Die Walküre (The Valkyrie) is the second of the four operas that comprise Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung), by Richard Wagner. It is the source of the famous piece Ride of the Valkyries.
It received its premiere at the National Theatre Munich on 26 June 1870 at the insistence of King Ludwig II of Bavaria. It was premiered in Wagner's Bayreuth Festival as part of the complete cycle on 14 August 1876. The opera made its United States premiere at the Academy of Music in New York on 2 April 1877.
|Role||Voice type||Premiere Cast
26 June 1870
(Conductor: Franz Wüllner)
|Cast at premiere of complete cycle
14 August 1876
(Conductor: Hans Richter)
|Siegmund||tenor||Heinrich Vogl||Albert Niemann|
|Sieglinde||soprano||Therese Vogl||Josephine Schefsky|
|Hunding||bass||Kaspar Bausewein||Josef Niering|
|Wotan||bass-baritone||August Kindermann||Franz Betz|
|Fricka||mezzo-soprano||Anna Kaufmann||Friederike Grün|
|Brünnhilde||soprano||Sophie Stehle||Amalie Materna|
|Gerhilde||soprano||Karoline Lenoff||Marie Haupt|
|Ortlinde||soprano||Henriette Müller||Marie Lehmann|
|Schwertleite||contralto||Emma Seehofer||Johanna Jachmann-Wagner|
|Helmwige||soprano||Anna Possart-Deinet||Lilli Lehmann|
|Siegrune||mezzo-soprano||Anna Eichheim||Antonie Amann|
|Grimgerde||mezzo-soprano||Wilhelmine Ritter||Hedwig Reicher-Kindermann|
|Rossweisse||mezzo-soprano||Juliane Tyroler||Marie Lammert|
Although Wotan, chief of the gods, rules over giants, men and the Nibelung dwarfs by virtue of the treaties and contracts engraved on the shaft of his spear, he has himself broken one such contract — he promised to give the goddess Freia to the two giants Fasolt and Fafner as payment for building the stronghold of Valhalla, but when the work was completed he refused to part with Freia, who provides the gods with the apples of eternal youth.
A substitute had to be found, and the giants demanded the treasure of Alberich the Nibelung. Alberich had stolen the magic Rhine gold from the three Rhine maidens and forged from it a ring which gives its bearer mastery of the world if he will forswear love. Wotan was not prepared to renounce love, but coveted the power of the ring. He took it by force from Alberich, who then put a deadly curse on it. Wotan gave it to the giants but only after the all-wise goddess Erda, mother of the three Norns (weavers of the world's destiny), warned him of the approaching end of the gods. Alberich's curse took immediate effect: Fafner killed Fasolt to gain the ring, and took the entire treasure.
By means of the Tarnhelm (a magic cap which Alberich's brother Mime had forged from the gold) he changed himself into a monstrous dragon and in this form he hoards the treasure in a cave in the depths of a forest. Wotan now takes two measures to secure himself against danger. With the help of the nine Valkyries borne to him by Erda (chief among whom is Brünnhilde), he gathers about him in Valhalla an army of warriors who will be able to defend him against Alberich's power, should the Nibelung ever regain possession of the Ring, and at the same time he seeks to influence events so that the ring will fall into the hands of a hero who has grown up free of divine help and is not bound by any of the treaties that bind the god himself. Under the name "Wälse" he has fathered, by a mortal woman, the twins Siegmund and Sieglinde, who have become separated from each other while children.
A fierce storm is raging. Siegmund, pursued by enemies, seeks refuge in a house built around the trunk of a mighty ash-tree. This is the home of Sieglinde, who is married to the brutal Hunding. Sieglinde does not realise that the wounded and exhausted stranger is her brother. While she is caring for him an unmistakably sexual tension develops between the two. Hunding returns and, in spite of his distrust of the stranger, offers him hospitality. Siegmund gives his name as Wehwalt (Weh=sorrow), son of Wolfe, and after some hesitation tells his story.
He had grown up in the forest with his parents and his twin sister. Returning home one day he found that marauders had burnt down their hut, killed his mother and abducted his sister. Some years later he had become separated from his father, who also disappeared, leaving him alone in the world. Siegmund has tried to mix with other men but has always been rejected as an outsider. He is now fleeing from a clan whom he had found trying to marry a girl off to a man she did not love; Siegmund has killed her brothers and lost his weapons in the flight from her relations. Hunding now reveals that he himself is a kinsman of this clan. Siegmund will be protected by the laws of hospitality for the night, but in the morning Hunding will fight him to avenge his murdered kinsmen. Left alone, Siegmund cries out for help to his father Wälse, who had promised that in the hour of his greatest need he would find a sword.
