Die Walküre

First day of

Der Ring des Nibelungen (1870)

Text and Music by

Richard Wagner

Wotan wants to secure power through his descendants. The twins Siegmund and Sieglinde seem to be the perfect choice. One day, fate brings them together. However, for Wotan’s wife Fricka, the sibling’s love is a thorn in her side, and even Wotan himself feels emotionally torn. When his favourite daughter, the Valkyrie Brünnhilde, revolts against him, he puts her to sleep, casting a circle of fire around her that only a fearless person can walk through.

In this section, humans appear for the first time and Wagner restarts his story to some extent. The music takes on a new tone, too, reflecting the powerful feelings that are taking up more and more space with great expression and emphasis. Besides the intensive dialogue scenes, which Wagner develops with psychological depth, there are striking instrumental parts such as the »Walkürenritt« and the »Feuerzauber« which are undoubtedly some of the musical highlights of the »Ring« tetralogy and have an overwhelming effect. With the »Walküre« score, composed in the mid-1850s, Wagner reached new heights with his music, giving the orchestra remarkable communicative powers. Layers of meaning were thus developed and incorporated into the work. Not just the human duo, Siegmund and Sieglinde, arouse fellow suffering but the divine beings too, who think, feel and act just as humanly.




Many years after the events that take place in »Rhinegold«

Siegmund, fleeing his persecutors, finds refuge at the home of Hunding, utterly exhausted. Hunding’s wife Sieglinde takes care of the guest to allow him to regain his strength.

The man of the house comes home and finds an unfamiliar guest. The stranger only hesitantly responds to questions and refuses to betray his true name, calling himself Wehwalt. He reports that he had lived with his father, mother, and sister in the forest; enemies had hunted them down like wild wolves and given his father the name Wolf. One day, he and his father returned home to discover that it had been burned down; his mother had been killed and his sister abducted. Soon thereafter, his father also disappeared in battle with the enemies and the son was left alone. He wanted to live in society, but always failed. Once, he tried to protect a girl who was to be forcefully married, killing her brother, but the girl mourned her brother’s death and cursed him, her protector. Ultimately, she was attacked and killed by the furious family members, and he, wounded and unarmed, was forced to flee.

Hunding listens to the story and becomes enraged. This man turns out to be the enemy of his family! He challenges the guest to a duel the next morning. Certain of victory, for the guest was unarmed and thus unable to protect himself, Hunding went to his sleeping quarters and orders his wife, who follows, to prepare his nightly drink.

Siegmund, now alone, recalls that his father once promised that in the hour of his greatest need he would find an invincible sword. He sees Sieglinde’s sad look and feels a great closeness to her.

Sieglinde, suddenly arrested by love and compassion for the roving stranger, slips a strong sedative into her husband’s night drink. As soon as Hunding has fallen asleep, she goes out to Siegmund. To help the unarmed guest, she tells him that at her sad wedding to Hunding a one-eyed stranger appeared and plunged a sword into the house that since then nobody has been able to remove.

Sieglinde examines the face of the stranger closely and, touched by a vague childhood memory, realizes that Siegmund is her long lost brother. He reveals to her his true name: Siegmund, Wälse’s son: Lover and sister! Delighted, Siegmund now believes that the sword in Hunding’s house was the sword his father once promised him. He draws the sword, gives it the name Nothung and flees with Sieglinde from Hunding’s home.

Sieglinde and Siegmund are Wotan’s illegitimate children, and their entire lives and their long-awaited reencounter are part of Wotan’s grand scheme that can now finally become reality.

Wotan tells this to his closest and dearest confidant—Brünnhilde, his daughter with Erda. And he also reveals to her that an important event that was about to take place: a duel between Siegmund and Hunding. Full of joy, Brünnhilde hopes that her father’s plan will come to fruition.

But now, the furious Fricka appears, Wotan’s wife. She explains that she knows all about Wotan’s secret plans and meddling and demands that he cease assisting Siegmund. Fricka wants to support Sieglinde’s legal husband and cannot allow Siegmund to win. Wotan objects that marriage without love is pointless. Fricka’s counterargument: brother and sister cannot be lovers. In addition, she reminds Wotan that he constantly cheated during their marriage. After all, he used the name Wälse to have illicit relations with the woman that bore him the twins Siegmund and Sieglinde. Wotan thus has no right to protect Siegmund. Wotan’s attempts to explain to his wife that Siegmund is free to act according to his will meet with Fricka’s bitter resistance. She knows exactly how Wotan was encouraging Siegmund and thus violating the law, creating difficult situations for Siegmund, then helping him free himself from them. She also knows about the mysterious sword and Brünnhilde’s protection. She demands that Wotan betray Siegmund, otherwise he would have great difficulties and all would be revealed. In his despair, Wotan agrees to Fricka’s demands.

