Moods of the Ring: Siegfried

     Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen will take the Metropolitan Opera stage starting in six days. There are so many characters in this tetralogy, that I thought it would be fit to divide the character analysis into four parts. This post will consist of the changing personalities of the characters in Wagner’s third Ring opera: Siegfried. If you have not seen my two previous posts about the characters in Das Rheingold and Die Walküre, check them out, because they will help you identify the characters in each opera. Let’s analyze!

Photo: A Mood Ring, the best way to describe the changing personalities in the Ring

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SiegfriedAct 1: Siegfried is a very impulsive character. He says what he thinks and does what he wants without listening to Mime, his grouchy Nibelung guardian. His first entrance in Der Ring des Nibelungen starts with him bringing a wild bear into his house in the forest, scaring Mime. Siegfried thinks nothing of it, and simply lets the bear go free. Later on, Siegfried chastises Mime for being a terrible “father”. He rejects Mime’s offer for a meal or a drink to calm him down, but instead forces Mime to tell him who his real parents are. Mime goes on to tell him about Sieglinde, and then Siegmund and broken Nothung. Siegfried tells Mime to reforge it and he walks out the door. Siegfried returns after Mime’s encounter with the Wanderer, seething with anger because Mime was not able to reforge it. Well, Siegfried just does it himself, and sings beautiful music while doing so. Siegfried finishes the sword and runs off into the forest with Mime to learn what “fear” is.

Siegfried: Act 2: Siegfried and Mime arrive in the forest near Fafner’s cave. Fafner has been lying on the pile of gold that he took from Wotan in the form of a dragon for many years. Mime leaves Siegfried near the dragon’s lair and walks away, hoping that he will be killed and that he himself will have the gold. While Siegfried is in front of Fafner’s cave, he hears the birds of the forest singing and tries to imitate them using a reed. That doesn’t work, so he proceeds to try his horn. Uh oh. Fafner wakes up and finds lunch standing outside his cave. They fight. Siegfried stabs Fafner in the heart with Nothung and lets him bleed and die in front of his cave. Siegfried touches the dragon’s blood which is broiling hot, and instinctively puts his fingers to his mouth to cool it off. Now, he can understand the song of the birds! One forest bird tells him that there is a beautiful woman lying atop a mountain surrounded by fire (Brünnhilde), and that he should go find her. The bird also warns him that Mime is evil and plotting to kill him, and that he can now hear Mime’s inner thoughts. Mime comes back in and Siegfried can hear his inner thoughts just as the bird told him. Before Mime can offer him a poisoned drink, Siegfried stabs Mime and places him next to Fafner. Siegfried then runs off with the direction of the forest bird and goes to find Brünnhilde.

SiegfriedAct 3: Siegfried arrives on the mountaintop ready to find the woman encircled by fire. The Wanderer, who is Wotan, who is Siegfried’s grandfather, blocks his way. Siegfried gets tired of being questioned by the Wanderer and breaks his spear. The Wanderer picks up the remaining pieces of the spear and walks away, letting Siegfried pass. Siegfried gets up to the mountain, surpasses the fire, and finds the woman sleeping. He takes off her shield and battle gear and utters, “Das ist kein mann!” (That is no man!). For the first time, Siegfried experiences fear. He does not know what this thing is! In confusion and desperation, he kisses her. Brünnhilde wakes up and is extremely confused, and at first, does not accept Siegfried’s love. He finally wins her over and the two lovers finish the opera with an extraordinary duet.

Photo: Siegfried with Mime crouched in the back (Arthur Rackham)

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     Siegfried’s character changes tremendously in Siegfried. Throughout the opera he is very impulsive, impatient, and dismissive, and cannot tolerate the advice and stories of his elders. He never listens to Mime and then he casts off the Wanderer as some babbling old fool. In one part of the opera, we see Siegfried’s sadness. After Mime tells Siegfried how Sieglinde died, he blames himself and experiences sadness and sorrow. The first time we see Siegfried’s curiosity is when he wishes he could know what the birds are singing. The first time we see Siegfried’s fear is when he meets Brünnhilde. Before this point, he did not know or understand what fear was. After seeing Brünnhilde, he actually wants to learn what a woman is and becomes more curious. Finally, Siegfried experiences love when Brünnhilde accepts him as her hero and Siegfried understands that they love each other. Siegfried experiences a lot of “firsts” in Siegfried, including sadness, curiosity, fear, and love. This makes Siegfried’s moods and personality change drastically. 

