so she can tell them when this will be. The First Norn cannot find the strands of the rope, she asks of Alberich who stole the Rhinegold. The Second replies that the jagged edge is cutting into the rope which no longer stretches tight. The Ring is rising out of need and greed, she asks the Third what will happen. She replies the rope is too slack and does not reach her. At that point it snaps, the Norns’ wisdom is at an end, and they descend back to their mother, Erda.
After the Dawn Orchestral Interlude, Brünnhilde and Siegfried are seen. She is telling him that she has taught him all he needs to know, and that she must let him go out in the world and seek new deeds. She only hopes that she was not a poor reward for his heroism. Siegfried replies that although he is untutored, he knows that Brünnhilde lives for him alone. He has learnt one lesson, to think of Brünnhilde. She tells him to think only of his deeds, himself and the ferocious fire, the woman beneath the shield who he found, and the vows of love that unite them. She will then burn in his heart like a sacred flame. He says he must leave her, and gives her the Ring as a token of his love and pledge of his troth. She rejoices and offers him her horse, Grane, who will fearlessly follow him. He replies that he is but Brünnhilde’s arm, while she retorts that if she could only be his soul, then they are Siegfried and Brünnhilde, wherever he is, both will be found. They part in ecstasy, apart who can separate them, together, who can part them. Siegfried sets out on his journey to the Orchestral Interlude “Siegfried’s Rhine Journey”.
Act One: Siegfried’s journey down the Rhine takes him and the audience to the Interior of the Hall of the Gibichungs. Gunther and Gutrune are the legitimate offspring of Gibich and Grimhild, while Hagen, their half-brother, is Alberich’s son, who seduced Grimhild with gold. Hagen’s advice is taken as wisdom by the other two, and Gunther wants to know how he can improve the name of the Gibichungs in the world. Hagen embroils his half-siblings in his own plot to gain the Ring, and suggests that what both Gunther and Gutrune need are heroic spouses. He suggests seemingly impossible choices, Brünnhilde for Gunther, Siegfried for Gutrune. Without elaborating that he knows they are already coupled, Hagen suggests to Gutrune that she prepare the potion of “forgetfulness” that will enable Siegfried to win Brünnhilde for Gunther. They question Hagen on how they are to find this glorious hero, when Siegfried’s horn is heard from the river Rhine.
Hagen calls Siegfried to land, and welcomes him into the Hall. Siegfried asks “Who is Gibich’s son?”, and Gunther replies that he is. They welcome him into the hall, and Siegfried asks how Hagen knows his name. Hagen replies he knew by Siegfried’s strength alone. Gunther bids him welcome, offering all that he has as Siegfried’s own in alliance. Siegfried replies he has nothing but his body and sword, which he will gladly give, until Hagen reminds him of the Nibelung treasure. Siegfried holds that of such little worth, so Hagen asks if he took anything from it. Siegfried replies only a trinket, which Hagen tells him is the Tarnhelm, and tells Siegfried of its magical properties of shape changing and the ability to go anywhere in the blink of an eye. Hagen asks if he took anything else, and Siegfried answers that he took a ring, which a wondrous woman keeps. Hagen knows this is Brünnhilde. Gutrune comes in offering Siegfried the drink with the potion of forgetfulness in, and Siegfried, to himself, offers the first drink of faithful love to Brünnhilde, saying that if he forgets everything she taught him, this one lesson he will never lose. Suddenly, his eyes seeming to burn, he notices Gutrune and asks why she lowers her eyes to him. Siegfried asks if she would reject him as her brother proudly rejected him as his man. He asks Gunther if he has a wife, who replies he has not, and will not easily gain the one who he desires. Siegfried offers to win Brünnhilde for Gunther, using the Tarnhelm to disguise himself, in return for Gutrune. They pledge themselves in blood brotherhood by slicing their wrists into a horn and mixing their blood, then drinking it. Siegfried asks if Hagen will join their brotherhood, but he declines saying his blood is sluggish and would taint the drink. Gunther tells Siegfried to let him be, and Siegfried, now eager to win Gutrune, urges Gunther to follow him to win Brünnhilde. Gunther asks Hagen to keep watch over the palace, and they rush out. Gutrune runs in asking where they are heading, and Hagen tells them they have gone to woo Brünnhilde, and tells her to see how urgently Siegfried seeks to win Gutrune as his wife. Hagen sits watching and contemplates these developments: Siegfried will bring his own bride back for Gunther, but to Hagen he brings the Ring, serving the Nibelung.