Brünnhilde returns, finding her father more depressed than ever. He tells her in despair of the betrayal he once committed: how he broke the contract with Fasolt and Fafner and stole from the Nibelung Alberich, and about Erda’s grim prediction. Since then, he has never been without worry. To find out the future, he once made love to Erda, resulting in Brünnhilde’s birth. He had placed so much hope in Siegmund, but now all was lost. Wotan insists that Brünnhilde stop protecting Siegmund. Brünnhilde tries to resist, objecting that it is not what he really wants, but that he has only given in to Fricka’s will, but Wotan becomes furious: his decision is final and Brünnhilde must do his bidding.

Siegmund and Sieglinde rest after several hours on the run. They could now be happy with one another, but Sieglinde is in despair. At Siegmund’s side, she now realizes how horrific her life with Hunding was, her docility without love. She nearly loses her wits and asks Siegmund to leave her. Debilitated by fear and a bad conscience, Sieglinde falls asleep.

Brünnhilde appears before Siegmund. She calls on him to follow her to the realm of the dead, there, in wonderous Valhalla, he will see his father Wälse among the other fallen heroes and be caressed by beautiful Valkyries. As if under a spell, Siegmund listens to Brünnhilde’s words.

But when he hears that Sieglinde will not be able to accompany him to this magnificent other world, he angrily refuses, he cannot abandon her. He is ready to die, but before he must kill the sleeping Sieglinde. Brünnhilde, gripped with emotion and touched by the power of love, unknown to her, decides to act against the will of her father and to save Siegmund.

Siegmund makes his way to encounter Hunding. Sieglinde awakes and sees that he is not by her side. She listens anxiously to the sounds of battle, in which the voices of Brünnhilde and Wotan can also be heard. To Brünnhilde’s horror, Wotan intervenes in Hunding’s favor.

Sieglinde realizes that her Siegmund is dead.

Brünnhilde collects the fragments of Siegmund’s sword and escapes with Sieglinde.

Angrily, Wotan threatens to find Brünnhilde and to punish her.

The Valkyries assemble and wait for Wotan. Only Brünnhilde is missing.

Then she appears, with an unusual burden: Sieglinde, whom she has saved. Brünnhilde asks for assistance to flee with Sieglinde from the vengeance of the father. But the Valkyries fear Wotan and Sieglinde begs Brünnhilde to let her die: after Siegmund’s death life no longer has any meaning for her. But Brünnhilde predicts that she will bear Siegmund’s son, in which the boldness of the father will return. Now Sieglinde passionately begs to be saved, just as passionately as she had longed for death, and that the Valkyries assist a mother-to-be. The Valkyries hesitate to help Brünnhilde. Brünnhilde gives Sieglinde the pieces of the broken sword Nothung: Sieglinde should flee on her own and protect her future son. Brünnhilde will remain and bear her father’s rage.

A furious Wotan appears. His verdict is cruel: he banishes Brünnhilde from his life, she should become an ordinary woman and subordinate herself to the first man to come along as his wife. He warns the other Valkyries: if one of them dares to help her, they would suffer the very same fate. Distraught, the Valkyries take leave of the outcast.

Brünnhilde begs her father for mercy and justice: she had only wanted to fulfill Wotan’s true will, which he only denied because Fricka had forced him to. Brünnhilde admits to her father how much Siegmund’s devoted love for Sieglinde touched her. Wotan explains to her that he is not free in his decisions, and she has chosen her own fate.

Brünnhilde asks not for clemency, but to be spared the worst: she could accept her banishment and the fate of living the life of an ordinary woman, but a worthy and courageous man should stand by her side.

The rage of the father subsides, and out of sympathy with his daughter he comes up with the idea of putting her to a long sleep from which only one without fear could awaken her. Wotan decides to place a magical ring of fire around the sleeping Brünnhilde that only a true hero could overcome.

Deeply moved and full of gratitude, the father recalls fond memories of life with his daughter and takes his leave.

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