MimeAct 1: Mime is a frustrated Nibelung. Siegfried never listens to him, tosses away his gifts and advice, and is generally nasty towards him. Mime is also frustrated because he cannot forge a sword. Every single one of the swords that he has forged have been broken by Siegfried. Siegfried arrives in the first act and forces Mime to tell him who is real parents were. Mime tries to prove how he strived as a guardian and took care of his mother, but that still does not matter to Siegfried. Mime can never satisfy him. Next, Mime experiences fear. The Wanderer comes in and challenges him to a riddle game, where the loser gets his head cut off. Mime asks the Wanderer three questions, and he makes it three for three. Mime is asked three questions and cannot answer the last one, “Who will forge Nothung?”. The Wanderer lets him off, and tells him that it is one who does not know fear (Siegfried). Siegfried returns from the forest and Mime realizes that Siegfried is the one that does not know fear. Mime decides that he will take Siegfried into the forest to Fafner’s lair and show him fear, after Nothung is reforged. 

MimeAct 2: Mime has taken Siegfried into the forest. His plan is to have Siegfried fight Fafner and be killed, so that he can take the pile of gold that Fafner had been hiding. Mime wishes Siegfried luck and leaves him to become lunch. After the fight, Mime encounters Alberich in front of the cave, ready to take the gold. The two Nibelungs fight over it until Siegfried reappears with the tarnhelm and the Ring. Mime has prepared Siegfried a poisonous drink in case he did win the fight, and he offers it to him. Due to consuming the dragon’s blood, Siegfried can understand Mime’s thoughts. Knowing that the drink is poisonous and that Mime positively despises him, Siegfried stabs Mime and places him next to Fafner. With their bodies there, Mime and Fafner cover the remaining gold so no one can find it.

Photo: Mime trying to forge a sword (Arthur Rackham)

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     Mime never can satisfy anyone in this opera, including himself. Mime can never satisfy Siegfried because, according to Siegfried, he does everything wrong. He can’t forge a sword, he can’t make good food, and he can’t take care of Siegfried. Mime also can never satisfy himself, because he wants the gratitude he deserves for taking care of Siegfried after Sieglinde’s death. He also wants Fafner’s gold, which he does not get, and Siegfried’s death, which he does not get. Mime’s character is forever pining for gratification. His whole life is one big delayed gratification that does not appear in his own lifetime.

The Wanderer (Wotan)Act 1: Wotan has disguised himself as a wanderer to indirectly micromanage Siegfried. He supposedly walks the Earth and accepts the hospitality of guests, and plays the Riddle Game. The Riddle Game involves asking three questions, and if one does not answer a question correctly, one’s head will be cut off. The Wanderer asks Mime three questions: “Who is the race that Wotan loves and despises?”, “What is the name of the sword?”, and “Who will reforge the sword?”. Mime gets the first two questions correct: The Wälsungs and Nothung, but he cannot answer the third. The Wanderer spares him and tells him that the one who will forge the sword does not know fear. He leaves Mime shaking like a leaf.

The Wanderer (Wotan)Act 2: The Wanderer and Alberich encounter each other in front of Fafner’s cave. The two recognize each other from their experiences in Das Rheingold. Alberich is planning on getting the Ring and the gold back, while Wotan (The Wanderer), tells him that he is not interested and that he will simply let Alberich carry out his plan. The Wanderer wakes up Fafner for Alberich. Alberich warns the dragon that a young hero is coming to kill him, but Fafner dismisses it and goes back to sleep. Alberich and the Wanderer leave.

The Wanderer (Wotan)Act 3: The Wanderer hikes up to Brünnhilde’s rock and summons Erda, Goddess of the Earth, for advice. She cannot give any, as she is exhausted. He confides in her that he no longer fears for the end of the Gods, and that he is actually looking forward to it. Not ten minutes later does that occur. Siegfried arrives on the Rock and is blocked by Wotan, who is his grandfather. Siegfried does not know this, and is bothered that this old man will not let him pass. He snaps Wotan’s spear in two with Nothung, and the heritage of the Gods has ended. The Gods will slowly die due to the fact that Wotan’s spear is broken. Wotan picks up the pieces and walks away, leaving Siegfried to pass.

Photo: The Wanderer questioning Mime (Arthur Rackham)

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     Wotan, or the Wanderer, has grown much weaker and much less confident since Das Rheingold and Die Walküre. He wants to manage Siegfried, but he cannot; He does not have the interest for the Ring and the gold that he did in Das Rheingold; And he lost his strength to protect Brünnhilde and the rest of the Gods. Wotan loses his power through this opera, and the audience watches him die. It is a tragic ending for him and the heritage of the Gods. 

