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ClassicsOnline Home » WAGNER, R.: Rheingold (Das) (Ring Cycle 1)
By Andrew Quint
Richard Wagner (1813–1883)
Das Rheingold (The Rhinegold)
Preliminary Evening of Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung)
Wotan - Wolfgang Probst (bass-baritone)
Froh - Bernhard Schneider (tenor)
Donner - Motti Kastón (baritone)
Loge - Robert Künzli (tenor)
Fricka - Michaela Schuster (mezzo-soprano)
Freia - Helga Rós Indridadóttir (soprano)
Erda - Mette Ejsing (contralto)
Alberich - Esa Ruuttunen (bass-baritone)
Mime - Eberhard Francesco Lorenz (tenor)
Fasolt - Roland Bracht (bass)
Fafner - Phillip Ens (bass)
Woglinde - Catriona Smith (soprano)
Wellgunde - Maria Theresa Ullrich (mezzo-soprano)
Floßhilde - Margarete Joswig (mezzo-soprano)
Wagner's tetralogy, Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung) was first performed as a whole in August 1876 at the new Festspielhaus in Bayreuth. The complete cycle consists of a Prologue, Das Rheingold (The Rhinegold), followed the next day by Die Walküre (The Valkyrie), and then by Siegfried, leading up to the final Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods). The texts had been completed by Wagner by 1853 and the completion of the music and performance of the whole cycle in a specially created opera-house of novel design represented a summit of creative achievement, the apotheosis of German art. Leading motifs associated with characters, events and ideas in the drama, recur, interwoven to unify the whole conception.
The sources of the drama were found in Icelandic sagas, the thirteenth-century Middle High German Das Nibelungenlied and the Old Norse Thidreks Saga af Bern, but Wagner had recourse to a wide range of other reading, while the structure of the tetralogy and the underlying theme of the curse owes a strong debt to Aeschylus and Greek tragedy. The music of Das Rheingold was completed in 1854 and follows the principles Wagner had laid down in his treatise of 1851, Opera and Drama, principles that he was to follow less rigidly in later works. In his text he made use of a form of Stabreim, the Old High German alliterative verse, familiar to English readers from early English texts. The orchestration of Das Rheingold uses quadruple upper woodwind, three bassoons, eight horns, four tubas, with contra bass tuba, quadruple trumpets and trombones, a percussion section that includes an array of anvils for the Nibelungs, six harps, with a seventh on stage, and a large string section. The score was published in 1864, with a fulsome dedication to dem königlichen Freunde (the royal friend), King Ludwig II of Bavaria, and the work was first performed at the Court and National Theatre in Munich in 1869. Wagner used the occasion to intrigue, from his villa at Triebschen in Switzerland, in order to defeat his Munich opponents in the theatre administration, hoping to be recalled to save a performance from which his protégé, the young Hans Richter, had, on Wagner's instructions, withdrawn, after the expected problems with the complicated stage machinery involved. In the event the work, on the orders of King Ludwig, who was losing patience, went ahead and was given a successful performance under another conductor.
[CD 1 / Track 1] Prelude
[1/2] The opening scene is set at the bottom of the Rhine. A rising motif suggests the root of all things, while a second motif represents nature and a third the flowing waters of the river. Three Rhinemaidens sing, as they swim in the water, careless of the Rhinegold, which they should be guarding, as Floßhilde warns them. [1/3] The dwarf Nibelung Alberich, emerging from a dark cavern, lecherously watches them and they tease him, tempting him to catch them. [1/4] He clumsily stumbles forward on the slippery rocks, but they elude him. [1/5] As they mock him and play, the Rhinegold starts to shine in the rays of the sun and they greet it, telling of its power: the one who can make a ring from the gold [1/6] and who renounces love will be master of the world. Motifs are heard suggesting the trouble to come, the gold itself and the ring, with a motif representing the renunciation of love. [1/7] Alberich suddenly climbs up to the rock where the gold is resting, curses love and makes off with it. [1/8] The Rhinemaidens are left in darkness and distress.