During another orchestral interlude the scene reverts to that of Brünnhilde’s Rock as at the end of the Prologue. Brünnhilde is seen sitting at the entrance to the cave, blissfully smothering the Ring in kisses. A storm cloud develops and images of her past return to her as she becomes aware of a Valkyrie heading toward her. It is Waltraute, who asks if she is awake or asleep. Brünnhilde asks what has caused her to journey where she knows she ought not to. Waltraute replies it was for Brünnhilde’s sake alone. Brünnhilde thinks she comes either out of love for her and a longing to share her fate, or to tell her that Wotan has relaxed his rage against her. She knows he did, as he kept her safe with magic fire so that only the hero Siegfried could find her. Waltraute retorts that it was something very different that drove her, and drives her back to Valhalla. Brünnhilde is confused, so Waltraute tells her (and the audience) what has happened while she slept. She says the Valkyries have not been sent to battle since, and that Wotan shunned Valhalla’s halls and wandered the earth alone. Recently he returned, with the broken spear in hand, and bade the heroes to cut down the World Ash Tree. Fearful, the Gods, Valkyries and heroes are now gathered in the Great Hall, while Wotan sits silently in thought. He has sent out his two ravens and awaits their return, while the Valkyries clasp his knees in terror. Waltraute pressed herself to his breast, and she noticed he was thinking of Brünnhilde, his gaze softened for a moment. He closed his eyes and whispered, as if in a dream, that if Brünnhilde returned the Ring to the Rhinemaidens then the Gods and the world would be free of the curse. It was this thought that has prompted Waltraute to hurry here. Brünnhilde says she cannot grasp the meaning, it seems remote to her. Waltraute asks her to throw away the Ring, which she now sees on Brünnhilde’s finger. Brünnhilde is shocked, but Waltraute urges her to return it to the Rhinemaidens. Brünnhilde explains what it means to her, as Siegfried’s token of his love, and she says to return to the Gods and tell them she will never renounce love, even if Valhalla should fall into ruin. Waltraute rides off in horror at her sister’s apparent disloyalty, as Brünnhilde tells her never to return. She notices the flames burning brighter around the rock, and thinks Siegfried is returning to her, but instead she sees another man. It is Siegfried, but disguised by the Tarnhelm as Gunther, who approaches her. Brünnhilde is horrified, and asks what monster has come to take her, is he one of Hella’s hordes of the night. Siegfried tells her he is Gunther, a Gibichung, who will take her. She rails at Wotan, thinking he has doomed her to derision and distress. Siegfried tells her to prepare for their wedding night, but she threatens him with the Ring, but Siegfried says it belongs to Gunther and must be given as a husband’s right. Her protestations and struggles make him take the Ring, and she falls defeated as he snatches it from her. Trembling she enters the cave, while Siegfried draws his sword and asks Notung to witness that he kept faith with Gunther, the sword will separate him from Brünnhilde during the night.
Act Two: The shore of the Rhine outside the Gibichung Hall. Hagen is asleep with his spear resting on his lap. Alberich asks him if he sleeps and does not hear him, he who sleep has abandoned. Hagen replies he hears Alberich, who asks Hagen to remember the night he commands, if he shares his mother’s mettle. Hagen’s reply is that he has no reason to thank her for falling for Alberich’s guile, as it left him old and pale, and never happy. Alberich tells him to hate the happy and to love him. He tells him their struggle is ending, now that Wotan has lost his authority to his own offspring, and will now fall. Hagen asks who inherits the immortals’ might. Alberich replies it is they that will, provided Hagen stays loyal and will destroy Siegfried, as the curse cannot reach Siegfried as he doesn’t know the Ring’s true worth. Hagen says Siegfried already serves him to his own ruin, and Alberich exhorts him to gain the Ring without delay. If Brünnhilde should urge Siegfried to give it back to the Rhinemaidens it will be lost to them for ever. He tells how he bred Hagen in hate to accomplish this for him, in vengeance. He asks Hagen to swear he’ll do this, Hagen says he will possess the Ring, but Alberich asks again if he swears it. He replies he has sworn it to himself, and Alberich departs, telling him to keep faith.