Photo: Fafner after being stabbed by Siegfried (Arthur Rackham)

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Fafner: Fafner experiences surprise in the second act of Siegfried. At first, when Alberich warns him that a young hero is coming to kill him, he just dismisses it and falls back asleep. Siegfried later shows up and ends up stabbing him in the heart with Nothung. Fafner is shocked. He asks Siegfried: Who are you? Where did you come from? He also explains to Siegfried what he has done by killing him, ending the race of the Giants and affecting the history of the Ring. Fafner experiences a surprising death and is shocked by Siegfried. 

Brünnhilde: Brünnhilde has been asleep for countless years encircled by fire, waiting for a hero to come and waken her. That day came in the third act of Siegfried. She wakes up and sings “Heil dir, Sonne!”, Hail the sun! She is finally awake! Then, she sees Siegfried. At first, she does not accept Siegfried’s love. She misses her life as a valkyrie, bringing dead heroes to Valhalla and being around her sisters and her father Wotan. Brünnhilde wants to return to that life, and not become a wife and be controlled by a husband. Siegfried describes to her all he has been through, hoping that she will accept his love because of his effort. She eventually accepts it, hearing about his effort and seeing how handsome he is. They finish the opera in an incredible love duet. 

Photo: Brünnhilde and Siegfried (Arthur Rackham)

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     Brünnhilde experiences incredible change in Siegfried. At first, she holds back from him. Siegfried has just met a woman for the first time, so he is holding back a bit as well. She misses her life as a valkyrie. It is what she has done for her entire life up until this point. Brünnhilde is not the type of woman to be married, doing housework, and be controlled by a husband. She wants to be free and fly through the skies aback Grane. She is finally able to accept Siegfried after he expresses his love for her and how he came to find her. Her attitude changes and she readies herself for her new life as a wife.

     The other characters in Siegfried do not change tremendously. Alberich has the same anger for Wotan that he did in Das Rheingold. Alberich tries to one up Wotan and tell him that he is going to get the gold and not him. Later on, we also see that Alberich is still greedy for the gold when he encounters Mime. Mime offers that he and Alberich can share the gold, but Alberich refuses: He wants it all for himself. Alberich’s personality never changes: He is still angry with Wotan and he is still greedy for the gold.

     Erda’s character in Siegfried does not change either. She is too tired for her character to change. Wotan summons her in the third act for advice, and she is not able to give any. She is simply to tired. Wotan tells her his feelings, saying that he would be fine if the race of the Gods ended, and she simply nods and agrees with him. She still loves Wotan, and her personality remains the same. 

     Siegfried opens at the Metropolitan Opera on April 20 at 11 AM. Buy tickets or listen on the radio to hear these characters interact with each other and hear their changing personalities. Hojotoho!

Photo: Siegfried fighting Fafner in the Lepage Siegfried at the Metropolitan Opera

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Moods of the Ring: Die Walküre

It is that time of year for opera-lovers to prepare themselves for Wagner’s immense masterpiece: Der Ring des Nibelungen. There is so much to analyze in the Ring, that it is difficult to narrow down what to discuss. I finally narrowed it down to the characters.

Photo: A Mood Ring, the perfect way to describe the changing moods of the Ring!

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If you haven’t seen the Moods of the Ring: Das Rheingold post, take a look, because it will help you identify the personalities of those characters. This post will discuss the changing moods in Wagner’s second Ring opera: Die Walküre. Let’s analyze!

SiegmundAct 1: When Siegmund enters Hunding’s house in the forest, he has absolutely nothing. He obviously does not have his own home to run to when it is snowing outside. He also has no family to run to, thus, we as the audience can see that he has nothing. Once he meets eyes with Sieglinde, he has something. Even when grumpy old Hunding, the husband of Sieglinde, is in the room, he comments to himself about how similar they look and how their eyes are both mischievous. Later, once Siegmund has pulled the sword out from the tree and is singing “Winterstürme”, he and Sieglinde have totally hit it off. The more and more they sing, they realize they are related, and that they love each other, and that they have to escape and make it all dramatic and romantic. This is Siegmund’s happiest moment in the opera.

SiegmundAct 2: In this scene, Siegmund is at Sieglinde’s knees, assisting her in every way. They have traveled a long way on rocky terrain, running to escape the violence of Hunding. At this point, none of us, including Siegmund, know that she is pregnant, but we do know that she is not feeling well. Siegmund does everything to defend her, including telling Brünnhilde, of all people, to back off. He is inseparable from Sieglinde, and will never let her go for as long as he lives. Well, that is only a few minutes later when he is found by Hunding. He loses the sword fight and dies, leaving Sieglinde devastated.

