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NBD0051 - WAGNER, R.: Walküre (Die) (Goerne, DeYoung, Skelton, Melton, P. Lang, Struckmann, Hong Kong Philharmonic, van Zweden) (Blu-ray Audio)
Die Walküre (The Valkyrie)
The First Day of Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung)
Siegmund – Stuart Skelton, Tenor
Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra
Wagner’s tetralogy, Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung) was first performed as a whole in August 1876 at the new Festspielhaus in Bayreuth. The complete cycle consists of a Prologue, Das Rheingold (The Rhinegold), followed the next day by Die Walkure (The Valkyrie), and then by Siegfried, leading up to the final Gotterdammerung (Twilight of the Gods). The text of Die Walkure was completed by Wagner in 1854 and the full score was ready by 1856, but it was fourteen years before a performance of the work became possible, and twenty before the whole Ring cycle was given in a specially created opera-house of novel design, the endeavour representing a summit of creative achievement, the apotheosis of German art. Leading motifs associated with characters, events and ideas in the drama, recur, interwoven to unify the whole conception.
The sources of the drama were found in Icelandic sagas, the thirteenth-century Middle High German Das Nibelungenlied and the Old Norse Thidreks Saga af Bern, but Wagner had recourse to a wide range of other reading, while the structure of the tetralogy and the underlying theme of the curse owes a strong debt to Aeschylus and Greek tragedy. As with Das Rheingold, Die Walkure was first performed, in Wagner’s absence, in 1870 at the Court Theatre in Munich. Wagner’s involvement with Liszt’s daughter Cosima, wife of Hans von Bülow, and other intrigues and rivalries, had forced him into exile now for some years. It was from his residence with Cosima and her children at Triebschen, overlooking Lake Lucerne, that he could, paradoxically, hope for failure in Munich, where he had thought his presence of vital importance for the staging of his work, while reluctant to have parts of The Ring performed in isolation one from another. At the same time the situation in Munich awoke ambitions for a theatre where Wagner might reign in relative independence, a dream to be realised in 1876 at the opening of the new Festspielhaus in Bayreuth, a venture helped by the continuing fascinated generosity of the young King Ludwig of Bavaria and now by friends from the new centre of German power, Berlin.
 In the Prelude thunder is heard and through it occasional horn-calls. The storm is coming to an end as the curtain rises.
 The scene is Hunding’s house, built around an ashtree. Siegmund, the son of Wotan, comes in, exhausted and drops down by the hearth. Sieglinde enters from an inner room and is surprised to see a stranger. He does not answer her question but asks for water. He drinks and looks fixedly at her, seeking to know who she is. She tells him that she is the wife of Hunding and soon he forgets the battle from which he has escaped, weary and weaponless, but unscathed. He drinks the mead she offers him and finds himself strangely attracted by her. 3 Knowing himself the bearer of ill-fortune, he makes to leave, but Sieglinde prevents him, telling him of her own unhappy life.
 As they gaze at each other, Hunding returns, carrying his shield and spear. He stops, when he sees Siegmund. Sieglinde explains the stranger’s presence and Hunding offers him the traditional hospitality. As they sit down to eat, Hunding notices the likeness between Siegmund and Sieglinde.
 In reply to Hunding’s questions Siegmund tells him that his name is Woeful (Wehwalt) and explains how he used to wander through the woods with his father, whom he calls Wolfe: his mother had been killed, his twin sister abducted and finally his father had gone away.
 He tells of his continuing misfortune and how his recent attempt to help a maiden had ended in disaster.
 Hunding tells him that the battle in which he has been involved was one that his own kinsmen were concerned in and that he will avenge them the following day. He sends Sieglinde to prepare his drink, but as she goes she directs Siegmund’s gaze towards the ash-tree. Hunding follows his wife, taking his weapons.
 Siegmund has no weapon, but his father had promised him one in time of need. He cries out ‘Wälse’, his father’s name, as far as he knows it, and sees light shining from the ash-tree. The fire dies down and Siegmund is left in darkness.
 Sieglinde returns. She has drugged her husband and shows Siegmund a sword, embedded in the ash-tree. She tells him how the kinsmen had gathered there for a feast, when an old man had come in. He looked angrily, with his one eye, at the men there, but smiled at her, plunging his sword into the tree for the use of the one who could remove it. No-one succeeded, and Sieglinde realised who the old man was, and now hopes that Siegmund will be the one to take the sword and avenge her. They embrace.