After the Dawn Interlude, Siegfried is heard calling Hagen, telling him he drew the breath he called him with from Brünnhilde’s Rock. He says that Gunther and Brünnhilde are coming by boat. Hagen calls Gutrune from inside as Siegfried tells them how he mastered Brünnhilde. She asks how they survived the fire, and Siegfried tells her he walked through the fire for Gunther, and with the Tarnhelm resembled Gunther to the last hair, as Hagen had foretold. Gutrune is puzzled by Siegfried’s account of being Gunther and the couple spending the night together, until he reassures her that his sword separated them. Gunther and he switched places as Brünnhilde followed him down from the rock, and the Tarnhelm transported him back here. They approach by boat as a strong wind carries them down the Rhine. Hagen spots the sail in the distance, while Gutrune says they should give Brünnhilde a gracious welcome, and asks Hagen to call the Vassals, and she will call the women.
Hagen calls to the Vassals on his horn, and they appear, armed, asking what the commotion is all about. Is Gunther in danger or desperate need? Hagen tells them to arm themselves well, Gunther brings a wife. The Vassals ask if his is being followed by an enemy, and Hagen tells them that no-one follows, and Siegfried overcame the dangers for Gunther. The Vassals ask why he needs his army now, and Hagen tells them to make sacrifices to Wotan and the Gods. They ask what then? Hagen tells them to take their drinking horns and let their wives fill them with mead and wine, and to drink in honour of the gods, so they bless the marriage. The Vassals feel that good fortune smiles on them if Hagen can be this merry, and laugh raucously. Hagen tells them to be done laughing, but to be ready to welcome Gunther’s lady, to serve her loyally and avenge any wrong swiftly. The Vassals hail Gunther as he approaches.
Gunther enters, telling them he brings as his wife the rarest of women, Brünnhilde, and that the Gibichung race is now granted grace by the gods and will rise to its greatest renown. He greets Siegfried and Gutrune and sees two happy couples. Brünnhilde is startled, and the Vassals ask what is wrong. She is confused to see Siegfried. Siegfried tells her Gutrune is married to him, as she is to Gunther. Brünnhilde’s confusion grows, and asks if Siegfried knows who she is. Siegfried tells Gunther his wife is ill, at which point Brünnhilde notices the Ring on his finger. The Vassals ask what it is, and Hagen tells them to mark well Brünnhilde’s complaint. Brünnhilde says Gunther snatched it from her, and asks how Siegfried got it from him. Siegfried denies this, and Brünnhilde asks Gunther to take back the Ring he took from her. Gunther doesn’t know anything about the Ring, and it dawns on Brünnhilde that Siegfried took it from her. He denies this too, saying it was the prize for the battle when he slew Fafner the Dragon. Hagen asks if Brünnhilde really knows the Ring, and if so it belongs to Gunther, and Siegfried obtained it by trickery and must atone. Brünnhilde says it is treachery as never before known which must be avenged, as the Vassals ask on whom, Brünnhilde asks the Gods if this was all part of their plan for her to suffer as none has suffered before, and for her to avenge if it will destroy her betrayer. Gunther tries to restrain her, but she turns on him, telling them that she was married to Siegfried, and wrung from her gratification and love. Siegfried tells them that his sword protected his, and Gunther’s honour, but Brünnhilde claims he lies, that Notung hung on the wall the first night they spent together. Everyone asks if Siegfried broke faith, and ask him to swear an oath that he did not. Hagen offers the tip of his spear, and Siegfried swears that death can strike him if he broke faith with Gunther. Brünnhilde grabs the weapon suddenly and swears her own oath that the spear may strike him down as he has broken his entire oath and now perjured himself. The Vassals call on Donner to help them silence this infamy, Siegfried asks Gunther to control his wife, and diffuses the Vassals anger by suggesting it is her mountain ways that cause this rage. He begs them to join him at the feast and leads them and Gutrune into the palace, leaving Brünnhilde alone with Hagen and Gunther.
