The first of Wagner’s tetralogy Der Ring des Nibelungen, Das Rheingold establishes the power and the curse, surrounding the ring made from Rhinegold, which continues to plague both gods and mortals through the next three operas Die Walküre, Siegfried, and Götterdämmerung.
The first act of this first opera of the Ring Cycle begins with a scene in which a dwarf named Alberich seizes the gold of the Rhinemaidens. Alberich denounces love in order to gain possession of the magic ring which gives its wearer ultimate power. This scene sets up the Ring as the most desireable object in the world, and thus it establishes the fundamental intrigue that lasts throughout the entire cycle of the Ring. Rhinegold is the story of the gods, possibly more so than the rest of the operas. One learns of the suffering of Wotan and the problems the gods have in repaying Fafner and Fasolt, the giants who built Valhalla.
Opera in 4 scenes
Sung in German
About 2 hours 30 min + intervals
At the bottom of the Rhine, the three Rhinemaidens, Woglinde, Wellgunde, and Floßhilde, play together. Alberich, a Nibelung dwarf, appears from a deep chasm and tries to woo them. The maidens mock his advances and he grows angry – he chases them, but they elude, tease and humiliate him. A sudden ray of sunshine pierces the depths, to reveal the Rhinegold. The maidens rejoice in the gold's gleam. Alberich asks what it is. They explain that the gold, which their father has ordered them to guard, can be made into a magic ring which gives power to rule the world, if its bearer first renounces love. The maidens think they have nothing to fear from the lustful dwarf, but Alberich, embittered by their mockery, curses love, seizes the gold and returns to his chasm, leaving them screaming in dismay.
Wotan, ruler of the gods, is asleep on a mountaintop, with a magnificent castle behind him. His wife, Fricka, wakes Wotan, who salutes their new home. Fricka reminds him of his promise to the giants Fasolt and Fafner, who built the castle, that he would give them Fricka's sister Freia, the goddess of youth and beauty, as payment. Fricka is worried for her sister, but Wotan trusts that Loge, the demigod of fire, will find an alternative payment.
Freia enters in a panic, followed by Fasolt and Fafner. Fasolt demands that Freia be given up. He points out that Wotan's authority is sustained by the treaties carved into his spear, including his contract with the giants, which Wotan therefore cannot violate. Donner, god of thunder, and Froh, god of sunshine, arrive to defend Freia, but Wotan cannot permit the use of force to break the agreement. Hoping that Loge will arrive with the alternative payment he has promised, Wotan tries to stall.
When Loge arrives, his initial report is discouraging: nothing is more valuable to men than love, so there is apparently no possible alternative payment besides Freia. Loge was able to find only one instance where someone willingly gave up love for something else: Alberich the Nibelung has renounced love, stolen the Rhine gold and made a powerful magic ring out of it. A discussion of the ring and its powers ensues, and everyone finds good reasons for wanting to own it. Fafner makes a counter-offer: the giants will accept the Nibelung's treasure in payment, instead of Freia. When Wotan tries to haggle, the giants depart, taking Freia with them as hostage and threatening to keep her forever unless the gods ransom her by obtaining, and giving them the Nibelung's gold by the end of the day.
Freia's golden apples had kept the gods eternally young, but in her absence they begin to age and weaken. In order to redeem Freia, Wotan resolves to travel with Loge to Alberich's subterranean kingdom to obtain the gold.
In Nibelheim, Alberich has enslaved the rest of the Nibelung dwarves with the power of the ring. He has forced his brother Mime, a skillful smith, to create a magic helmet, the Tarnhelm. Alberich demonstrates the Tarnhelm's power by making himself invisible, the better to torment his subjects.
Wotan and Loge arrive and happen upon Mime, who tells them of the dwarves' misery under Alberich's rule. Alberich returns, driving his slaves to pile up a huge mound of gold. He boasts to the visitors about his plans to conquer the world using the power of the ring. Loge asks how he can protect himself against a thief while he sleeps. Alberich replies the Tarnhelm will hide him, by allowing him to turn invisible or change his form. Loge expresses doubt and requests a demonstration. Alberich complies by transforming himself into a giant snake; Loge acts suitably impressed, and then asks whether Alberich can also reduce his size, which would be very useful for hiding. Alberich transforms himself into a toad. Wotan and Loge seize him, tie his hands, and drag him up to the surface.
Back on the mountaintop, Wotan and Loge force Alberich to exchange his wealth for his freedom. He summons the Nibelungen, who bring up the hoard of gold. He then asks for the return of the Tarnhelm, but Loge says that it is part of his ransom. Alberich still hopes he can keep the ring, but Wotan demands it, and when Alberich refuses, Wotan tears it from Alberich's hand and puts it on his own finger. Crushed by his loss, Alberich lays a curse on the ring: until it should return to him, whoever possesses it will live in anxiety, and will eventually be robbed of it and killed.