Photo: Siegmund pulling the sword out of the tree (Arthur Rackham)

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Over the course of the two acts that he sings in, Siegmund slowly turns into a lock or a knot with Sieglinde. He enters the door being unlocked and insecure, and slowly gets familiar with Sieglinde. The lock is closing. In the second act, the lock is so tight that it is virtually impossible for he and Sieglinde to be separated. Hunding, unfortunately, figures out the combination and picks the lock, killing Siegmund and separating him from Sieglinde in the process. Siegmund is a broken lock.

SieglindeAct 1: Sieglinde is miserableHer life has been ruined by the marriage she has with Hunding. Her days are dark and filled with forced housework and slave-like treatment. Siegmund walks in the door as the clouds are separated and the stars pop out. Hunding sits Siegmund down and Sieglinde prepares them a meal. She wants to know all about him, where he is from, what his name is, and Hunding tells her to shut up. She is like a teenage girl meeting her dream rock star. Once Hunding leaves, she has the time to gush, show her feelings, and benefit Siegmund by telling him about the sword. This climaxes when they both discover that they are related and have mutual romantic feelings for each other. The sun is shining!

SieglindeAct 2: Through most of this act, Sieglinde is very delirious. Nobody knows, including her, that she is pregnant, making it uncomfortable for her to carry on hiking on the rocky terrain. When she is awake and sane however, Siegmund happens to not be around. She panics and worries for his death. She obviously has deep feelings for him because he is her shining star. The next time she wakes up, she sees a sword through her shining star, and a broken sword on the ground. The clouds have been covered again.

SieglindeAct 3: Sieglinde is still feeling sick. Brünnhilde has picked her up and taken her aback on her horse Grane. Once she gets to the Rock, Brünnhilde asks for help from her valkyrie sisters for this poor, pregnant mother. Pregnant?! Sieglinde now has a reason to live again! The stars reappear! As Wotan approaches, Sieglinde runs into the forest, ecstatic that she has reason to go on living.

Photo: Sieglinde and Siegmund (Arthur Rackham)

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Sieglinde’s life is a cloudy night sky. At first, it is cloudy with Hunding, and then it is cleared when Siegmund arrives. Once Siegmund is killed, the clouds cover the stars again. Finally, when she discovers that she is carrying Siegfried, the stars reappear, showing that she has reason to go on. Luckily, she ends her Ring appearance with a starry sky.

WotanAct 2: Wotan experiences a ton of different emotions in this act. At first, we see the pride that Wotan has for his daughter Brünnhilde and the special relationship that they share. Then, trouble walks in. Fricka comes in and expresses her frustration for the marriage between Siegmund and Sieglinde. They are brother and sister, making it illegal for them to be together. Fricka puts pressure on Wotan to make Siegmund lose the fight between him and Hunding, by breaking Siegmund’s sword mid-fight. This is Wotan’s son we are talking about! Under the pressure of Fricka, Wotan agrees to control the result of the fight, killing his own son in the process. Brünnhilde comes in seeing her father in despair, and Wotan confides in her. He explains what happened in Das Rheingold (to catch the audience up), and also tells her to listen to Fricka and not protect Siegmund. This is very difficult for Wotan, because of the duty itself, and the opposition he gets from Brünnhilde for this order. Wotan reappears later for the fight. He completes his duty of breaking Siegmund’s sword and watches his son die on the battlefield. He also watches his own daughter betray him and fly off with Sieglinde upon her back. Wotan is very sad, while also very angry.

WotanAct 3: Wotan appears in the third act seething with anger. His daughter Brünnhilde has disobeyed him and run away from him. When he arrives, the first sound that reaches his ears is the whining of his other valkyrie daughters, crying for the mercy of Brünnhilde. No one is listening to him. After a lot of whining and pleading for Brünnhilde’s mercy, she appears among them and prepares herself for Wotan’s confrontation. He demands the other sisters to leave and the father and daughter remain. As Wotan talks to his daughter one on one, like in the second act, his anger slowly steams off. By the end of the opera, he knows that he must punish his daughter, but he will miss her at the same time. She is his favorite daughter, making it extremely difficult for him to put her to sleep and surround her by fire. He kisses her goodbye, completes the circle of fire, with the assistance of Loge, and the opera ends.

Photo: Wotan on his way to confront Brünnhilde (Arthur Rackham)

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Wotan is the King of the Gods. He is the one that is supposed to control all of the other Gods and tell them what should be done. In this opera, he is not in control. First, Fricka tells him that Siegmund must be killed, and he listens to her. Next, Wotan had told Brünnhilde that Siegmund should not be helped in the battle, but she disobeys, and Wotan is not in control. Finally, in the third act, Wotan is in control again. He knows for his own standards, that he must punish Brünnhilde for her disobeying his orders, and he does. It takes Wotan the entire opera to get back in control.