 The door opens and they are seen in the moonlight: winter has gone and spring has come, to join with love.
 For Sieglinde Siegmund is spring and light and love.
 They declare their love for each other, and Sieglinde notices that Siegmund seems like her own reflection, his voice an echo of hers and his eyes like her father’s. She asks him his real name and that of his father. Siegmund tells her his father’s real name.
 Sieglinde, then, will call him Siegmund. To prove his identity he grasps the sword, which he names Nothung (Need) and pulls it out from the tree.
 With the sword as a bridal gift, he wants to take her away at once, but she now reveals her own name and tells him that she is his twin sister. Siegmund takes her in his arms in delight.
 Motifs of the sword, love and rapture are heard in the Prelude. Wotan, standing on a rocky outcrop, commands his daughter Brünnhilde to ensure Siegmund’s victory over Hunding.
 As she goes, singing out in exultation as she leaps from rock to rock, Brünnhilde tells Wotan of the approach of his wife, Fricka.
 Fricka is angry. Hunding has sought her help as the guardian of marriage and this she has promised him, with vengeance on the Volsungs. Wotan proposes that the Volsungs, Siegmund and Sieglinde, should be allowed their way, even if they are brother and sister, a happier union than that of Sieglinde and Hunding.
 Fricka denounces Wotan, accusing him of setting all divine laws at nothing after begetting the Volsungs. The Valkyries that he had begotten were bad enough, but the Volsungs are mere mortals. Wotan tells her that he needs a hero free from the gods and the laws of the gods to accomplish his ends, which he himself cannot undertake, by the terms of his oath. Fricka argues that Siegmund is not independent, as Wotan has given him a sword.
 She insists that he stop trying to protect Siegmund, that he cast aside Brünnhilde and undo the magic power of the sword.
 Wotan is forced to agree to the death of Siegmund, to protect Fricka’s honour, as Brünnhilde is heard returning.
 Brünnhilde asks Wotan what he wants her to do. He is despondent at the turn of events, and complains of his powerlessness and predicament. Brünnhilde seeks to know the cause of his sorrow. Wotan tells her how he had wanted power and love and how Alberich, wanting only power, had made the ring. Wotan had stolen it and used it to pay those who built Valhalla. Erda had warned him not to keep the ring, and foretold the end of the gods. He had followed her deep into the earth and compelled her, by magic, to give him her knowledge. She bore him nine daughters, the Valkyries, who bring together the bodies of fallen heroes to defend Valhalla.
 Erda, however, had foreseen danger, if Alberich were to recover the ring, from the hoard guarded by the giant Fafner, who had killed his own brother. Wotan, bound by his oath, cannot take the ring back himself, but needs the help of a free hero, who, in spite of the gods, can recover the ring for him. Nevertheless he has proved impotent, as Fricka has shown, with Siegmund dependent on him for protection but now to be abandoned.
 Brünnhilde asks what he wants her to do. He tells her that he has touched the ring, and is under its curse; he must abandon what he loves. He wants an end; if Alberich has a son, the gods will come to an end.
 Then let the Nibelung’s son take Valhalla and rule over it. Thanks to Fricka, she must see that Siegmund is defeated. He storms out.
 Brünnhilde is stupefied at his command. She draws back into a cave, as Siegmund and Sieglinde draw near.
 Siegmund tries to calm Sieglinde, who feels guilt at her conduct. He promises to put an end to her shame by killing Hunding, whose horn-call can be heard far off. Sieglinde urges him to escape, imagining Siegmund’s fate, torn in pieces by Hunding’s dogs. She hears the sound of Hunding’s horn and falls, fainting. Siegmund sits, supporting her head.
 Brünnhilde emerges from the cave, leading her horse, and tells Siegmund that he will die, his body to be taken by her to Valhalla, to be with gods and heroes, and with his father Wotan and his daughters.
 Siegmund will not leave Sieglinde, but Brünnhilde tells him that he will be killed by Hunding. This he refuses to believe, but she tells him that his sword is now powerless.
 He inveighs against the maker of the sword and makes to kill Sieglinde, but Brünnhilde stops him, promising to change the outcome of the battle, as she goes.