[1/9] The scene changes to open ground on a mountain height, overlooking the Rhine valley. Wotan, ruler of heaven and earth, and his wife Fricka, goddess of marital happiness, are sleeping on the ground. The music makes use of the renunciation of love motif and the ring motif, indications of Alberich's unseen activity, forging the ring. [1/10] Fricka wakes and rouses her husband, as he dreams of Valhalla, and they see that the new castle of the gods is now finished, shining on the other side of the valley. The Valhalla motif is heard. Fricka is anxious, however, since Wotan has promised her sister Freia, goddess of youth, to the two giants Fafner and Fasolt in payment for their work in building the fortress. The agreement motif is in the form of a descending scale. She reproaches Wotan for putting power before love and female virtue. He reminds her of how he gave up one eye for her love, adding that he has no intention of giving Freia away. [1/11] Freia now runs in, seeking her sister's help, her ascending motif in contrast with the heavy falling motif of the giants. [1/12] Fafner and Fasolt enter in pursuit. Wotan refuses to hand Freia over. The motif of the treaty, of Wotan's spear, by which he swore, is heard [1/13] and Fasolt reproaches him indignantly. While he desires Freia, Fafner sees possession of the youth-giving golden apples that ensure the youth of the gods as more important, a weapon with which the gods may be destroyed. Wotan is expecting the help of Loge, the demi-god of fire, for his help. [1/14] Before he can appear, however, the giants seize Freia. Her brothers Froh and Donner, god of thunder, rush in to help her, but Wotan forbids violence. [1/15] Loge now appears, to the rapid flickering of flames in the orchestra. He has examined Valhalla, hoping to find some fault that will allow Wotan to avoid honouring his agreement, but has found nothing. [1/16] He tells how he has searched the world but has found that nothing is more important to men than the love and virtue of woman. Alberich, however, so the Rhinemaidens have told him, preferred gold and seized the Rhinegold. Now it must be returned to the water. Wotan wonders how they may take the ring that Alberich has forged from the gold and Fafner asks Loge about its power and is told that the possessor will have mastery of the world. Fricka is told by Loge that she could keep Wotan's love for ever with jewellery forged by the dwarf Nibelungs under the power of the ring. [1/17] Loge explains how Alberich has forsworn love, but Wotan declares that the ring must be his and Loge explains how easy it would be to obtain it by stealing it from Alberich and then give it to the Rhinemaidens. The giants have been discussing the matter. [1/18] Fafner now declares that they will be willing to accept the gold in payment for their labour, instead of Freia. Wotan hesitates, since the ring is not yet his, [1/19] but the giants drag Freia away, to her distress, planning to hold her as a hostage for the ring until nightfall. Her cries bring her brothers Donner, the god of thunder, and Froh to her rescue. Loge describes their action, as the giants bear their captive home. A mist gathers and Loge mocks the gods, now so pale and anxious, their power waning, lacking the power of the golden apples of Freia that bring them continuing youth and now turning old and grey. [1/20] Fricka reproaches Wotan, who resolves to go with Loge to Nibelheim, the subterranean home of the Nibelungs. Loge leads the way into a cleft in the rocks, followed by Wotan, seeking the Rhinegold and hence the rescue of Freia. [1/21] Sulphurous fumes mount, quickly clouding the whole scene, which grows dark, as they travel down. The noise of smiths at work is heard in the distance, now growing louder with the rhythm of hammers and anvils, the forges glowing red.
[1/22] In the home of the Nibelungs under the ground, Alberich drags in the dwarf Mime.