BrünnhildeAct 2: Brünnhilde is a happy individual. She loves her life as a valkyrie: Taking the dead to Valhalla, serving the Gods at meals, and being around her father Wotan. As she is so happy, she is also naive to what has happened around her. Until Wotan tells her the history of the Ring and Fricka’s order, she is unaware of any of Wotan’s unhappiness. It is her duty to preserve his happiness, which is why she wants to keep Siegmund alive. She ends up trying to help Siegmund in battle, disobeying Wotan’s orders, and running off with Sieglinde. Wotan’s happiness is not preserved, it disappears.

BrünnhildeAct 3: Now, Brünnhilde is completely aware of the unhappiness of Wotan’s life. Wotan finds her on the Rock and confronts her about her disobeying him. He punishes her for her action by putting her to sleep upon a rock surrounded by fire. Even with this punishment, however, Wotan and Brünnhilde still love each other very much, and it is difficult for both of them to say goodbye.

Photo: Brünnhilde with Grane (Arthur Rackham)

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In Die Walküre, Brünnhilde becomes aware of the unhappy side of Wotan’s life, and makes it her duty to preserve his happiness. It does not end well, in that she is punished to sleep on a rock surrounded by fire. What is amazing, is that the relationship between Wotan and Brünnhilde does not change. They still embrace each other at the end, utter difficult goodbyes, and show the same love for each other that we saw at the beginning of the second act. The strong Father-Daughter relationship is still alive and well.

Fricka: Fricka is frustrated for several reasons. First, the twin siblings, Sieglinde and Siegmund, have eloped. By marital sanctity, this is completely illegal. Fricka, being the Goddess of Marriage, is obviously frustrated by this. Second, Wotan himself is not preserving the sanctity of marriage. He has cheated on her with the Goddess of Earth, Erda, and has had nine children with her: The Valkyries. Seeing Brünnhilde after her talk with Wotan, she even says something snide like “Things have changed and you’d better listen to him”. By giving Wotan the order to make Siegmund lose in the fight, she finally puts herself in control. She is now in the driver’s seat, and tells him that this has to stop. She makes Wotan listen, Wotan listens, and Fricka has finally gotten her way.

Photo: Fricka approaching the Rock with her rams (Arthur Rackham)

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The two characters (or group of characters) that do not change in the opera are Hunding and the Valkyries. Hunding distrusts Siegmund from the moment he walks in the door. Once he finds out that Siegmund is the same man that interrupted his kinsmen’s wedding, his distrust is satisfied. He kills Siegmund, he is killed, and the character of Hunding has ended. He began distrustful and ended distrustful.

The Valkyries also do not change. When Brünnhilde appears in the third act, they are shocked and disappointed that she disobeyed their father. They do not agree to help her or to protect Sieglinde. They try to hide Brünnhilde, but they know that Wotan will find her anyway.

Die Walküre opens on Saturday April 13 at 11 AM. Buy tickets or listen on the radio to hear these characters interact with each other, and see how their personalities change. Hojotoho!

Photo: Deborah Voigt and Bryn Terfel in the Lepage Die Walküre at the Metropolitan Opera

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Moods of the Ring: Das Rheingold

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it is that time of year. The Metropolitan Opera begins its three cycles of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen starting Saturday April 6 with Das Rheingold. The Ring is so grand and long, running about 18 hours, that there is so much to analyze and get excited about! As my first Ring post, and my sixth time seeing a complete cycle, I thought I would start with the characters.

Photo: A Mood Ring, the best way to describe the characters’ personalities in The Ring

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There are over thirty characters in the Ring, most of them with changing personalities (some of them don’t live long enough to change their personalities). By opera and even by scene, many of the characters develop into completely different people through experience, wisdom, and age. Let’s analyze!

The Rhinemaidens: Scenes 1 and 4: “Weiha, weiha, nothing could be better, life is wonderful!” All three of these flighty characters prize their gold, swim around it, guard it, and sing around it. Life is perfect. Alberich shows up in his slimy, disgusting state and tries to woo them. They make fun of him, fool him, and toss him around on the sea rocks. He finally spies the gold, and he can tell how much they love it by the description that they each give. He makes a promise that he will never love again, picks up the gold, and leaves. Now, the Rhinemaidens are terribly sad and depressed because their life and light are gone. Their characters’ emotions have gone downhill.