 The scene grows dark with thunderclouds. Siegmund looks at Sieglinde, now sleeping peacefully, kisses her and draws his sword, ready to encounter Hunding.
 Siegmund hears Hunding’s horn-call. Sieglinde wakes and calls in fear for Siegmund. Hunding is heard calling for Siegmund, whom he knows as Wehwalt. The men meet in combat, but Brünnhilde appears, guarding Siegmund with her shield. At this point Wotan is seen over Hunding, and Siegmund’s sword breaks against Wotan’s spear. Brünnhilde withdraws in fear and Hunding kills Siegmund.
 At this Brünnhilde takes Sieglinde onto her horse and rides away with her. At the command of Wotan, Hunding falls dead. In anger Wotan storms out, ready to deal with Brünnhilde.
Scene 1 (The Valkyries)
 The Valkyries return from battle, to meet at Brünnhilde’s rock. They greet each other, as they arrive, bearing the bodies of slain heroes. They see Brünnhilde bringing not a hero but a woman with her.
 Brünnhilde calls for their help, pursued as she is by Wotan. They will not help her, but she explains that the woman with her is Sieglinde, the sister and bride of Siegmund, telling them about the death of the latter and Wotan’s intervention. The other Valkyries find her behaviour rash.
 Sieglinde, coming to, wants to die, now that Siegmund is dead, but Brünnhilde tells her she must live to bear Siegmund’s child. They urge Sieglinde to take refuge from the anger of Wotan, who is drawing near; she must escape into the woods where Alberich’s treasure lies, shielded from their father’s wrath. She gives Sieglinde the pieces of Siegmund’s broken sword, for the son she will bear, Siegfried. The storm clouds gather over the rocky peaks and the voice of Wotan is heard through the thunder, calling for Brünnhilde, while the others try to hide her.
 Enraged, Wotan seeks Brünnhilde, his favourite daughter, who has broken her word to him. He tells the Valkyries that he knows they are shielding their sister, one whom he had trusted and who has now broken the sacred bond between them.
 Brünnhilde comes forward, ready for her punishment, which, as Wotan says, she has brought on herself; now she must lose all her power, no longer a Valkyrie, no longer to bear the bodies of heroes to Valhalla, an exile from the gods, banished from his sight. She is to lie asleep on the rock there, until a man finds and wakes her. Brünnhilde kneels before Wotan, while Sieglinde wakes and calls in fear for Siegmund. The other Valkyries are in consternation at this harsh penalty. Wotan is inexorable. Brünnhilde is no longer of their band and will no longer ride through the air; they must leave her, otherwise they will share her fate. To the sound of a storm they take their flight.
 The storm has died down and Wotan and Brünnhilde are left alone. They remain silent, as she lies at his feet.
 Brünnhilde pleads with Wotan, asking whether her offence was so great; surely she did as he had told her, or at least done what he wished. He tells her that he had countermanded his first order, but she accuses him of being his own enemy, at Fricka’s persuasion. Brünnhilde, however, knew of Wotan’s love for the Volsung and what was in his heart.
 He understands the reason for her action, following her heart, while he has had to have his whole world and his dreams come to an end; he must now be parted from her. She has put love before her duty to him. She tells him that, although she may not be wise, she understood what he really wanted. He tells her she must follow love and the one she is fated to love. She begs that she may not be subject to some braggart. He will not intervene, but she tells him that a great hero will spring from the Volsungs, from Sieglinde, who now has the pieces of Siegmund’s sword.
 Wotan tells her not to try to change his mind; her fate must be whatever it is. Her punishment is to lie in deep sleep, until a man wakes her, destined to be her husband. Brünnhilde asks that her sleep be so protected that only a brave hero may reach her; let there be fire about the rock on which she lies.
 Wotan raises Brünnhilde from her knees, and bids her farewell, sadly rejecting her, but promising her the fire she has asked for.
 He seeks a farewell kiss from a daughter in whom he had taken delight. He kisses her on the eyes, and she sinks down in sleep, her eyes closed, as he lays her on a mossy rock.
 Striking a rock with his spear, he summons Loge calling on him to surround the rock with fire. He strikes the rock three times, calling again on Loge.
 Fire appears, surrounding the rock, and Wotan declares that none who fear shall pass through the fire. He stretches out his spear, looks sadly back at Brünnhilde and goes slowly away, vanishing through the fire.
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