[2/1] Alberich seizes from his brother a net that Mime has forged from the gold and places it on his own head. This is the Tarn-cap that makes him invisible so that Mime cannot see him, but feels the blows his brother gives him with his whip for trying to steal the cap. Now Alberich is fully master of the Nibelungs, and he leaves to force them to labour further, as the anvil rhythm is beaten out. With Mime sunk in pain, Loge and Wotan appear above. [2/2] Loge calls to Mime, promising to help him. Mime asks who it is that will help him, in bondage through his brother's power, unhappily enslaved with the other Nibelungs through the magic of the ring. He tells Loge of the Tarn-cap. [2/3] Alberich returns, whip in hand, the Tarn-cap at his belt, driving forward the Nibelungs, bearing heavy loads of gold and silver. Suddenly he sees Loge and Wotan and calls Mime to him, forcing him back to work and holding the ring out, threatening with its power, as the Nibelungs disperse in fear. He questions Wotan and Loge and the latter reminds Alberich of his debt to him, the bringer of light and warmth, and, professing friendship, flatters him. [2/4] Alberich, however, will force all to forswear love. He warns of his power to defeat the gods and have his way with their women. Loge continues his flattery, telling Alberich that the sun and moon must bow down before him, but asks what might happen if a thief tried to take the ring. Alberich explains about the Tarn-cap, made by Mime, and the protection it must give him. Loge expresses disbelief, goading Alberich into donning the cap. By its magic he turns himself into a dragon, moving in slow menace to the sound of tubas and double bassoon. [2/5] Wotan and Loge applaud the trick and when Alberich returns to his own form again Loge urges him to take a smaller form, that of a toad, if that would not be too difficult. [2/6] Alberich accepts the challenge and is immediately caught by Wotan and Loge, resuming his own form but now bound hand and foot, as they take him with them up into the clear air above. The scene changes, with the various motifs now in reverse order, an ascending motif of Alberich's arrogance, the short ring motif, resignation, the Nibelung anvils and the hint of woe, love, the giants, fire and Freia's sadness, and finally the greeting to the ring, with a further hint of woe.
[2/7] Wotan and Loge bring Alberich in, their prisoner. Loge mocks him and Wotan offers him freedom in return for the ring. Alberich pretends to agree and kisses the ring. [2/8] He orders the Nibelungs to bring gold, which they do, before returning into the cleft in the rocks in fear at the sight of the ring. [2/9] Loge tosses the Tarn-cap onto the heap of gold and Wotan now demands the ring, reproaching him for the theft and eventually seizing it from his finger, putting it on his own hand. [2/10] He tells Loge to set Alberich free, but Alberich, in recompense, lays a curse on the ring, which must bring only sorrow, fear and death to the wearer. He quickly disappears into the cavern, as the mist clears and Wotan contemplates the ring. [2/11] The giants now draw near with Freia, while Donner, Froh and Fricka are now seen hurrying in, anxious to find out the success of the venture. [2/12] Fricka greets Freia, as she appears, but Fasolt declares her still theirs, until Wotan pays her ransom. Wotan offers the gold of the Nibelungs and Fasolt agrees, if gold is heaped up high enough to hide Freia from view. [2/13] Loge calls on Froh to help him. It is only when Loge throws the Tarn-cap onto the pile that she seems completely hidden from view, except for an eye that Fasolt still sees. To fill this gap the giants demand the ring. Loge explains that it belongs to the Rhinemaidens, to Wotan's dissent, since he intends to keep it for himself. Loge has given the Rhinemaidens his word, but Wotan does not regard that as binding on him. The giants now threaten to keep Freia in their power, but Wotan is adamant. [2/14] It grows suddenly dark, as Erda, goddess of fate, appears, in a blue aura, advising Wotan to give way: she knows all that was, all that will be and all that is and can see a dark day for the gods, if he keeps the ring. Erda disappears into the rocks. [2/15] Wotan makes to follow her, but is held back by Froh and Fricka. He calls out to the giants, promising them the gold, and as the others stand waiting, he grasps his spear, then throws the ring onto the pile of gold, freeing Freia. [2/16] Fafner and Fasolt now begin to gather the treasure, but soon quarrel. [2/17] Fafner strikes Fasolt to the ground, and as he lies dying, seizes the ring from him. As Fafner makes off with the gold, Wotan muses on the power of the curse and then seeks to follow Erda, to learn the future. Fricka restrains him and draws his attention to the fortress now built. [2/18] Donner, through the mist, uses his hammer to summon thunder and lightning, to clear the air. [2/19] As he swings the hammer, thunder and lightning is heard. Suddenly the air clears and a rainbow is seen, a bridge across the valley to the fortress. [2/20] Wotan regards the sight, resplendent in the evening sun. [2/21] He greets the fortress, which he calls Valhalla, the home of heroes, and leads the gods towards it. Loge hesitates, knowing the outcome and able to destroy the gods with his fire, but eventually follows them. [2/22] As the gods go forward, the complaint of the Rhinemaidens is heard, lamenting their lost gold.
The German libretto can be found at www.naxos.com/libretti/rheingold.htm
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WAGNER, R.: Rheingold (Das) (Ring Cycle 1)