Photo: Drawing of the Rhinemaidens by Arthur Rackham

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Alberich: Scene 1: At first, Alberich is pretty pathetic. He is fooled by the coquetry of the Rhinemaidens and slides around pathetically on the sea rocks. He finally manages to get past them and steals the gold, leaving them whining on the sea rocks.

Alberich: Scenes 3 and 4: ALBERICH THE ALMIGHTY. Bow down to Alberich because he has made himself the boss of Nibelheim. He bosses around Mime and even makes his child slaves scream with terror. Wotan and Loge show up and he shows off how powerful he is with the tarnhelm. He eventually falls for their coquetry and is stuffed into a bag in the form of a toad. He is dragged back up with Wotan to the rock where he can give up his possessions.

Photo: Drawing of Alberich by Arthur Rackham

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Alberich’s character in Das Rheingold goes in one big circle….maybe even a Ring! His character in Das Rheingold begins as a fooled toad and ends as a fooled toad. He gains power throughout the opera and it climaxes when we see his giant plantation of Nibelheim. He returns to his slimy, fooled self when he falls for the tricks of Wotan and Loge, and returns to the tricked section of the Ring where he started.

Wotan: Scene 2: Wotan wakes up in front  of Valhalla and admires its massive beauty. He is then interrupted by Fricka, who reminds him that he has offered Freia as the payment for the construction of Valhalla. The Giants, Fasolt and Fafner, agreed with Wotan that they would take Freia as their payment for building the massive building. The Giants come in later and Wotan claims that this deal was never official, and that Freia would remain with the Gods (Remember- She and her apples are their source of life). Loge intelligently brings up the idea of the Gold, and that maybe it could substitute as payment for Valhalla. Soon after, Wotan and Loge make their descent to Nibelheim.

Wotan: Scene 3: This is Wotan’s fun scene. He lets Loge get a start with Alberich and get him warmed up, and then he joins Loge for the kill. They ask Alberich to turn into a dragon with the tarnhelm, which he does. After being frightened of the dragon (or pretending to be), they ask him to turn into a toad. As soon as they spy him, Wotan and Loge humorously catch him in a net and take him back up to the Rock.

Wotan: Scene 4: This is Wotan’s balloon scene: He gets all this air and then pops. He makes Alberich feel like he has been stepped on. He takes away all of Alberich’s possessions: The Ring, tarnhelm, and the rest of the gold. The Giants show up and demand that the amount of the gold that they receive cover all of Freia’s body. They stack it all on top of her, and yet they can still see one of her beautiful eyes. The Giants make Wotan give up the last piece of the gold: The Ring. Even though Wotan has Valhalla, only a rainbow away, he still pouts about his losing all of the power of the gold.

Photo: James Morris as Wotan at the Metropolitan Opera

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Wotan’s character in Das Rheingold also goes in a circle. In the beginning, he has Valhalla. He loses Freia, wins the gold, wins back Freia, and loses the gold again. Guess what he is back to? Valhalla. Wotan may have the powerful palace of Valhalla, but he still reluctantly walks across that rainbow at the end, sans Ring.

Loge: Scene 2: Thank goodness Loge is here. Loge defends Wotan from the opposition of the Giants. He tells them that he is reliable and that he will pay them, whether it is through Freia or gold. Loge saves Wotan’s butt from being thrown into the Rhine, and leads him down to Nibelheim.

Loge: Scene 3: Loge saves Wotan again by making conversation with Alberich and breaking the ice. He engages in conversation with Alberich about the tarnhelm, and asks him what it could do. Alberich shows off by turning himself into a dragon, and then a toad. The toad is captured and Loge leads Wotan back up to the Rock.

Loge: Scene 4: After Wotan throws a pity party for himself after he did not get the Ring, Loge feels like he has been stepped on. He helped him get out of trouble with the Giants, led him down to Nibelheim, conversed with Alberich, and led him back up. What is the thanks he gets? Nothing. While the Gods are crossing the rainbow bridge to Valhalla, Loge basically talks to himself and/or the audience, saying that he has had enough with the Gods. He is only a half-god, why should he stick around and be bossed around? Loge decides to leave and pursue another flammable life.

Photo: Loge with the Rhinemaidens (Arthur Rackham)

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The Giants: Scene 2: Fasolt and Fafner arrive. Fasolt comes off as benevolent and warm while Fafner stands awkwardly and quietly in the back. Fasolt goes on in a beautiful monologue about Freia’s beauty and how much he loves her. Fafner, meanwhile, is unimpressed.

