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ClassicsOnline Home » WAGNER, R.: Siegfried (Ring Cycle 3)
Comprising four separate operas, Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung) took 25 years to complete. Centred around a ring of power and the attempts of various people to acquire it, the Ring cycle explores the relationship between love and earthly power and the themes of yearning and loss, all within a setting of medieval legend.The third opera of the cycle, Siegfried, deals with the life of the young hero, his release from the evil dwarf Mime, who has nurtured him for his own ends, his killing of the dragon Father, and his braving of the surrounding flames to wake the Valkyrie Brünnhilde from her enchanted sleep.
Stuttgart State Opera has been voted Opera Theatre of the Year four times by critics in Austria, Switzerland and Germany. “Lothar Zagrosek’s shaping of the score is unerringly vivid.” BBC Music Magazine, June 2004.
By David Denton
In the third opera of The Ring cycle things are going
from bad to worse for the God's, a young upstart, Siegfried, having slain the
dreaded dragon, smashing Wotan's spear that has been his emblem of supreme authority.
It is story fanciful in content, Wagner fashioning a heroic part for Siegfried,
the only person that the snivelling Mime recognises as strong enough to use
the large sword needed to kill Fafner in his shape as a dragon. Once dead Mime
could grab the magic ring that is being guarded by the monster, and that task
achieved Siegfried could be poisoned leaving the ultimate power of the ring
in Mime grasp. Those plans are fortunately revealed to Siegfried by the Forest
Bird, and it is he who kills the dwarf before setting out on a journey that
eventually leads to Brunnhilde, the opera ending with the two embraced in love.
That's the general idea of the plot that goes down so many byroads. Dominating
the first act is the sword-forging scene, Jon Frederic West - as one would expect
in a 'live' performance - rather saving his voice for a big heroic last act
confrontation with Wotan in the assumed person of The Wanderer. From the outset
Wolfgang Schone seems a doomed person, and no match for the young man in the
eventual meeting. On disc the portrait of Mime has often strayed far from the
actual music, Solti's famous studio recording a first class example. Here Heinz
Gohrig takes a middle road with ample bewailing of his fate, but also keeping
- within reason - to the essence of the score. Brunnhilde's belated appearance
leaves Lisa Gasteen with little time to make her presence felt, but she has
a nice voice rather removed from the customary heavyweight vocal projection.
It is an opera where Wagner gives a great deal of scene painting to the orchestra,
and this plays to the strength of this 'live' performance, Lothar Zegrosek keeping
the music moving with urgency. Orchestral solos are well taken, the horn solos
a particular joy. Just at one point does Zegrosek disappoint, the end of the
first act not really packing sufficient punch. The attempt to magnify Fafner's
cavernous presence results in a grating quality, but otherwise the engineers
have obtained a very realistic balance between orchestra and the singers on
stage, extraneous noises often helping to highlight the action.
Richard Wagner (1813-1883)
The Second Day of Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung)
Siegfried - Jon Fredric West, Tenor
Mime - Heinz Göhrig, Tenor
The Wanderer - Wolfgang Schöne, Bass
Alberich - Björn Waag, Bass
Fafner - Attila Jun, Bass
Forest Bird - Gabriela Herrera, Soprano
Erda - Helene Ranada, Contralto
Brünnhilde - Lisa Gasteen, 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). Wagner's first sketches for the libretto of the third projected opera, initially under the title Jung-Siegfried (Young Siegfried) and then Der junge Siegfried (The Young Siegfried), were written in 1851, with the text of the whole tetralogy completed in the years immediately following. The music was composed from 1856 onwards, with a break after the orchestral sketch of Act II in 1857, and the first two acts fully scored in 1864 and 1865. He started work on Act III only in 1869 and the scoring of the whole work was completed in 1871. Siegfried was first heard at the new Festspielhaus at Bayreuth in 1876, as part of the tetralogy. As before, 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. Siegfried embodies something of Wagner's immensely impractical political speculation. The infatuated young King Ludwig might be a new Siegfried, to release Germany, represented by Brünnhilde, but Ludwig was to be flatteringly identified with other Wagnerian heroes, with Lohengrin and then with Parsifal. The score of Siegfried, however, was withheld from Ludwig by Wagner, who now had his eye on a connection with Berlin, while plans for the Festspielhaus in Bayreuth seemed to deprive Ludwig of the centre of Wagnerian opera that he had wanted in Munich. In spite of Wagner's duplicity, Ludwig continued his financial support, although the Festspielhaus had been built partly through help solicited from friends in Berlin, the new centre of power in Germany, whose leader Wagner had celebrated in his Kaisermarsch in 1871.
