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ClassicsOnline Home » WAGNER, R.: Gotterdammerung (Ring Cycle 4)
Comprising four separate operas, Wagner’s visionary 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 fourth opera of the cycle, Götterdämmerung, brings the betrayal and death of the young hero Siegfried and of his beloved Brünnhilde. The ring itself is restored to the Rhinemaidens, and the age of gods and heroes ends, as Valhalla burns.
Stuttgart State Opera has been voted Opera Theatre of the Year six 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
Richard Wagner (1813–1883)
Götterdämmerung (The Twilight of the Gods)
The Third Day of Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung)
Siegfried - Albert Bonnema
Gunther - Hernan Iturralde
Alberich - Franz-Josef Kapellmann
Hagen - Roland Bracht
Brünnhilde - Luana DeVol
Gutrune - Eva-Maria Westbroek
Waltraute - Tichina Vaughn
The three Norns - Janet Collins, Lani Poulson, Sue Patchell
Woglinde - Helga Rós Indridadóttir
Wellgunde - Sarah Castle
Flosshilde - Janet Collins
Staatsoper Stuttgart (General Director: Prof. Klaus Zehelein)
Staatsopernchor Stuttgart (Chorus-master: Michael Alber)
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 fourth projected opera, initially under the title Siegfrieds Tod (Siegfried's Death), and later Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods), is dated 1848. To this he found it necessary to add an explanatory prologue, for which he made the first musical sketches in 1850. He interrupted his work in order to draft the three earlier operas of the cycle, then returning to Götterdämmerung, in which he now made considerable changes. The first complete draft of the work was written between 1869 and 1872 and the full score was finished in 1874. The work was first heard at Bayreuth in 1876 when the whole of the tetralogy was performed. As before, leading motifs associated with characters, events and ideas in the drama, recur, interwoven to unify the whole conception.
The sources of the plot 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.
[CD 1 / Track 1] The motifs associated with the Rhine and with Nature, first heard at the start of Das Rheingold, are now heard again in the instrumental introduction to Götterdämmerung. The Fate motif returns, a hint, as we know from Die Walküre, of Siegfried's impending death. [1/2] It is night, as the curtain rises to reveal the three Norns, weavers of Fate, sitting on Brünnhilde's rock, near the entrance to a cave, resolved to spin and sing. They tell how, once, a brave god came to the sacred ash-tree and paid with one of his eyes to drink there from the well of wisdom. From the tree he cut a branch, from which he made a spear. The motifs here recall Wotan's dreams of Valhalla and his promise to pay for the building of Valhalla. The tree died, the third Norn ends her tale, throwing the rope she holds to the second Norn, who continues the story. She tells how Wotan engraved the words of his agreement on the spear, how a young hero broke the spear in battle and how Wotan sent heroes from Valhalla to cut the sacred tree up into logs. The first Norn continues, telling how these logs are piled around the fortress of Valhalla, to be set ablaze and bring about its end. They see Loge, transformed again into fire, guarding Brünnhilde's rock, but later to set fire to the fragments of the spear and set ablaze the logs round Valhalla, at Wotan's command. What then of the Rhinegold, the Ring? The rope has become entangled and now breaks. The Norns know their time has come and they must return to Erda, goddess of Fate.
[1/3] It grows lighter with the start of dawn, and now day breaks. Siegfried and Brünnhilde come from the cave, the latter leading her horse, Grane. Each is identified by a motif, the horse by a reminiscence of the Ride of the Valkyries. [1/4] Brünnhilde has given Siegfried her knowledge and strength and sends him forward to new deeds of glory. [1/5] From her Siegfried has learned love, above all, and they sing of their love, with motifs associated with it. Siegfried gives Brünnhilde, as a token of faith, the ring, the symbol of all he has achieved, and she gives him her horse. Through her power, now, will Siegfried act, as part of her. [1/6] He takes his leave and sets out on his Rhine Journey, his own bold motif mingling with those of Fire, the Rhinemaidens, the Rhine and the ring itself.