The Giants: Scene 4: Fasolt is sad to discover that he is forced to give back Freia and her beauty. Fafner, meanwhile, is thrilled that he (not they) are getting such a vast amount of gold. In fact, he wants the gold so badly, that he kills his brother for the whole pile! Fasolt’s emotions and life are dead, and Fafner’s life is better than ever.

Photo: Fafner stabbing Fasolt (Arthur Rackham)

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The two brothers’ emotions have gone in opposite directions. Fasolt’s were up from Freia and then down from his loss of her and his life. Fafner’s were down because he really did not want Freia, and then went up when he killed for the entire pile of gold. Life gets better for him as he finds a comfortable cave in the forest, turns himself into a dragon, and sits on that pile of gold for many years.

The other characters in Das Rheingold do not experience as much change as the others. Fricka, Froh, and Donner each go from being healthy to sick, due to the loss of Freia and her golden apples. Fricka is a constant naysayer who constantly acknowledges Wotan’s mistakes, what he has not done, and what he has done. Froh has about three lines and makes a rainbow bridge. Donner remains violent and impulsive through his parts of the opera, and then clears the skies for the Rainbow Bridge.

Mime does not change much in this opera either. He remains afraid of Alberich through the duration of the Nibelheim scene, and he acts cowardly around Wotan and Loge. However, Mime gains more confidence and personality between Das Rheingold and Siegfried, and will be seen later.

Das Rheingold opens at the Met on Saturday April 6 at 1:00 PM. Buy tickets now! If you can’t, it will also be broadcast as one of the Met’s Saturday broadcasts. Happy Ring Season!

Photo: Wotan and Loge descending into Nibelheim in the Robert Lepage Ring at the Metropolitan Opera

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Julius Caesar vs Giulio Cesare

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Two major adaptions of the legend of Julius Caesar have been put on stage. One being Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and the other being Handel’s Giulio Cesare, which will open at the Metropolitan Opera on April 4. Surprisingly, the opera, which was written 125 years later, is not based on Shakespeare’s play. The opera takes place in Egypt and focuses on the relationship between Caesar and Cleopatra, while the play focuses on the death of Caesar and the conspiracy to kill him. 

Photo: Natalie Dessay and David Daniels in a feature photo of the Met’s Giulio CesareImage

 

     The characters in both the play and the opera are completely different. Julius Caesar is the only common character to both, but he is completely different in the two interpretations. In the Shakespeare play, Caesar is positively despised by the conspirators for several reasons, including that he killed a fellow member of the First Triumvirate: Pompey. Brutus, Cassius, and others all plan a conspiracy to kill Caesar and protect Rome, and end up successful in Act III. The goal of the conspirators was to keep Rome protected from the wrath of Caesar.

     The Shakespeare play also focuses much more on Brutus than Caesar, who dies in Act III. Brutus is already a friend to the Roman people due to his father’s history as a leader and military figure, and he is protective of them. At first, Brutus is hesitant about the idea of killing an authority figure like Caesar, but is drawn into it by Cassius. After killing Caesar however, Brutus justifies the situation for the Roman crowd, telling them that he was protecting Rome and the free lives of the people. Brutus knew that Caesar would put the Roman people in chains, and that he was a terrible man.

Photo: Brutus being visited by the ghost of Julius Caesar in Act IV of Julius CaesarImage

 

     The opera focuses on a different perspective of Julius Caesar’s life: His relationship with the Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra.  This relationship takes place earlier than Shakespeare’s perspective of Caesar. Cleopatra is really married to her brother Tolomeo, but he is not the nicest guy on Earth. Almost everyone is upset with him for approving the killing of Pompey by Cesare, and also for seducing and forcing himself on Cornelia, the widow of Pompey. Tolomeo actually ends up being the most hated character in the play rather than Cesare. He is killed by Sesto and everyone celebrates. Cesare proclaims Cleopatra as the Queen of Egypt and promises to give patronage to Egypt and spread that in Rome as well. Everyone loves Cesare!

     To conclude, the only real similarities that Julius Caesar and Giulio Cesare share are that Pompey is killed and the other characters wish to have him avenged, and that Caesar will rule Rome. The two adaptions are almost completely different. 

     Giulio Cesare premieres at the Met on April 4 in David McVicar’s beautiful production. It will include David Daniels as Cesare, Natalie Dessay as Cleopatra, Alice Coote as Sesto, and Patricia Bardon as Cornelia, with Harry Bicket conducting. Get tickets now!

     PS: My mom will also be featured again onstage and in costume, playing onstage in the Act II banda that welcomes Cleopatra. She is very much looking forward to it after her experience playing onstage in Francesca da Rimini.