[CD 1 / Track 1] The Prelude to Act I reflects the thoughts of the Nibelung Mime.
[1/2] Mime sits by the forge in his cave in the forest, hammering out a sword and complaining about his endless labour. He can make swords strong enough for giants, but Siegfried breaks them in two like children's toys, but if he could join together the blade of the great sword Nothung, Siegfried would be able to kill the dragon giant Fafner, and then Mime could gain possession of the ring. He continues his work and his complaint.
[1/3] Siegfried comes cheerfully in from the forest. He is leading a bear, jokingly provoking it to attack Mime, who cowers in fear. Siegfried sets the bear free and it trots back to the wood. He had sought a friend in the forest, sounded his horn and been joined by the bear. Mime has forged a sword for Siegfried, who takes the offered weapon, looking at it critically. He strikes the anvil with it and the sword breaks in pieces. He abuses Mime for his bad craftsmanship. Mime reproaches Siegfried for his ingratitude.
[1/4] He has looked after Siegfried, as he explains in his so-called nursing song, but is only hated in return. Siegfried admits that he has learned much from Mime, but never to like him. In fact he cannot stand him, always recognising the evil in him and preferring the company of animals. Mime tries to come near him, saying that in his heart he really loves him, as a young bird loves its mother.
[1/5] Siegfried, though, has seen animals in the forest and asks where the woman is who is his mother. Mime claims to be both mother and father to him, but he has seen his reflection and knows he in no way resembles Mime. He asks where his true parents are. Mime declares that he is no relation to Siegfried, but took him in out of pity.
[1/6] He had found Sieglinde in the forest, about to give birth to a child, and sheltered her for pity. She died and Mime looked after the child. In answer to Siegfried's question, he tells him that his mother said that the child must be called Siegfried and that her name was Sieglinde. The sword was left him by his mother. Siegfried orders Mime to repair immediately the broken sword, threatening him. With it he will go forth into the world, happy and free, and never come back. He dashes out into the forest, leaving Mime calling after him, before returning to the anvil and musing on the impossibility of mending the sword and letting Siegfried deal with Fafner.
[1/7] Wotan, in the guise of the Wanderer, comes out of the forest. He wears a long blue cloak, carrying a spear as a staff. On his head is a wide-brimmed hat. He seeks Mime's hospitality, which the latter is unwilling to give. The Wanderer offers to stake his life on being able to answers Mime's questions, if he fails; if he succeeds, he claims hospitality.
[1/8] Mime, anxious to defeat the unwanted guest, asks what race lives in the depths of the earth, and the Wanderer tells him the Nibelungs, who were forced by a magic ring to provide a rich treasure for Alberich, who sought to rule the world with it. To the second question as to the race living on the surface of the earth, the Wanderer answers that it is the giants; the giants Fasolt and Fafner took the Nibelungs' treasure and Fafner then killed his brother, taking the form of a dragon and guarding the treasure. Mime asks a third question as to what race lives above. The Wanderer tells him that gods live in the cloud-covered heights and their ruler is Wotan, in Valhalla. He has a spear and on it are the decrees that make the Nibelungs and giants subject for ever to the gods.
[1/9] Mime's questions were nothing, but now Mime too must wager his head against three questions from the Wanderer.