[1/7] The scene is the hall of the Gibichungs, by the Rhine. Gunther and Gutrune are seated to one side, with Hagen at the table. Gunther asks his half-brother if he has the true fame due a Gibich. Hagen respects him but tells him that he could possess greater things and should marry, as should Gutrune. For Gunther there is Brünnhilde, on her rock surrounded by fire, but she is to be Siegfried's bride, for he has killed the dragon and had taken the Nibelung's treasure and magic power. [1/8] Siegfried, however, might win Brünnhilde for Gunther, in return for the hand of Gutrune. She thinks this improbable, but Hagen reminds her of the drug they have that brings forgetfulness and will make Siegfried forget any other women. [1/9] The sound of Siegfried's approach is heard. Hagen, who has gone down to the bank of the river, hails Siegfried, with the ominous motif of the curse placed on the ring by Hagen 's father, Alberich, from whom it had been taken.
[2/1] While Hagen sees to his horse, Gunther welcomes Siegfried, who seeks to know whether Gunther is his friend or enemy. [2/2] They swear friendship, Gunther pledging all he has, his land, body and sword. Hagen returns. He mentions the treasure, by which Siegfried claims to set little store, but he has the Tarn-cap that, as Hagen tells him, gives the power to take on any form. Siegfried adds that he has given the ring to a noble woman, identified at once by Hagen, to himself, as Brünnhilde. [2/3] Gutrune now returns with a drinking-horn, welcoming their guest, and Siegfried drinks to Brünnhilde. The potion does its work and as he looks again at Gutrune he feels desire. As she leaves, he asks Gunther her name. He tells him that her name is Gutrune. [2/4] Siegfried asks Gunther if he has a wife and Gunther explains his own desire to marry a woman who is now set on a rock, surrounded by fire, Brünnhilde, who will be the wife of the one who rescues her. Siegfried at once offers to break through the fire and bring Brünnhilde to be Gunther's bride, disguising himself as Gunther through the Tarn-cap, in return for the hand of Gutrune. [2/5] They swear to be blood-brothers and allow their blood to mingle in a drinking-horn of wine that Hagen holds for them, pledging faith or death and drinking. Hagen takes his sword and cuts the drinking-horn in two. Siegfried asks him why he has not taken the oath, but Hagen tells him that his blood is mixed and not so noble. Siegfried now moves towards his boat, ready to leave with Gunther. As they make ready to leave, Hagen tells Gutrune that the two are going to seek Brünnhilde. [2/6] He sits motionless, to watch over the hall, thinking that now Gunther will bring Brünnhilde home with him and Hagen himself will have the ring. [2/7] The music suggests both Hagen 's thoughts and Brünnhilde, as well as the two who are now travelling to seek her out.
[2/8] The scene is again the entrance to the cave of the Prologue. Brünnhilde sits contemplating the ring and remembering her beloved Siegfried. She hears the approach through the air of the Valkyrie Waltraute and asks her whether her presence is in defiance of Wotan or if Wotan has forgiven her, as he may have done, since he has allowed her to be found by Siegfried, or whether Waltraute has been condemned to share her fate. Waltraute, however, brings anxious news. [2/9] Wotan, she tells her, since Brünnhilde's departure, no longer sends the Valkyries to battle, but wanders aimlessly and alone. Recently he had returned with his spear broken by a hero and he then ordered the World Ash-Tree to be cut down and its logs piled around the sacred hall. Now Wotan sits in Valhalla, Waltraute continues, not speaking or moving, surrounded by the gods, grasping the shattered spear in his hand and not listening to the appeals of the Valkyries. Once, though, he spoke of Brünnhilde, sighing, as in a dream, and saying that if she gave the ring back to the Rhinemaidens then the curse would be ended. [2/10] At this Waltraute had take her horse and ridden to Brünnhilde. In reply to Brünnhilde's question, she tells her that she seeks her help in returning the ring. Brünnhilde will never surrender the token of Siegfried's love for her, although Waltraute pleads with her to save Valhalla. She clings to this symbol of her own happiness and tells her sister to leave her. [2/11] Left alone again, as thunderclouds gather, she bids Waltraute never return. It grows darker and the fire from around the rock now grows fiercer. She hears the sound of Siegfried's horn and a figure appears through the flames, Siegfried, in the Tarn-cap, having the form of Gunther. He declares that he has come to set her free and take her as his wife, announcing himself as the Gibichung, Gunther. Brünnhilde calls down curses on Wotan for this cruel punishment. [2/12] Siegfried bids her go into the cave, but she threatens him with the ring, which he tears from her finger, once he has overpowered her. As they go into the cave, he swears to be true to his oath to Gunther, and will sleep in the cave with his sword Nothung between him and Brünnhilde.
