- Richard Wagner. Music-drama in a prologue and three acts. Fourth opera of the
tetralogy Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelungen). 1874.
- Libretto by the composer.
- First performance at the Festspielhaus, Bayreuth, on 17th August 1876.
|Siegfried, the Volsung ||tenor|
|Gunther, the Gibichung ||bass-baritone|
|Gutrune, his sister ||soprano|
|Hagen, his half-brother, son of Alberich ||bass|
|Brünnhilde, daughter of Wotan ||soprano|
|Alberich, a Nibelung ||bass-baritone|
|Waltraute, a Valkyrie ||mezzo-soprano|
|Woglinde, a Rhinemaiden ||soprano|
|Wellgunde, her sister ||mezzo-soprano|
|Flosshilde, another sister ||contralto|
|Three Norns, daughters of the Goddess of Fate ||contralto,|
|mezzo-soprano & soprano|
On the rock of Brünnhilde the three Norns weave fate, singing of the holy ash-tree, from which
a brave god made a spear, broken by a young hero and chopped into logs at the command of Wotan,
to be piled around Valhalla, where they will burn the place and bring an end to the gods. As dawn
breaks Siegfried emerges from the cave with Brünnhilde, having acquired from her her strength as
a Valkyrie. As he prepares to leave, he gives her his ring, a symbol of his deeds, and she gives him
Grane, her horse. The first act opens in the Gibichung throne-room, where Hagen urges his half-brother
Gunther to marry Brünnhilde, although she is fated to be the wife of Siegfried the Volsung,
who could, by trickery, be induced to marry their sister, Gutrune. Siegfried arrives and swears
friendship with Hagen. Drugged by Gutrune, he offers her marriage and then agrees, using the
Tarncap which will transform him, to bring Gunther the woman he wants, in exchange for Gutrune.
They swear friendship and join together ritually as blood brothers. Siegfried and Gunther leave, in
search of Brünnhilde, while Hagen guards the house, awaiting their return, with the ring. Waltraute
brings Brünnhilde news of Wotan's despair, in the absence of the ring, but she refuses to part with
Siegfried's pledge of love. Siegfried, in the form of Gunther, leaps through the surrounding flames
to claim Brünnhilde as his wife, seizing the ring from her finger. At the hall of the Gibichungs
Alberich reminds Hagen of Siegfried's defeat of Wotan and of the power that the ring will give
them. Siegfried returns to claim Gutrune and Hagen calls his men to attend the coming wedding.
Gunther and Brünnhilde arrive and the latter, seeing the ring on Siegfried's finger, realises that there
has been trickery. She curses Siegfried and tells Hagen that the hero can be wounded only from the
back, a death that can be arranged at a hunting-party. The Rhinemaidens ask Siegfried for the ring
and as the hunters rest, Hagen gives Siegfried a drink that revives his memory, piercing his back
with his spear and mortally wounding him. Siegfried's body is brought back, to Gutrune's distress.
Gunther and Hagen fight and the former is killed, but the ring cannot be taken from Siegfried's body.
Brünnhilde now orders a pyre to be raised. This is lit, and she rides into it on her horse, Grane,
wearing the ring, which will return, on her death, to the Rhinemaidens, who drag Hagen down to the
depths of the river. Now flames are seen as Valhalla, the home of the gods, finally burns.
The last opera of The Ring cycle, Götterdämmerung is a work of sufficient substance to provide
a conclusion. Wagner uses leit-motifs, themes or fragments of themes identified with particular
characters, events or ideas, drawing on the material of the earlier dramas of the cycle. The closely
woven texture of a work that is through-composed, with continuous music, makes the extraction of
excerpts difficult. Nevertheless orchestral elements from the score that may appear in concert
programmes include the music for Dawn , Siegfried's Rhine Journey , as he goes to meet Hagen, and
his Funeral March . Vocal excerpts must include Brünnhilde's Zu neuen Taten (To new deeds), as
she sends Siegfried on his way, and the Rhinemaiden Waltraute's Narrative, Höre mit Sinn (Hear
and understand). More extended excerpts might include Brünnhilde's immolation and the closing
part of the work.