Brünnhilde suspects some “devil’s cunning” at work, but seeks revenge on Siegfried. Hagen offers her his spear. She retorts that one flash of Siegfried’s eyes in battle would make his courage falter, but Hagen persists, saying he must have a weakness. She reveals that he can only be killed by striking Siegfried in the back, as he would never turn on an enemy during battle, she did not protect his back with her magic. Gunther bemoans his shame, which Brünnhilde adds to by calling him a “poltroon”. He asks Hagen for help to restore his honour, which Hagen says can only be done by killing Siegfried. Gunther is appalled, but Hagen and Brünnhilde convince him that Siegfried has broken his oath to Gunther. Brünnhilde goes further claiming she has been betrayed by all, but that Siegfried’s death alone will atone for all. Hagen secretly tells Gunther he will profit from Siegfried’s demise, as he will gain the Ring and immense power, but Gunther’s thoughts turn to his sister, Gutrune. Brünnhilde believes Gutrune to be the source of the witchcraft, while Hagen and Gunther decide to conceal the deed from her. Gunther and Brünnhilde call on Wotan to witness the oath, while Hagen calls to his father to ready his armies of the night.
Act Three: A wild, wooded and rocky valley near the banks of the Rhine. The three Rhinemaidens are swimming and asking the Sun to shine once more in the depths, or bring the hero who can return to them the Ring. Siegfried appears, having been led there by a goblin while out hunting with the Gibichungs. The Rhinemaidens ask him what he has lost, and he replies that the shaggy beast he was hunting must be their lover. They ask what he will give them if they allow him his quarry. He says he has nothing to offer, but they can ask what they will, so they ask for the Ring. He replies that he slew a terrible dragon for this Ring; do they think he’ll give it to them for a bearskin? They accuse him of being miserly, and he says his wife would scold him. They tease him about his wife beating him, and he sends them away saying he would never give them the Ring. Siegfried then says if they return he’ll give them the Ring, so calls them back, but they tell him to keep it, for he’ll be glad if he gives it to them today when he learns of the power of the Ring. He bids them to tell what they know, and so they warn him that it is cursed and that he who wears it now is doomed to die this very day. Their threats make him more obdurate, and he tells them that he was warned of the curse by the dragon, but he didn’t make Siegfried fear it. He says that he would give it them if they’d granted him favour, but by threatening life and limb they will never wrest the Ring from him. They decide to leave him to his doom, and head to find Brünnhilde, who will inherit the Ring by the day’s end. Siegfried laments that he is now learning of women’s ways, if their cajolery fails, they turn to scolding and threatening. Had he not given Gutrune his word, he would easily have chosen one of the Rhinemaidens.
Hagen and the Vassals are heard calling in the distance, so Siegfried calls back, inviting them to join him where it is cool and fresh. Hagen asks what luck Siegfried has had in hunting as the Vassals lay out the spoils of the hunt, and he replies he caught nothing, only some water birds told him he would die this very day. Hagen replies it would be a sorry hunt if the luckless hunter was laid low by his own quarry. Siegfried asks for a drink, while Hagen says that he heard Siegfried could understand bird-song. He replies he hasn’t heeded it for a long time. He offers Gunther a drink, who replies that it is pale and only has Siegfried’s blood in it. Siegfried mixes the drink with wine from Gunther’s horn, and it overflows, so Siegfried offers it to Mother Earth. Gunther says Siegfried is too happy, so Siegfried asks Hagen if Brünnhilde causes Gunther concern. He replies that if only Gunther understood her as well as Siegfried does bird-song, all would be well. Siegfried says since he heard women’s voices, birds have gone from him. He offers to recount memories of his earlier days to Gunther, and the Vassals listen as he tells them of his upbringing by Mime, how he forged anew his father’s sword Nothung, and was made to kill the dragon in the forest. He tells how the dragon’s blood made him hear the song of the Wood bird, who told him of the treasure, Tarnhelm and Ring. Hagen asks if he took the Ring, and the Vassals ask if he heard the bird again. Siegfried replies that he took the Tarnhelm and Ring from the hoard, and then heard the Wood bird telling him not to trust Mime. Hagen asks if this was good counsel, the Vassals if he repaid Mime, and Siegfried replies Notung paid the debt, as Mime came to him with a vile potion, and admitted his baseness. The Vassals ask what more the bird told him, but Hagen asks Siegfried to drink first. He has added a spice to the drink to awaken his memory more clearly, (it is the antidote to the potion he was given in Act I), and Siegfried tells how the bird told him of the wonderful wife awaiting him on the fire-surrounded rock – Brünnhilde. The mention of Gunther’s wife’s name causes uneasiness in the Vassals, while Hagen asks if Siegfried followed the bird’s advice. Siegfried tells them he climbed the rock and made his way through the flames till he found Brünnhilde. At this moment, two ravens rise up and circle Siegfried, while Hagen asks if he understands their cries. Siegfried jumps up, his back to Hagen who says that to him they cry vengeance, and he plunges his spear in Siegfried’s back. Gunther and the Vassals ask Hagen what he has done, he replies he has avenged perjury, and exits. Siegfried, with valiant effort, rises and sings of Brünnhilde’s awakening, and how she now bids him welcome, before he sinks back and dies. During the Funeral March that follows, the Vassals make a stretcher from their spears and carry him back to the Hall of the Gibichungs, as night begins to fall.