[3/1] An orchestral Prelude suggests the opening of the following scene, set in front of the Gibichungs' hall. [3/2] Here Alberich crouches at his son Hagen's feet, while the latter seems to sleep. He reminds Hagen, who seems to hear in his sleep, of the power that will be theirs, how Siegfried defeated Wotan and how Hagen must defeat Siegfried, protected as he is by his innocence from the curse of the ring. Hagen must swear to take the ring from Siegfried, for if Brünnhilde returns it to the Rhinemaidens then the Nibelungs will lose it for ever. He swears and Alberich disappears into the darkness. [2/3] The light of dawn starts to colour the waters of the Rhine.
[3/4] There is a sudden sound, as Siegfried appears behind a bush and hails Hagen, brought quickly by the magic of the Tarn-cap. He is followed by Gunther and Brünnhilde. He calls out to Gutrune and tells her how he has rescued Brünnhilde for Gunther, while remaining true to her. Gutrune asks Hagen to call together the men in celebration of her wedding with Siegfried, while she will call the women. Hagen mounts a rock and there sounds his horn.
[3/5] Hagen calls on the Gibichung men, who gather, seeking the reason for the summons and the nature of the enemy. He tells them they have been called to celebrate a wedding feast, to eat and drink.
[3/6] As Gunther and Brünnhilde arrive, they are greeted by the men. [3/7] Gunther introduces his bride, Brünnhilde, leading her towards the hall and greeting Siegfried and his sister Gutrune. [3/8] When Brünnhilde sees the couple she is near to fainting and seeing the ring on Siegfried's finger she understands that she has been betrayed and the ring torn from her own finger. Siegfried, however, remembers how he won the ring from the dragon that he slew. Hagen intervenes, accusing Siegfried of treachery and Brünnhilde joins the accusation. She calls on the gods, in her suffering, claiming to be the wife of Siegfried. [3/9] He, however, declares his faithfulness to the oath that he has sworn to Gunther, as his blood-brother, separated from her by his sword, that was between them as they lay together in the cave. Brünnhilde reproaches him as a liar, joined by Gunther. [3/10] In the turmoil aroused, Siegfried swears by Hagen 's spear, the Spear Oath, calling for his own destruction from it, if he is forsworn. Brünnhilde calls on the same spear for vengeance and the death of Siegfried. He, however, tells Gunther that Brünnhilde is lying, regretting the apparent failure of their deception with the Tarn-cap. Turning to the company, he bids them to the wedding feast, accompanying Gutrune into the hall, followed by the Gibichung men and women.
[3/11] Hagen, Gunther and Brünnhilde remain behind. She wonders what magician has brought about this change and regrets how she has bestowed on Siegfried all her wisdom. Hagen promises vengeance, but she tells him that Siegfried is invincible, protected by her power, although his back is vulnerable, since she knew he would never turn his back on an enemy, in flight. [3/12] Hagen, then, will use his spear to find its mark there, urging Gunther on, betrayer and betrayed. Gunther must help Hagen to secure Siegfried's death. Gunther, however, is reluctant to break his bond, but Brünnhilde joins her voice to Hagen 's, urging him to act, since Siegfried has betrayed them both. Hagen assures him that this is the only way to regain the Ring of the Nibelung. They agree to arrange a hunting-party and spare Gutrune by telling her that Siegfried has been killed by a boar. They swear vengeance. As Gunther and Brünnhilde approach the hall, the wedding procession emerges, with Siegfried and Gutrune carried high on the men's shoulders, as they proceed to the hill for the ceremony.
[4/1] An orchestral prelude depicts the hunting-party, as horns resound and echo, while the Rhine flows on.
[4/2] The curtain rises on a rocky valley and forest by the Rhine, from which the three Rhinemaidens, Woglinde, Wellgunde and Flosshilde, rise, lamenting the loss of the Rhinegold. [4/3] They wait for Siegfried, whose horn-call they hear. He appears, having lost his way, led astray by some spirit, and the Rhinemaidens laugh at him, seeking to have the ring from his finger, which he is about to give them. [4/4] He holds it up to tempt them to him. They warn him, however, of its dangers. He remembers now the warning of the dragon, but this did not teach him to fear. The Rhinemaidens leave him, in his folly, blind to danger, since a woman will inherit the ring and listen to them. They swim away.