[1/10] He asks first the name of the family that has been the object of Wotan's anger, although he loves them. Mime answers correctly that it is the family of the Volsungs, Siegmund and Sieglinde, and their offspring Siegfried. The Wanderer asks what sword Siegfried must use to kill Fafner, and is told that it is Nothung. Mime rashly continues with the story of Nothung, broken by the spear of Wotan, but to be mended by a clever smith and used by a childish hero for Mime's own profit. The Wanderer's third question as to who will join together again the broken sword Mime cannot answer; his life now must be at the mercy of the one who will forge Nothung, the one who is fearless. The Wanderer leaves, smiling, while Mime sinks down on his stool in fear.
[2/1] Shuddering, Mime looks towards the forest, now lit by an accursed light that seems to approach, Fafner coming for him. With a cry, he collapses behind the anvil. Siegfried comes cheerfully in.
[2/2] He looks around for Mime, and when he sees him asks why he is hiding behind the anvil. He asks about the sword. Mime recalls that only the one who has never known fear will forge the sword and resolves to teach Siegfried this lesson, thereby saving his own life. Siegfried asks what fear is. Mime tells him that his mother has said that he must learn what fear is, before going out into the world.
[2/3] Mime talks of the terrors of the darkness in the forest, strange noises and mysterious lights that make him tremble. Siegfried knows nothing of this, but Mime will take him to Fafner, who will teach him. Mime admits that he cannot mend the sword.
[2/4] Siegfried takes the broken pieces, files them down and heats the forge until it is glowing hot. Mime now realises that it is Siegfried who will kill him, but resolves, nevertheless, to use Siegfried to kill the dragon Fafner and then to try to take the ring from him.
[2/5] Siegfried, who now knows the name of the sword, Nothung, sings to it, as he forges it anew, describing what he is doing, how he felled a tree in the forest, which now blazes in the forge. Mime makes ready a drugged drink to give Siegfried after the combat with Fafner, while the hero happily continues his work.
[2/6] Enjoying his task, Siegfried bids his hammer strike and continues his song, while Mime is busy with his own plans.
[2/7] Mime has now prepared the poison for Siegfried, while the latter takes the sword, made whole again, and strikes the anvil, breaking it in two, holding Nothung on high.
[2/8] The Prelude suggests the depth of the dark forest, by Fafner's cave, and contains, near the end, the motif of Alberich's hatred.
[2/9] Outside Fafner's cave Alberich is watching, in the forest and the night. He is aware of a light, although it is still night.
[2/10] In a ray of moonlight he sees the Wanderer, whom he recognises, angrily bidding him away. Wotan tells him that he comes only to watch, since he cannot, as Alberich reminds him, break his agreement with Fafner, who had been given the ring and other treasure in return for the release of the goddess Freia. Alberich threatens Wotan with his plans to seize power through the ring and storm Valhalla, to become ruler of the world. Wotan calmly answers that Alberich's ambitions do not worry him. He tells Alberich of Siegfried, who knows nothing of the ring, and of Mime's cunning plot: Mime is the only one seeking the ring, while Siegfried is his own master, to do or die.
[2/11] Alberich, then, has only Mime to contend with, but the Wanderer tells him that the hero is approaching; if Fafner is warned, he might give up the ring. He calls out to Fafner, waking the dragon in his cave. Fafner, however, will not listen to the warning, since fate will dictate the outcome. Wotan goes and Alberich, swearing revenge, hides among the rocks.
[3/1] It is dawn as Mime and Siegfried approach Fafner's cave, where Mime tells Siegfried he is to learn the necessary lesson of fear and goes on to describe the terrible dragon. Siegfried has no apprehension and suggests how the dragon should be killed. Mime asks him if he is yet afraid, but Siegfried thinks nothing of all this lesson, rejecting Mime's professed love for him. Mime tells him that in the daylight the dragon will come out to drink at the spring, and Siegfried tells Mime to stay by the spring, in that case: if he does not, he can be gone. Mime hopes the two, Fafner and Siegfried, may kill each other, as he goes away into the forest.