Sieglinde returns, having drugged Hunding with a sleeping draught. She recounts how, when her abductors were marrying her off to Hunding, a mysterious stranger had appeared and plunged a sword into the trunk of the ash-tree. No one has yet been able to draw it out, but she now believes that Siegmund is her saviour and that the sword will be his. As the door of the house flies open to reveal the forest transfigured by the arrival of spring, the love which has grown up between the two breaks out uncontrollably. Siegmund reveals that he is the son of Wälse and draws forth the sword, which he names "Nothung" (Not=need, necessity). Sieglinde discloses that she is his own twin sister. Overcome, the two fall into a passionate embrace.
It is the following morning. Siegmund and Sieglinde have fled from Hunding into the mountains. Wotan orders his daughter, the Valkyrie Brünnhilde, to prepare for battle in order to help Siegmund kill Hunding in their coming fight. Fricka, Wotan's consort, now approaches. As the guardian of marriage, she demands the death of Siegmund, who is guilty of both adultery and incest. When Wotan refuses to abandon his "free hero", Fricka lays bare his self-deception: Siegmund is in no sense independent since his fate has been pre-ordained by Wotan, who has even indirectly led him to find the magic sword.
Wotan, as guardian of oaths, is compelled to punish Siegmund and must now promise to leave him to his fate without any protection. He must also forbid Brünnhilde to aid him in his fight against Hunding. When Fricka has left, Wotan openly expresses his despair, and in the course of a long monologue explains to Brünnhilde the story of the Ring and the curse attached to it. When Brünnhilde shows her reluctance to abandon Siegmund, Wotan threatens her with his terrible anger; he orders her to obey, and storms off. Brünnhilde sadly withdraws. Siegmund and Sieglinde now arrive; Sieglinde, half-crazed with fear, sinks into an exhausted sleep. Brünnhilde appears before Siegmund to announce his forthcoming death and his reception among the heroes of Valhalla.
Siegmund, however, refuses to follow her into Valhalla if Sieglinde cannot accompany him. Brünnhilde is deeply moved that a man can value love higher than the everlasting bliss of Valhalla. She is overcome with compassion as Siegmund, in a fit of despair, prepares to kill his sleeping sister after learning that she bears his child. Brünnhilde prevents him and promises to support him despite Wotan's command. But in the fight Wotan himself unexpectedly intervenes. His spear shatters the magic sword, Siegmund is killed by Hunding, and Brünnhilde, gathering up the pieces of the sword, hastily leads Sieglinde away to safety. Hunding falls dead at a contemptuous gesture from Wotan, who then hurries after Brünnhilde to punish her disobedience.
The Valkyries are gathering together on a rocky mountain top where they are preparing to take the bodies of fallen heroes to Valhalla on their flying horses. Brünnhilde arrives with Sieglinde, seeking their help but the Valkyries refuse to defy Wotan. Brünnhilde prophesies that Sieglinde will give birth to "the noblest hero in the world", Siegfried. She gives her the fragments of the sword and advises her to take refuge in the forest to the east where Fafner guards his treasure and where Wotan will not follow her.
Brünnhilde then comes forward to confront her father who, in a furious rage, pronounces her punishment: banished from Valhalla, stripped of her divinity, she will lie asleep on this rock and will belong to the man who finds her and awakens her. Horrified, the other eight Valkyries scatter. Brünnhilde tries to justify her disobedience. She had intended to carry out Wotan's real wishes, which Fricka had forced him to renounce against his will. She describes how she had been so moved by wonder and pity at Siegmund's predicament and by his love for Sieglinde that she could not refuse him her help. Wotan's anger is calmed, and he grants Brünnhilde's pitiful prayer to be awoken only by a hero: with a kiss on her eyes he plunges her into a profound sleep and then summons the fire god Loge to the rock to surround the sleeping mortal, a Valkyrie no more, with a ring of magic fire which can only be penetrated by a hero "freer than the god" who does not fear Wotan's spear.
|Ride of the Valkyries|
|Performed by the American Symphony Orchestra|