Rheingold, Das (The Rhinegold)
  • Richard Wagner. Vorabend (Prologue) to Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung) in four scenes.1854.
  • Libretto by the composer.
  • First performance at the Königliches Hof- und Nationaltheater, Munich, on 22nd September 1869.
CHARACTERS

Wotan, ruler of Heaven and Earth

bass-baritone

Fricka, his wife, goddess of married bliss

mezzo-soprano

Freia, her sister, goddess of youth

soprano

Donner, her brother, god of thunder

bass-baritone

Froh, his brother

tenor

Erda, goddess of fate

contralto

Loge, demigod of fire

tenor

Fasolt, a giant

bass-baritone

Fafner, his brother

bass

Alberich, a Nibelung

bass-baritone

Mime, his brother

tenor

Woglinde, a Rhinemaiden

soprano

Wellgunde, her sister

soprano

Flosshilde, her sister

mezzo-soprano

The Rhinemaidens, guardians of the Rhinegold, swim in the waters, teasing the Nibelung Alberich and revealing the secret of the gold that he who forges a ring from it will rule the world, but the one who forges the ring must abjure love. Alberich seizes the gold and makes off. Wotan and Fricka awake from their sleep and see the new castle completed: now its builders Fasolt and Fafner must be rewarded with Fricka’s sister, Freia, who seeks escape from the bargain. Her brothers Donner and Froh try to protect her, but the two giants insist on their reward, Fasolt hoping thus to deprive the gods of youth, imparted by the apples that Freia has in her possession. Loge had hoped to find fault with the castle in order to secure Freia’s release. He tells the other gods of Alberich’s forging of the ring and renunciation of love, which will bring him power over the world and suggests that it can easily be stolen from the Nibelung. The giants decide that they would accept the ring instead of Freia, but take her away with them as a hostage, until this can be accomplished. Wotan decides that he will go with Loge to the home of the Nibelung. There is hammering in the realm of Alberich, where Mime has been made to forge a gold net, the Tarncap, which Alberich dons, thereby making himself invisible. Wotan and Loge arrive and learn from Mime of Alberich’s cruel tyranny over the Nibelung. When Alberich returns, Loge tricks him into transforming himself into a toad, which they then seize, snatching the Tarncap from his head and restoring him as a captive to his original shape. In the realm of the gods Alberich is forced to surrender the ring, on which he puts a curse. With Alberich’s gold and eventually with the ring itself, Wotan buys back Freia’s freedom. Fafner quarrels with his brother over the division of the spoil and kills him. Wotan names his new castle Valhalla and leads the others into it, while Loge contemplates return to his original form, as fire, to consume Valhalla, as fate has decreed.

The first of the four dramas of Wagner’s tetralogy sets the scene for what is to follow. The music brings together a series of motifs that will reappear in the later parts of the cycle in a work that follows the principles laid down in his own writings, rules to which he does not elsewhere strictly adhere, in view of the musical difficulties they present. Excerpts from the opera that may be heard in concert recital include Erda’s warning to Wotan, Weiche, Wotan, weiche! (Yield it, Wotan, yield it!), as she urges him to give up the ring and the treasure he has taken from Alberich, Wotan’s greeting to Valhalla, Abendlich strahlt der Sonne Auge (At evening the eye of the sun shines), and the entrance of the gods into Valhalla, this last often in an orchestral version.