[3/2] Siegfried, stretched out under a linden-tree, is glad that Mime is not his father: Mime's son would look like him, but he wonders what his own father and mother were like, and if all human mothers die if they bear a son. He longs to see his own mother. In the stillness of the morning he hears the singing of the birds and asks again about his mother. Mime had told him that there was a way of understanding the song of birds. He tries out the way he has been told, by making a reed-pipe and imitating the birds, but the sound from the hastily fashioned reed is not good. He hears a bird sing again and throws the reed away.
[3/3] Siegfried takes his horn and plays. The horn-call rouses Fafner, who emerges slowly from his cave, then stops, looking at Siegfried. The latter, unperturbed, asks Fafner to teach him how to fear and then taunts him, and, seizing his sword, attacks him. After a brief combat, Siegfried pierces Fafner to the heart.
[3/4] As the dragon dies, he tells of the accursed gold and how he killed his brother Fasolt and now he, the last of the giants, is dying. He warns Siegfried of the danger from the one who brought him there. Siegfried pulls his sword out of the mortal wound and feels the giant's blood on his hand burning like fire.
[3/5] Siegfried puts his hand to his lips, to soothe the pain, and now understands the song of the bird, which tells him to seek in Fafner's cave the Nibelung's gold, the Tarncap, and the ring, which will give him power over the whole world. Siegfried thanks the bird for this counsel, as he enters the cave.
[3/6] Mime returns, looking around to make sure that Fafner is dead. At the same time Alberich appears, preventing Mime entering the cave. The two quarrel as to who shall have the treasure, one claiming to have been the creator of the ring, and the other of the Tarncap. Mime suggests they should share the treasure, but Alberich angrily rejects the proposal. They are surprised to see Siegfried emerging from the cave, with the Tarncap and the ring, which Mime thinks he can soon take from him. Siegfried does not understand what use these things are to him, but resolves to keep them as symbols of his fight against Fafner, although he still has not learned how to fear. He puts the Tarncap in his girdle and the ring on his finger. The voice of the bird is heard again, warning him not to trust Mime, whose thoughts he will be able to read through the dragon's blood.
[3/7] He stands watching Mime approach and Mime welcomes him, asking him if he has learned fear, but Siegfried tells him he found no teacher. In spite of his seemingly friendly words, his thoughts, audible to Siegfried, express his hatred for the boy, to Mime's consternation. Mime offers Siegfried the draught he has prepared, adding, in his thoughts, his intention of taking Siegfried's sword and the treasure. Mime claims that Siegfried has not understood him and urges him further to drink, adding that the drink will soon render him insensible, so that Mime can chop his head off and gain possession of the ring. He is again astonished that Siegfried has heard his murderous thoughts. Siegfried strikes him dead with his sword, while Alberich, from his hiding-place, laughs.
[3/8] Siegfried throws Mime's body into the cave, and drags the dragon's to cover the mouth of the cave, both to guard the treasure.
[3/9] Tired, he stretches out under the linden-tree. He tells the bird of his loneliness, with no brother or sister, no father and no mother, his only companion an ugly dwarf. From the bird he seeks counsel and a companion.
[3/10] He bids the bird sing and is told of a wonderful woman, who sleeps on a high rock, surrounded by flames; if Siegfried wakens her, Brünnhilde will be his. He asks the bird what this feeling is in his heart and the bird tells him that it is love. He asks if he will be able to pass through the fire, and the bird tells him that one who does not know fear can accomplish this. He asks how he shall find the rock, and the bird flies off, leading the way, Siegfried following.
[3/11] The Prelude recalls the wandering of Wotan, bound by the agreements he has made and fated to wander.
[3/12] There is thunder and lightning, as Wotan approaches a cave at the foot of the rock where Brünnhilde lies. He calls on Erda, goddess of fate, to awake and rise from the depths.
[3/13] Erda slowly rises from the depths of the earth, waking. Wotan tells her he has come to seek her advice; he has wandered long and far, but she knows more than he does.
[3/14] She tells him to seek counsel from her daughters, the Norns, spinners of fate, but it is Erda's wisdom that Wotan seeks. She tells him to seek out Brünnhilde, the Valkyrie, that she bore for him. He inveighs against the Valkyrie, sleeping and only to be wakened by a mortal.
