Third day of
Der Ring des Nibelungen (1876)
Text and music by
Wagner’s »Götterdämmerung« is the concluding chapter of his monumental four-part opus, which he conceived in the light of the revolution of 1848/49 and completed in 1874 after numerous attempts and a long interruption. In many ways, the thematic and musical threads are intertwined in a highly artistic and complex manner. Some storylines, by now almost forgotten, are taken up again here, creating a sense of great drama leading to its ultimate outcome. Wagner’s idea for a heroic epic with the title »Siegfrieds Tod« – from which he later developed »Götterdämmerung« with its broader scope – formed the nucleus of the »Ring«. Inspired by Norse sagas and legends, Wagner gradually created the background stories so that the world of the gods merged with that of the people. In doing so, he mirrored the times he was living in and gave audiences boundless space for their own interpretations and reflections.
The Norns meet to remember the past and to look to the future. They try to piece together the fragments of their memories to a complete story and to understand its meaning, but they repeatedly lose the thread of the narrative.
Siegfried bids Brünnhilde farewell. She sends him off to prove his mettle with his new deeds. As a sign of his fidelity, Siegfried leaves Brünnhilde his ring. She offers him her horse, Grane.
Gunther has achieved great power, but his half-brother Hagen thinks Gunther still lacks something necessary for great renown: a wife, and his sister Gutrune is also still unwed. Hagen knows just the right candidates: the beautiful Brünnhilde for Gunther and Siegfried for Gutrune. But to win over Brünnhilde requires daring boldness, and it would require great effort on Gutrune’s part to capture Siegfried, in case he surfaces.
Siegfried actually appears. Gunther receives him warmly and offers him his friendship. Gutrune offers the guest wine. Now, all he can dream about is Gutrune and asks Gunther for her hand in marriage. Gunther agrees to become his brother-in-law, but in return Siegfried should convince Brünnhilde to marry him. Siegfried agrees and reaffirms his alliance with Gunter, swearing their brotherhood in blood.
Hagen, Alberich’s illegitimate son, wants Siegfried’s help to obtain the ring that his father told him about, which grants endless power.
Brünnhilde is surprisingly visited by the Valkyrie Waltraute, who reports to her that Walhall is in decline. Wotan has withdrawn entirely. Waltraute communicates Wotan’s last words: he asks Brünnhilde to return the ring to him. But Brünnhilde will have none of this: she wants to keep Siegfried’s present. Let Valhalla perish – she will not surrender the ring. Waltraute departs without success.
Brünnhilde can sense that Siegfried is returning. She runs toward him – and discovers to her horror a stranger before her. The new arrival tells Brünnhilde that she must become Gunther’s wife.
Brünnhilde tries to escape, but he overcomes her, tears the ring off her finger and forces her to follow him.
In the nightly darkness, Hagen’s son Alberich appears to him, trying to convince his son to take hold of the ring, now in Siegfried’s possession. He must destroy Siegfried.
Siegfried returns and reports to Hagen and Gutrune how he carried out his plan. Hagen summons everyone to announce the two upcoming weddings: Gutrune and Siegfried, Brünnhilde and Gunther.
Triumphantly, Gunther escorts in Brünnhilde, who, devastated, sees Siegfried at Gutrune’s side. Everyone takes note of Brünnhilde’s downheartedness. Brünnhilde discovers her ring on Siegfried’s finger and declares that she is Siegfried’s wife. Siegfried denies this – what is this infidelity of which she speaks? Her husband is Gunther. Brünnhilde publicly accuses him of lying. Siegfried calls on all to ignore this idle talk of a woman, and leads Gutrune off.
When the guests depart, Hagen convinces the aggrieved Brünnhilde to take vengeance against Siegfried.
Woglinde, Wellgunde, and Floßhilde flirt with Siegfried and playfully ask him for the ring. Just when he’s about to give it to them, they become serious and warn Siegfried of the curse that threatens the owner of the ring: if Siegfried doesn’t give away the ring, he will die before sundown. But Siegfried sees things differently and refuses to give up the ring.
At Hagen’s request, Siegfried tells stories of his life to him, Gunther and their entourage: of his guardian Mime, the murder of Fafner, how he obtained the ring and helmet and found Brünnhilde. Hagen suddenly knocks him to the floor with a blow to the back. With a declaration of love for Brünnhilde on his lips, Siegfried dies.
Gutrune has a sense of doom. Upon seeing the dead Siegfried, she is overcome with dismay. Hagen insolently demands the ring. A bitter fight erupts between Hagen and Gunther, which Brünnhilde brings to an end.
Brünnhilde declares that as Siegfried’s wife she has a right to his legacy, and has a funeral pyre prepared. She removes the ring from Siegfried’s finger and speaks of her love and Valhalla, engulfed in flames.
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