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Siegfried is the third of the four operas that comprise Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung), by Richard Wagner. It received its premiere at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus on 16 August 1876, as part of the first complete performance of The Ring.

Contents

Composition

Roles

Role Voice type Premiere cast, 16 August 1876
(Conductor: Hans Richter)
Siegfried tenor Georg Unger
Mime tenor Karl Schlosser
The Wanderer bass-baritone Franz Betz
Alberich baritone Karl Hill
Fafner bass Franz von Reichenberg
Waldvogel (the woodbird) soprano
(treble) [1]
Marie Haupt
Erda contralto Luise Jaide
Brünnhilde soprano Amalie Materna

Synopsis

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Act 1

Mime comes upon Sieglinde in the forest, illustration by Arthur Rackham

Mime, Alberich's brother, is forging a blade in his cave within the forest. The Nibelung dwarf is plotting to obtain the Ring for himself, having raised Siegfried to kill Fafner for him. He needs a sword for Siegfried to use, but the youth has broken every blade he has made. Siegfried returns from his wanderings in the forest, demanding to know his parentage, and Mime is forced to explain how he took in Siegfried's mother, Sieglinde, who died giving birth. He shows Siegfried the broken pieces of Nothung, which he obtained from her, and Siegfried orders him to reforge the sword.

Siegfried (Heinrich Gudehus) forges Nothung

Siegfried departs, leaving Mime in despair: it is beyond his skill to repair Nothung. An old man (Wotan in disguise) arrives at the door and introduces himself as the Wanderer. In return for the hospitality due a guest he wagers his head on answering any three questions or riddles from Mime. The dwarf agrees in order to dispose of his unwelcome guest. He asks the Wanderer to name the races that live beneath the ground, on the surface, and the skies. These are the Nibelung, the Giants, and the Gods, as the Wanderer correctly answers. Mime tells the Wanderer to be on his way but is forced to wager his own head on three more riddles for breaking the law of hospitality. The Wanderer asks him to name the race most beloved of Wotan, but most harshly treated; the name of the blade that can destroy Fafner; and the person who can make the blade. Mime gives the answer to the first two questions: the Wälsungs and Nothung. However, he is unable to answer the last. Wotan spares Mime, telling him that only "he who does not know fear" can reforge Nothung, and leaves Mime's head forfeit to that person.

Siegfried returns and is annoyed by Mime's lack of progress. Mime realizes that Siegfried is "the one who does not know fear" and that unless he can instill fear in him, Siegfried will kill him in accordance with the Wanderer's prediction. He tells Siegfried that fear is an essential craft; Siegfried is eager to learn it, and Mime promises to teach him by bringing him to Fafner the dragon. Since Mime was unable to forge Nothung, Siegfried decides to do it himself. He succeeds by shredding the metal, melting it, and casting it anew. In the meantime, Mime brews a poisoned drink to offer Siegfried after the youth has defeated the dragon. After he finishes forging the sword, Siegfried demonstrates its strength by chopping the anvil in half with it.

Act 2

Siegfried tastes the dragon's blood (Rackham)

The Wanderer arrives at the entrance to Fafner's cave, where Alberich is keeping a vigil. The old enemies quickly recognize each other. Alberich blusters, boasting of his plans for regaining the ring and ruling the World. Wotan calmly states that he does not intend to interfere, only to observe. He even offers to awaken Fafner so that Alberich can bargain with him. Alberich warns the dragon that a hero is coming to fight him, and offers to prevent the fight in return for the ring. Fafner dismisses the threat, declines Alberich's offer, and returns to sleep. Wotan leaves and Alberich withdraws.

At daybreak, Siegfried and Mime arrive. Mime decides to draw back while Siegfried confronts the dragon. As Siegfried waits for the dragon to appear, he notices a woodbird in a tree. Befriending it, he attempts to mimic the bird's song using a reed pipe, but is unsuccessful. He then plays a tune on his horn, which brings Fafner out of his cave. After a short exchange, they fight, and Siegfried stabs Fafner in the heart with Nothung.

In his last moments, Fafner learns Siegfried's name, and tells him to beware of treachery. When Siegfried draws his sword from the corpse, his hands are burned by the dragon's blood, and he instinctively puts them to his mouth. On tasting the blood, he finds that he can understand the woodbird's song. Following its instructions, he takes the Ring and the Tarnhelm from Fafner's hoard. Outside the cave, Alberich and Mime quarrel loudly over the treasure. Alberich hides as Siegfried comes out of the cave. Mime greets Siegfried; Siegfried complains that he has still not learned the meaning of fear. Mime offers him the poisoned drink. However, the lingering effect of the dragon's blood allows Siegfried to read Mime's treacherous thoughts, and he stabs him to death. Alberich, observing from offstage, shouts sadistic laughter. Siegfried then throws Mime's body into the treasure cave and places Fafner's body in the cave entrance to block it as well.