[3/15] Erda is angry at Brünnhilde's fate. He seeks to know about the end of the gods, and Erda tells him that he is no longer a god.
[3/16] Wotan wills her wisdom at an end; Siegfried must be his heir, possessor of the ring and safe from Alberich, since he does not know fear. Siegfried will wake Brünnhilde and she, with her knowledge, will save the world. He orders Erda back, now to eternal sleep, and she disappears again into the depths of the earth.
[4/1] Dawn is breaking, and the Wanderer sees Siegfried approaching. Siegfried, following the forest-bird, enters. The bird suddenly stops in its course, fluttering about, as it sees the Wanderer, before quickly disappearing into the background. Siegfried is about to continue his journey, when the Wanderer asks him where he is going. Siegfried tells him he is looking for a rock surrounded by fire, and on the rock a woman, whom he is to wake. In answer to the Wanderer's further questions, he tells him that a bird had brought him there and that he could understand the bird because of the blood of the dragon that he had killed. He explains how Mime had brought him to the dragon's cave and the sword he used that he had forged himself. He asks the old man to tell him the way to the rock he seeks, but the Wanderer urges patience.
[4/2] Siegfried threatens him, anxious to continue his quest, which this strange man is obstructing. The Wanderer rebukes him for his lack of respect to an elder, but Siegfried offers him the same fate as Mime, asking why he wears such a broad-brimmed hat and why he has only one eye, threatening him once more.
[4/3] Siegfried continues to urge the Wanderer out of his way to the sleeping woman, led by the forest bird, sent to protect Siegfried, the Wanderer adds. He tells the boy how the maiden is surrounded by flames at his command and that whoever wakes and wins her makes his own power vanish for ever. He blocks Siegfried's path, turns his spear towards the rocky heights. A dim light is seen, gradually brightening and glowing, but Siegfried shows no fear. When the Wanderer uses his spear against the sword, Nothung, it is now the spear that breaks, and with it Wotan's power. The Wanderer can no longer stand in Siegfried's way, and suddenly disappears.
[4/4] The light of the flames becomes more evident and Siegfried goes on, blowing his horn, the fire soon engulfing the whole scene, only subsiding as Siegfried approaches the rock where Brünnhilde lies, her horse Grane beside her.
[4/5] Siegfried looks at the scene in wonder, seeing the horse and Brünnhilde's shining armour, raising her shield to reveal her, as she sleeps. He is in wonder at her beauty and with his sword he cuts her free from the shackles that bind her.
[4/6] He trembles, thinking that now perhaps he has learned fear, and calls on his mother for help. He seeks to wake Brünnhilde, kissing her as she sleeps.
[4/7] She slowly wakes, opening her eyes, regarded by Siegfried.
[4/8] Brünnhilde greets the sun, after her long sleep, and seeks to know who it is that has wakened her. Spellbound, Siegfried tells her how he came through the fire and reveals to her his name. She thanks the gods, greeting the world and the earth, now her long sleep is over. Siegfried joins her in an expression of their joy.
[4/9] She tells him how she has loved him. Siegfried thinks he sees his mother, but Brünnhilde tells him his mother has not returned for him. She promises him her knowledge, for it was for him that she struggled and strove, but Siegfried cannot yet understand.
[4/10] She looks at her horse and her weapons that no longer protect her. Burning with love, Siegfried tries to embrace her, but she leaps away from him, a maiden untouched even by gods. Reminded of her love for him, she understands that she will lose her wisdom.
[4/11] Brünnhilde tries to keep Siegfried away from her, realising the consequences for them both.
[4/12] Struggling with her feelings, in the end she starts to give way to his love and her own emotions.
[4/13] Siegfried declares his love for her. Now they both feel the rapture of their passion.
[4/14] Brünnhilde bids farewell to Valhalla and willingly sees the twilight of the gods, herself united with Siegfried for ever.
The German libretto can be found at www.naxos.com/libretti/660175.htm
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WAGNER, R.: Siegfried (Ring Cycle 3)