[4/5] Siegfried pulls himself together, as he hears the Gibichung horn-call, an inversion of his own, with which he answers, as the men call to him. He is joined now by them, with Gunther and Hagen, ready to rest from the hunt and take refreshment. He tells Hagen that he has taken no prey, but has met three wild waterbirds, who sang to him. Hagen fills a drinking-horn for Siegfried and asks if it is true that he can understand the language of birds. As the latter hands the drinking-horn to Gunther, he tells them he has not heard their language for a long time. [4/6] He goes on to recount his earlier deeds, recalled by the earlier motifs, of the dwarf Mime, who taught him the art of the smith, so that, of his own art, he restored his father's weapon, the sword Nothung, and killed the dragon, Fafner. When he dipped his finger in the dragon's blood and touched his mouth, he could understand a bird that told him of the Tarn-cap and the ring, and then, when he had them both, warned him of the treachery of Mime, who tried to poison him and whom he then killed. Hagen refills the drinking-horn, now adding a drug and urging Siegfried to drink. The latter continues his story, telling how the bird told him of Brünnhilde, on her rock, surrounded by fire. Now he remembers how he had found her and wakened her with a kiss. [4/7] Gunther is horrified at what he hears and two ravens fly out of a nearby bush, circle over Siegfried and fly then to the Rhine. Hagen asks if he can guess their meaning, and Siegfried stands up, turning his back on Hagen, who plunges his spear into him. He tries to hurl his shield at Hagen, but is too weak, and sinks to the ground, while the men reproach Hagen, who strides away. [4/8] Gunther bows his head, by Siegfried's side as he dies with the name of Brünnhilde on his lips. [4/9] To the sound of the funeral march the men, at a signal from Gunther, bear Siegfried's body away. A mist rises from the river, hiding the procession.
[4/10] The mists part to reveal the hall of the Gibichungs in the moonlight, reflected from the river. Gutrune comes out, thinking she hears Siegfried's horn-call, wakened now by a bad dream and seeking Brünnhilde, whom she thinks she has seen walking to the Rhine. She hears the voice of Hagen, calling for lights, as he returns from the hunt, and he appears, bidding Gutrune welcome Siegfried, as the hero's body is borne in. Hagen tells her that Siegfried was killed by a wild boar, as she falls on the body in grief. Gunther tries to comfort her, but she calls him a murderer. He tells her rather to accuse Hagen, who admits the deed and seeks to claim the ring. Gunther rises to defend Gutrune's inheritance and in a short fight is killed by Hagen, who tries to seize the ring, but is prevented when Siegfried's hand rises, to the horror of all. [4/11] Now Brünnhilde appears, seeking final revenge on those who have betrayed her. Gutrune accuses her of bringing sorrow on their house, but Brünnhilde tells her that she was never Siegfried's wife, as she was. Gutrune turns on Hagen, realising that the drugged potion had made Siegfried forget Brünnhilde. [4/12] In the Immolation Scene Brünnhilde orders the men to raise a pyre for Siegfried, to bring his horse, to share with her the funeral rites. She tells of the purity of Siegfried, the truest, who yet had broken every oath and vow. She calls on Wotan to hear her, now with her knowledge restored to her; his ravens may take him a message of peace. [4/13] She gives a sign to the men to bear Siegfried's body to the pyre and takes from his finger the ring, which she now will return to the Rhine with her ashes. [4/14] She takes a burning brand, bidding the ravens fly home and on their way urge Loge to Valhalla to bring fire there. She hurls the brand onto the pyre and mounting the horse, Grane, rides into the flames, which burn the fiercer. [4/15] The Rhine swells and overflows its banks, quelling the fire, as the Rhinemaidens emerge. Hagen, casting aside spear, shield and helmet, plunges into the water, eager to seize the ring, and is dragged down by the Rhinemaidens, who now hold the ring up in triumph. In the sky Valhalla is seen, with the gods and goddesses sitting motionless, as the great hall is consumed in cleansing fire, bringing the reign of gods and heroes to an end.
The German libretto can be found at www.naxos.com/libretti/660179.htm
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WAGNER, R.: Gotterdammerung (Ring Cycle 4)