The woodbird now sings of a woman sleeping on a rock surrounded by magic fire. Siegfried, wondering if he can learn fear from this woman, heads toward the mountain.

Act 3

Siegfried awakens Brunhild - Ebenezer Cobham Brewer (1892)

The Wanderer appears on the path to Brünnhilde's rock and summons Erda, the earth goddess. Erda, appearing confused, is unable to offer any advice. Wotan informs her that he no longer fears the end of the gods; indeed, it is his desire. His heritage will be left to Siegfried the Walsung, and their child (Erda's and Wotan's), Brünnhilde, will "work the deed that redeems the World." Dismissed, Erda sinks back into the earth.

Siegfried arrives, and the Wanderer questions the youth. Siegfried, who does not recognize his grandfather, answers insolently and starts down the path towards Brünnhilde's rock. The Wanderer blocks his path, but Siegfried breaks Wotan's spear with a blow from Nothung. Wotan calmly gathers up the pieces and vanishes.

Siegfried enters the ring of fire, emerging on Brünnhilde's rock. At first, he thinks the armored figure is a man. However, when he removes the armor, he finds a woman beneath. Uncertain what to do, Siegfried at last experiences fear. In desperation, he kisses Brünnhilde, waking her from her magic sleep. Hesitant at first, Brünnhilde is won over by Siegfried's love, and renounces the world of the gods. Together, they hail "light-bringing love, and laughing death."

Noted excerpts

As with the rest of the Ring, a few excerpts are heard outside the opera house. The most commonly heard excerpt from Siegfried is the Forest Murmurs.

Other famous excerpts include

  • Prelude to Act I
  • Siegfried's Forging Song (Nothung! Nothung! Neidliches Schwert!) (Act I)
  • Forest Murmurs (Act II)
  • Prelude to Act III
  • Brünnhilde's Awakening (Heil dir, Sonne!) (Act III)
  • Quotations of the Siegfried Idyll (Act III)

Recordings

See Siegfried discography.

Sources

Siegfried begins fearless, and expresses his wish to learn fear to his foster father Mime, who says the wise learn fear quickly, but the stupid find it more difficult. In a letter to his friend Theodor Uhlig, Wagner recounts The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was, about a boy so stupid he could not discover what fear was—and points out that the youth and Siegfried are the same character. Although Wagner did not include the connection, the boy is taught fear by his wife, as Siegfried learns it when he discovers the sleeping Brünnhilde.[2]

See also

References

  1. ^ German Wikipedia states that this role is a Knabensopran.
  2. ^ Maria Tatar, The Hard Facts of the Grimms' Fairy Tales, p. 104, ISBN 0-691-06722-8.

External links


Simple English

Siegfried is an opera by Richard Wagner. It is the third of the four operas that together tell a story called Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung). The story continues from the end of the second opera which was called Die Walküre.

The first performance of Siegfried took place when the whole Ring cycle (all four operas) were performed in the Festspielhaus in Bayreuth on 16 August 1876.

Contents

The story of the opera

Act One

[[File:|left|thumb|A 19th century performance with Siegfried (Heinrich Gudehus) forging his sword (Nothung)]] The first part of the opera takes place in a forest where the giant Fafner lives. He has used the magic tarn helmet to change himself into a dragon so that he can guard the treasure of the gold and the ring (we saw how he got the treasure in the first opera, Das Rheingold). Siegfried, who was not yet born at the end of the second opera, Die Walküre, is now a young lad. He has been brought up by the dwarf Mime,Alberich's brother. Mime is just as horrible as his brother.

Mime is hammering away at the anvil, trying to repair the sword that was smashed to pieces by Wotan in Act Two of Die Walküre. He wants to make the bits into a strong sword, but every time he thinks he has managed it Siegfried picks up the sword and breaks it with his strength. The reason that Mime wants to make the sword is so that he can give it to Siegfried (who is obviously the hero who is meant to have the sword in the end) and tell him to fight the dragon. Then Mime will be able to get the ring from him so that he can have power over all the world. When Siegfried enters he brings a bear from the forest. The bear chases Mime and Siegfried laughs. Then he lets the bear go free.

Mime says to Siegfried that he should be thankful to him for looking after him as a child and bringing him up. He has never told Siegfried who his parents were (they were Siegmund and Sieglinde, both now dead). Siegfried does not understand anything about how babies are born. He has never seen a woman before. He only knows Mime who is pretending to be is father. Siegfried has noticed that young birds look like their parents and he asks Mime why he does not look like him. In the end Mime is forced to tell Siegfried about his parents and about the sword that was smashed by Wotan. Siegfried tells Mime to forge (make) the sword so that he can kill the dragon. Siegfried goes off.