Back at the Hall of the Gibichungs, Gutrune wanders sleepless, thinking she hears Siegfried’s horn in the distance. She was awakened by the neighing of Siegfried’s horse and Brünnhilde’s laughter. She saw a woman go down to the Rhine, was it Brünnhilde? She is frightened by Brünnhilde, and discovers it was indeed her she saw go to the Rhine. She longs to see Siegfried again. Hagen is heard calling to awaken and light the torches, for the hero is returning. She asks why she did not hear his horn, and Hagen replies that he can blow it no more, that he was the prey of a wild boar. Gunther runs in to comfort Gutrune, but she pushes him away accusing him of murder. He says it was not him but Hagen who killed Siegfried, and curses him with anguish and misfortune. Hagen says it was his right as Siegfried was false to the oath sworn on Hagen’s spear. He claims the Ring as his own. Gunther tells him to stay away from what is his and Gutrune’s inheritance, calling Hagen a “shameless son of a gnome”. Hagen draws his sword and kills Gunther, and makes a grab for the Ring on Siegfried’s hand. Menacingly, Siegfried’s hand is raised by some mysterious power, and all gaze in horror, as Hagen recoils. Brünnhilde comes from the back solemnly, telling them to silence the shrill clamour of their grief. She accuses them all of betraying her, and that she heard no fitting lament for this mighty hero. Gutrune accuses her of bringing this misfortune to them, but Brünnhilde tells her that Siegfried was married to her and swore eternal vows before ever he saw Gutrune. Finally, Gutrune understands that it was the potion Hagen gave her that made Siegfried forget about Brünnhilde and fall in love with her. She curses Hagen and falls on the body of her dead brother. Brünnhilde tells the Vassals to prepare a mighty funeral pyre outside the Hall, and lead his horse to her, so they both may follow the mighty warrior. She then tells how Siegfried was the purest, even though he betrayed her. No man more honest ever took an oath, and yet none betrayed all oaths. She turns her attention upwards to heaven, asking Wotan to look on her grief and his eternal guilt. She accuses Wotan of sacrificing Siegfried to the curse of Ring, even though his courage achieved what Wotan could not. Only Siegfried’s innocent betrayal could make her a woman of wisdom. She now knows Wotan’s will, and sends home his ravens, telling him to rest. She takes the Ring from Siegfried’s finger, and offers it to the Rhinemaidens. The fire will cleanse the Ring of the curse, while the waters of the Rhine will wash it away for ever. She begs them to keep the gold pure. She now tells the ravens to fly back to Valhalla and recount to Wotan what has happened here. She instructs them to fly by her rock and direct Loge to light the logs surrounding Valhalla. She then hurls a flaming torch into the pyre. Her horse, Grane, is led in, and she asks if he knows where she leads him. She tells him in the fire lies his lord, Siegfried, and leaping on the horse, she joyfully jumps into the fire, which crackles and rises higher, engulfing the stage. The waters of the Rhine overflow, as Hagen makes to grab the Ring. The Rhinemaidens seize it and drag him under, while in the background Valhalla is seen in flames.
