Wagner’s DIE WALKÜRE

Event: Wagner’s DIE WALKÜRE
Date: March 30, 2019, 12:55 pm
Run Time: 5 hours 20 minutes with two intermissions
Ticket Info: Tickets available at the door and online

Tickets for DIE WALKÜREper adult • $22.00 online

Tickets for DIE WALKÜREper student • $11.00 online

Synopsis

ACT I
Pursued by enemies during a storm, Siegmund stumbles exhausted into an unfamiliar house. Sieglinde finds him lying by the hearth, and the two feel an immediate attraction. They are interrupted by Sieglinde’s husband, Hunding, who asks the stranger who he is. Calling himself “Woeful”, Siegmund tells of a disaster-filled life, only to learn that Hunding is a kinsman of his enemies. Hunding tells his guest they will fight to the death in the morning. Alone, Siegmund calls on his father, Wälse, for the sword he once promised him. Sieglinde reappears, having given Hunding a sleeping potion. She tells of her wedding, at which a one-eyed stranger thrust into a tree a sword that has since resisted every effort to pull it out (Der Männer Sippe). Sieglinde confesses her unhappiness to Siegmund. He embraces her and promises to free her from her forced marriage to Hunding. As moonlight floods the room, Siegmund compares their feelings to the marriage of love and spring (Winterstürme wichen dem Wonnemond). Sieglinde addresses him as “Spring” but asks if his father was really “Wolf,” as he said earlier. When Siegmund gives his father’s name as Wälse instead, Sieglinde recognizes him as her twin brother. Siegmund pulls the sword from the tree and claims Sieglinde as his bride, rejoicing in the union of the Wälsungs.

ACT II
High in the mountains, Wotan, leader of the gods, tells his warrior daughter, the Valkyrie Brünnhilde, that she must defend his mortal son Siegmund in his upcoming battle with Hunding. She leaves joyfully to do what he has asked, as Fricka, Wotan’s wife and the goddess of marriage, appears. Fricka insists that Wotan must defend Hunding’s marriage rights against Siegmund. She ignores his argument that Siegmund could save the gods by winning back the Nibelung Alberich’s all-powerful ring from the dragon Fafner. When Wotan realizes he is caught in his own trap—he will lose his power if he does not enforce the law—he submits to his wife’s demands. After Fricka has left, the frustrated god tells the returning Brünnhilde about the theft of the Rhinegold and Alberich’s curse on it (Als junger Liebe Lust mir verblich). Brünnhilde is shocked to hear her father, his plans in ruins, order her to fight for Hunding. Siegmund comforts his fearful bride and watches over her when she falls asleep. Brünnhilde appears to him as if in a vision, telling him he will soon die and go to Valhalla (Siegmund! Sieh auf mich!). He replies that he will not leave Sieglinde and threatens to kill himself and his bride if his sword has no power against Hunding. Moved by his steadfastness, Brünnhilde decides to defy Wotan and help Siegmund. Siegmund bids farewell to Sieglinde when he hears the approaching Hunding’s challenge. The two men fight and Siegmund is about to be victorious, when Wotan appears and shatters his sword, leaving him to be killed by Hunding. Brünnhilde escapes with Sieglinde and the broken sword. Wotan contemptuously kills Hunding with a wave of his hand and leaves to punish Brünnhilde for her disobedience.

ACT III
Brünnhilde’s eight warrior sisters—who have gathered on their mountaintop bearing slain heroes to Valhalla. They are surprised to see Brünnhilde arrive with a woman, Sieglinde. When they hear she is fleeing Wotan’s wrath, they are afraid to hide her. Sieglinde is numb with despair until Brünnhilde tells her she bears Siegmund’s child. Now eager to be saved, she takes the pieces of the sword from Brünnhilde, thanks her, and rushes off into the forest to hide from Wotan. When the god appears, he sentences Brünnhilde to become a mortal woman, silencing her sisters’ objections by threatening to do the same to them. Left alone with her father, Brünnhilde pleads that in disobeying his orders she was really doing what he wished. Wotan will not give in: she must lie in sleep, a prize for any man who finds her. She asks to be surrounded in sleep by a wall of fire that only the bravest hero can pierce. Both sense this hero must be the child that Sieglinde will bear. Sadly renouncing his daughter (Leb’ wohl, du kühnes, herrliches Kind), Wotan kisses Brünnhilde’s eyes with sleep and mortality before summoning Loge, the god of fire, to encircle the rock. As flames spring up, the departing Wotan invokes a spell defying anyone who fears his spear to brave the flames.

Notes by Zeke Hecker

Of the four Ring Cycle dramas, Die Walküre is the most popular and best able to stand alone outside the context of the other three. The cycle’s prologue, Das Rheingold, paraded gods, dwarfs, and giants; here we meet real people. The dramatic arc of the hour-long first act is the most satisfying in the whole Ring, building to a glorious climax, and the balance of elements — word, music, action — comes closest to fulfilling Wagner’s ideals as articulated in his book Opera and Drama. Wotan’s monologue in Act II is the philosophical centerpiece of the Cycle, and Brünnhilde’s “annunciation scene” exudes tremendous power and dignity. Act III begins with the Ring’s most famous music, the Ride of the Valkyries, and ends with Wotan’s farewell to Brünnhilde, its most moving episode; like Verdi, Wagner seems especially inspired by relationships between daughters and fathers (or father-figures). While Die Walküre unfolds as an unbroken symphonic texture woven from “leitmotifs,” it has more high-profile moments than its three companion works: in addition to the “Ride” and the “Farewell,” we get Siegfried’s spring song and Sieglinde’s response in Act I, as well as Brünnhilde’s plea and the “Magic Fire Music” in Act III.

Though the plot of the Ring is derived largely from Nordic myth, its structure and world-view come from classical Greek theater. Wagner is invariably accused of grandiosity, and certainly Die Walküre is sizeable in length, orchestration, and vocal demands, but most of it consists of intimate encounters — usually two characters alone on stage. (In all of Act I we meet only three.) Nietzsche, Wagner’s advocate-turned-adversary, called him “our greatest miniaturist.” The music is so seductive that we’re tempted to let it just wash over us, to succumb to it mindlessly. But that’s a disservice to Wagner and ourselves. His art, like the amphitheatrical design of the theater he built in Bayreuth specifically to present the Ring, impels us to pay close attention. As for the work’s world-view, it is less epic than tragic. Our protagonist Wotan (“Light-Alberich”) isn’t really much different from that original sinner “Black Alberich,” who first stole the Rhinegold: both Alberichs barter love for power. But Wotan the law-giver, torn between those two values, is caught in a web of his own making. By the end of the opera he has lost both his hero/son and his demigoddess/daughter. From now on, the twilight of the gods is inevitable.