Wotan, the chief god, appears. He is disguised as a wanderer. Mime says he wants to ask him three questions, and if he cannot answer them he can chop off his head. Wotan agrees. First Mime asks him the name of the race of people who live below the earth. Wotan says they are the Nibelungs. Then Mime asks who are the people who live on the earth’s surface. Wotan says they are the giants. Then he asks him who lives in the sky. Wotan says they are the gods. He has answered all three questions correctly. He now tells Mime it is his turn to ask Mime three questions which he must answer if he wants to keep his head. Mime is terrified, but has to agree.

First Wotan asks him who are the people whom Wotan loves a lot although he has to be harsh with them. Mime answers: the Valkyries. Then Wotan asks him the name of the sword that Wotan left for Siegfried. Mime answers: Nothung. Finally Wotan asks him who can put the pieces of the sword together. Mime is now terrified because he does not know the answer. Wotan tells him the answer: it is the person who does not know fear. He says to Mime that he can keep his head for the moment. He will leave it to the fearless person to chop it off later.

When Mime and Siegfried are together again, Mime tries to frighten Siegfried so that he knows what fear is. He tells him all about the huge dragon in the cave. "Does that not frighten you?" he asks him. "Not a bit" answers Siegfried, who likes the thought of fighting a dragon. Siegfried works at the anvil and starts to make the sword. Mime is thinking of how he will trick Siegfried after the dragon has been killed, so that he can get the sword and kill Siegfried. At last Siegfried manages to make the mighty sword. He calls out its name: "Nothung"! Then he crashes the sword down on the anvil which splits into two pieces.

Act Two

[[File:|right|thumb|Siegfried tastes the dragon's blood]] Outside the dragon’s cave Wotan, still disguised as a wanderer, meets Alberich (Mime’s father who has not been in the story since the first opera). Alberich hates Wotan for having snatched the ring from him. Wotan does not care, and even wakes the dragon up, but the dragon does not want to fight them.

Mime and Siegfried appear. Siegfried is not frightened at all. He just wants to know where the dragon’s heart is so that he can kill it. Mime leaves him alone. Siegfried sits down in the forest and thinks. He is glad to know now that the ugly Mime is not his father. He hears a bird singing and he tries to imitate the bird’s song with a pipe he has made from a reed. He blows his horn and the dragon appears. Siegfried plunges the sword into the dragon’s heart. Siegfried instinctively puts his hand in the dragon’s mouth and tastes its blood. Suddenly he can understand what the bird is saying. The bird (originally sung by a boy but normally now by a woman) tells him to take the ring and the tarn helmet (which allows the wearer to change shape or make himself invisible). He takes them.

Mime and Alberich appear. They are arguing about who shall have the ring and the tarn helmet. Siegfried appears with both. Mime offers Siegfried a drink which is drugged. The bird warns Siegfried not to drink it. Siegfried kills Mime by chopping his head off with the sword. The bird then tells Siegfried about his beautiful bride Brünnhilde who is lying on a rock, protected by fire, waiting to be rescued by him.

Act Three

[[File:|right|thumb|Brünnhilde and Siegfried]] Erda, the wise Earth Goddess, tells Wotan about the Norns who are weaving the rope of destiny. She is surprised to hear how Wotan has punished Brünnhilde. Wotan says he now looks forward to the end of the gods, and wants Siegfried to take his place.

Siegfried arrives. He tells Wotan (who is a stranger to him) about his heroic deed with the dragon. He finds Wotan annoying and smashes Wotan’s sword. He goes to the rock where Brünnhilde is lying.

Siegfried bursts through the flames and finds the sleeping Brünnhilde. He gently takes off her helmet, then her breastplate. Suddenly he sees that she is a woman. He has never seen a woman before. For the first time in his life he is frightened, yet he very much wants to wake her up. He kisses her lips and she opens her eyes and sits up. She tells him that she has always loved him, even long before he was born. Siegfried feels his passion growing and tries to put his arms round her, but now it is Brünnhilde who is frightened. She tells him not to spoil the purity of their love. Finally they embrace.

The music

It took Wagner more than 15 years to write this opera which is one reason why the music of Act Three is slightly different in style. Some ideas from the love music of Siegfried and Brünnhilde were later re-used by Wagner in a separate orchestral piece, called the Siegfried Idyll. Many of the leitmotifs (musical ideas that belong to particular characters or ideas) are ones that were heard in the Das Rheingold or Die Walküre. One unusual instrument in the orchestra is the anvil. It is played when Mime, and later Siegfried, are hammering on the anvil trying to forge the pieces of the sword together. The rhythm of this music is the same rhythm heard earlier in the Nibelung scene in Das Rheingold.

When Wagner started working on the opera he called it Der junge Siegfried (The young Siegfried) but by 1856 he had changed the title to Siegfried.

The German word “Sieg” means “victory” and “Fried” or “Friede” means “peace”. It is a good name for a hero. The role of Siegfried is sung by a tenor. The singer needs a very strong voice, often called a “Heldentenor” in German (a “heroic tenor”). He is on stage for most of the opera which lasts about four hours.

The other operas

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