RICHARD WAGNER (1813-1883) – Götterdämmerung – The completion of a life’s work
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 to Tristan und Isolde, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (The Mastersinger of Nuremberg) and Parsifal. Wagner 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 and Siegfried, 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. If Die Walküre was to have taxed Wagner, it was nothing compared to how long he took in completing the score of the next opera Siegfried – a total of 14 years! For twelve of those years he actually stopped work on it altogether, while he set about solving musical issues and developing his truly mature style of composition, and he solved those musical issues by composing Tristan und Isolde and Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. Once he felt able and mature enough to deal with the annihilation of Wotan, he completed Act III on 5th February 1871, and the breakthrough in style and ideas found in Act III of Siegfried are continued into the final part: Götterdämmerung. By 21st November 1874, the final part of this epic cycle was complete.
If Wagner now knew how he was going to achieve his musical ideas to finish his epic tetralogy, the one thing he would struggle with in Götterdämmerung would be how to end it? In the original text of Siegfried’s Tod Brünnhilde and Siegfried are seen transfigured, she in her Valkyrie armour leading him by the hand, rising majestically through the sky back to Valhalla. Alberich witnesses Hagen’s death by drowning at the hands of the Rhinemaidens, and is left grief-stricken on stage at the end, and the gods still dwell in Valhalla. But after writing the text for the other three operas, this ending seems too simplistic, as Wotan does not have to face his end. Two philosophers played an extremely important part in possible endings Wagner chose: Feuerbach and Schopenhauer. His original ending had been based on the fact that Wotan was merely a passing mention. He was remote and not a central character of the drama. Brünnhilde declares him all powerful, and in sacrificing herself, destroys the curse on the Ring.
Wagner chose to write the full drama of The Ring in an epic way: Wotan and Siegfried become the two heroes of the cycle. Wotan’s story is told on an epic scale: i.e. we already know and sense how things will transpire, Wotan’s future is haunted by his past. Siegfried’s tale is told dramatically, that is, in the present. His story is more like an adventure. Wagner brings the two stories to a close in the hunting scene of Act III of Götterdämmerung as, with the aid of another magic potion, Hagen asks Siegfried to recount events from his recent past. If fleetingly, Siegfried, like Wotan, becomes the reflective hero, and is then killed by Hagen.
The first re-write of the ending sees Brünnhilde proclaim that Love is in direct antithesis to Law. Wotan’s dilemma all along was that his frustrated love for humanity caused him to break his own laws, therefore realising that “law” has no moral force. But society can be cleansed by his destruction, and freedom and order restored. If Alberich forswore love to gain power, Brünnhilde now closes the circle by stating that power has been dissolved for the sake of love. This “optimistic” end was based on the writings of Feuerbach. This symmetry, closing the circle, failed to satisfy Wagner, and Cosima Wagner, (his second wife, daughter of Franz Liszt and former wife of Wagner’s conductor and musical champion Hans von Bülow), wrote that he tried later to base his ending on his reading of the writings of Schopenhauer and the Buddha. This was a much more pessimistic ending, stating that the whole of the world was illusory, and that hope could only be found by those who could relinquish both desire and illusion. Cosima writes in her diary that the words Wagner wrote for Brünnhilde for this ending seemed too “artificial”, and Wagner reverted to a version more in keeping with his Feuerbach ending. What Wagner did eventually was not to write an end in words, but in music. It was his systematic and exceptional use of Leitmotivs that solved this, and his final motive, “The Glorification of Brünnhilde”, leaves us with a sense of hope, that all will be well in the world. It’s a motive that Wagner used sparingly, but it is heard in Act III, sc. i of Die Walküre, by Sieglinde as she resolves to save herself and flee into the forest. Wagner uses a complex web of motives to bring us to this state of hope. Firstly, directly after Hagen’s line “Zurück vom Ring!” we hear the final statement of the Curse motive, followed by the Rhinemaidens as the Rhine bursts its banks, signifying the curse being washed away. We hear a short statement of the Valhalla motive, which moves back to the Rhinemaiden motive, and then into the Glorification of Brünnhilde motive. He then repeats, almost layering at this point, those three motives, and finishes with the Valhalla motive once more. There is a sudden bold playing of the Valhalla motive in almost the full orchestra, and suddenly underneath we can hear the Götterdämmerung motive, which in turn becomes the Magic Fire Music, signalling that Valhalla is being engulfed by Loge’s Fire. There is a final bold playing of Siegfried’s motive, as all comes to silence, then the strings build into the Glorification motive for the final time as the work ends with a sense of peace and hope.