The gods reconvene. Fasolt and Fafner return with Freia. Fasolt, reluctant to release her, insists that the gold be piled high enough to hide her from view. Wotan is forced to relinquish the Tarnhelm, to help cover Freia completely. However, Fasolt spots a remaining crack in the gold, through which one of Freia's eyes can be seen. Loge says that there is no more gold, but Fafner, who has noticed the ring on Wotan's finger, demands that Wotan add it to the pile, to block the crack. Loge protests that the ring belongs to the Rheinmaidens, and Wotan angrily declares that he intends to keep it for his own. As the giants seize Freia and start to leave, Erda, the earth goddess, appears and warns Wotan of impending doom, urging him to give up the cursed ring. Troubled, Wotan calls the giants back and surrenders the ring. The giants release Freia and begin dividing the treasure, but they quarrel over the ring itself. Fafner clubs Fasolt to death. Wotan, horrified, realizes that Alberich's curse has terrible power.
Donner summons a thunderstorm to clear the air, after which Froh creates a rainbow bridge that stretches to the gate of the castle. Wotan leads the gods across the bridge to the castle, which he names Valhalla. Loge does not follow; he says in an aside that he is tempted to destroy the treacherous gods by fire – he will think it over. Far below, the Rhine maidens mourn the loss of their gold, and condemn the gods as false and cowardly.
Wotan – Bass-baritone (dramatic)
God of battle, and of contracts, ruler of the gods
Loge – Tenor (Helden/dramatic)
Demi-god of fire, Wotan's clever, manipulative executive servant
Fricka – Mezzo-soprano (dramatic)
Goddess of family values; wife to Wotan
Freia – Soprano (spinto)
Goddess of love and beauty, guardian of the golden apples; Fricka's sister
Froh – Tenor (lyric)
God of spring and sunshine; Freia's gentle brother
Donner - Baritone (dramatic)
God of thunder; Freia's hot-tempered brother
Erda - Contralto
Primal earth mother, goddess of earthly wisdom
Alberich - Baritone (dramatic/charakter)
Power-hungry dwarf, lord of the Nibelungs
Mime - Tenor (charakter)
Alberich's brother, a cowardly expert metal-smith
Fasolt - Bass (lyric basso profondo)
Giant, in love with Freia
Fafner – Bass (dramatic basso profondo)
Giant; Fasolt's ruthless brother
Woglinde - Soprano (spinto)
Wellgunde – Soprano/Mezzo-soprano (spinto)
Floßhilde - Mezzo-soprano
Place of birth: Leipzig, Germany
Place of death: Venice, Italy
Richard Wagner was a 19th century German composer, theatre director, conductor and librettist. His writing period spans over more than 50 years. He is most known for his operas, what he called, "music dramas". Particularly in his later operas he made use of "Leitmotifs" (leading motifs), musical phrases connected to a role character, a place or an idea. He also describes the music dramas as "Gesamtkunstwerk" (total work of art). This idea revolutionised opera. By combining poetic, visual, musical and dramatic arts the story could unfold with the music supporting the drama.
Wagner's hostile writings expressing antisemitic views have been widely commented. Hitler was an admirer of his music and there are continuous debates about the extent to which Wagner's views might have influenced Nazi thinking.
Wagner married Wilhelmine "Minna" Planer in 1836. Their tumultuous marriage would last until Minna's death in 1866, although their relationship ended much earlier. In 1852 Wagner became infatuated with the poet-writer Mathilde Wesendonck. He would set five of her verses to music, the Wesendonck Lieder. In 1863 Wagner met Cosima von Bülow, the wife of Hans von Bülow and daughter of Franz Liszt. They had an affair that would lead to a marriage that would last until Wagner's death. They married in 1870 and had three children.
Wagner's legacy to the world of opera is of considerable scope, although controversial.
"Imagination creates reality."
Wagner built his own opera house, the Bayreuth Festspielhaus, specifically to house his own works during the annual festival, the Bayreuth Festival. Today audiences travel from all over the world to visit the summer festival. The orchestra pit is designed so that it doesn't draw any attention from the stage, with the orchestra members hidden under the stage, invisible to the audience.
Most prominent operas
Der fliegende Holländer 1843
Tristan und Isolde 1865
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg 1868
Das Rheingold 1869
Die Walküre 1870
Der Ring des Nibelungen, also called The Ring cycle, is a cycle of four epic music dramas, Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried and Götterdämmerung. The works are based loosely on characters from the Norse sagas and the Nibelungenlied.
Das Rheingold is the first of the four operas in Wagner's ring. The librettos were written in reverse order. Das Rheingold was the last of the texts to be written.
Wagner wrote the libretto for all of his operas and referred to the texts as "poems".
3+1, 3+1, 3+1, 3 - 8 (2 tenor tubas in B flat, 2 bass tubas), 3+1, 3+1, 1
timp, perc, 7 harps, 18 anvil, large string section
Das Rheingold was performed as a single opera at the National Theatre Munich in 1869. As part of the Ring cycle it was first heard at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus in 1876.
Today Das Rheingold is one of the top 50 most performed operas worldwide.
Lugt Schwestern... "Alberich's curse" (Alberich, Woglinde, Wellgunde, Floßhilde)
Aria - Weiche Wotan, weiche "Erda's warning" (Erda)
So grüß ich die Burg (Wotan, Woglinde, Wellgunde, Floßhilde)