But Götterdämmerung is a complex web both musically and dramatically. There is still the epic story of Wotan’s last moments before the final conflagration erupts into Valhalla. In the Prologue the Norns recount how Wotan lost his eye in payment for drinking from the waters of wisdom under the World Ash Tree. This scene is not merely a retelling of the story; it fills us in on some of the more epic moments that lead to things we have already seen. Waltraute’s scene with Brünnhilde too does the same, she recounts Wotan’s return to Valhalla with the broken spear in hand; how he, with silent command, bade the heroes to fell the remains of the World Ash Tree and pile it up outside Valhalla. Now he sits, lost in remembrance for his favourite daughter, realising that only she can save him by returning the Ring to the Rhinemaidens. At the end, Brünnhilde learns the true nature of Siegfried’s betrayal, and so carries out the fateful act of self-immolation. By fire the Ring is cleansed of the Curse, and by water it is washed away and hidden from the world in the depths of the Rhine.
Two predominant motives occur frequently in Götterdämmerung: The Curse and Hagen’s motive. So insidious are both in the score that we are left in no doubt that things have reached crisis point. Alberich is an uncertain character in this opera. His only appearance on stage is at the beginning of Act II in Hagen’s dream. Is he merely a dream to Hagen now? Or is he there, looking out for his son to make sure he completes his task to return the Ring to Alberich? Would Hagen do so at the end were he not drowned by the Rhinemaidens? These questions cannot be answered, but the nature of the motives should fill the listener with dread and foreboding.
Despite the appearance of the Norns and Waltraute in the Prologue and end of Act I, and Alberich in Act II, the opera as a whole remains firmly rooted in our world. The Gods, particularly Wotan, may not be physically present, but they are omnipresent in the music. Essentially though, we are now dealing with a human view of the End of the Gods. Both Gunther and Gutrune represent the easily led of humanity, Hagen’s manipulation of them and events to get the Ring dominates most of the opera. Brünnhilde blames Siegfried’s betrayal on Wotan, for she sees it as more of her punishment. She is of course unaware who Hagen really is, so until she learns from the Rhinemaidens about the curse and how it destroyed Siegfried, she doesn’t see him as the villain he really is.
Finally, what of Siegfried? Does he really forget Brünnhilde? Does Gutrune dazzle him so much after drinking the first magic potion that he really forgets everything to do with Brünnhilde, or is it a metaphor for the blindness of love? Remember, he’s never met any other woman! So, his confusion and actions are done to cover up his feelings of guilt, which is why he so strongly denies he has ever seen Brünnhilde before. But of course, the Ring gives him away! Hagen plays on this, as he drives Brünnhilde into giving away Siegfried’s one weak spot in her quest for vengeance. Unwittingly, she has now sentenced Siegfried to death. The Rhinemaidens try to warn him of his impending doom, but he resolutely refuses to part with the Ring. He cares not for his death, until he remembers Brünnhilde after Hagen refreshes his memory with the aid of the second potion.
And so it is left to Brünnhilde to finally understand the power of the Ring, and its curse. She has spoken to the Rhinemaidens too, and they have told her of Siegfried’s death and the curse of the Ring. In Siegfried’s death, the Ring loses its hold over her, so her death becomes the cleansing agent against the curse. Wotan’s guilt is finally laid to rest, and she tenderly tells him to “Rest, rest, you God!” The world can be rebuilt once the Ring is finally given back to the Rhinemaidens. Wotan’s laws (which represent all the symbols of power on earth, such as the Church, State and Monarchy) finally gives way to the power of love, and hope can spring from this destruction.
Der Ring des Nibelung represents Wagner’s pinnacle of achievement. He composed one final opera, his Festival Stage Play for Easter, Parsifal, before his death in 1883. The first complete performance of The Ring was at given Bayreuth between 13th and 17th August 1876, which also marked the premieres of Siegfried and Götterdämmerung.