Here is a photo of my mom in her Giulio Cesare costume (She gets to change in the solo artist dressing rooms!):

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The Irish History of “Tristan und Isolde”

     As today is St. Patrick’s Day, I thought it would be appropriate to discuss the most famous Irish operatic character in history: Isolde from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde.

Photo: Princess Iseult of Ireland and Sir Tristan

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     Iseult the Irish princess is the daughter of King Anguish of Ireland and Queen Iseult the Elder. She is also the niece of Morholt, the giant Irish warrior who was killed by Tristan. Interestingly in Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, Morold is Isolde’s former fiancé. 

     The Arthurian legend of Tristan and “Iseult” originally came from medieval French poetry, and also some Celtic legends. Iseult was an Irish princess who was brought over by ship to marry King Mark of Cornwall. While on the ship, Iseult accidentally takes a love potion, making her fall in love with one of the “Knights of the Round Table”, Sir Tristan. Tristan and Iseult fall in love with each other and keep a secret affair until they are caught by King Mark. Tristan is banished to Brittany where he lays suffering from a poisonous wound. He waits for Iseult to arrive by ship in Brittany so the wound can be cured, but he dies before she arrives. She arrives later, discovers him dead, and dies of grief. 

     …..What a cheery story for St. Patrick’s Day, but hey, it’s opera, right? 

     Some of the great Isoldes in opera history include Birgit Nilsson, Kirsten Flagstad, Astrid Varnay, Hildegard Behrens, Iréne Theorin, Nina Stemme, and Waltraud Meier. Enjoy Tristan und Isolde and its Irish history, and have a Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Here is Richard Wagner as a leprechaun:

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Diana “Dynamite” Damrau

Last night, the Metropolitan Opera put on its season premiere of Verdi’s La Traviata, starring Diana Damrau in the Willy Decker production. This was the third opening night for the Decker production at the Met. Last night featured Diana Damrau’s role debut as Violetta Valéry, along with Albanian tenor Saimir Pirgu’s role debut as Alfredo at the Metropolitan Opera. Placido Domingo, the one and only, also performed last night in the role of Giorgio Germont.

I attended the opening night last night along with my father, while my mother played in the orchestra under Maestro Yannick Nézét-Seguin. It was overall a lovely evening.

Damrau fits the role of Violetta like a glove. Her bubbly attitude, along with her intense acting skills, made her Violetta a performance to remember. The Willy Decker production requires her to do many challenging things while she simultaneously has to sing, including standing on couches, falling down, getting up, being carried, lying down, and the obvious- having money thrown at her. Her singing by itself was fantastic. Her “Sempre Libera” reminded me of a bubbly, fizzy glass of champagne, while her “Addio, del passato” reminded me of a sad, wilted flower. Her performance last night was a master class for bringing emotion into one’s singing, while also taking on the physical demands of incredible acting.

Photo: Diana Damrau as Violetta in Act I of La Traviata

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Saimir Pirgu’s first performance was a complete success! He may have had “debut-jitters” for his Alfredo, but if he did, they were not noticeable. His voice sounds well rounded, and like there may be more voice down there somewhere for the future. Alfredo was his first Verdi role, as the only other parts he has sung were composed by Mozart, Rossini, and Puccini. His voice sounds like one that could grow and slowly feel more comfortable with heavier Verdi roles. Remember- He’s only 32.

Placido Domingo’s return as Germont was a show-stopper for the Met audience. When Domingo made his first entrance in Violetta’s house in the French countryside, Maestro Nézét-Seguin had to stop due to the applause. Hearing Germont sung by a tenor was a bit odd, in that the voices of Germont and Alfredo were not distinguished enough from each other to comprehend their father-son relationship. Domingo’s singing was satisfactory, but his appearance was highly appreciated and welcomed with open arms by the Met audience.

The orchestra and chorus were able to keep up with the fast tempi of Maestro Nézét-Seguin. As a former member of the Metropolitan Opera Children’s Chorus, I sang under the Maestro’s stick in the premiere of the Met’s current production of Carmen in 2009 and 2010. He made the “Taratata”s of the children’s chorus part very difficult to sing without sounding like blurry rubbish. He, the orchestra, and the chorus all contributed to a musically sound performance.

Photo: Act I of Carmen in 2009, conducted by Maestro Nézét-Seguin

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The Willy Decker production of La Traviata has drawn much controversy from opera audiences. For singers, it is an attraction because of the attention that they can draw to themselves. The production’s stage, for the most part, is bare or with a few pieces of furniture, while the singers are left out in the open. What soprano would not want to wear that loud red dress and grasp the audience’s attention away from the set?

There are two parts of the production that I especially liked: Death and time. It is very clever to have Dr. Grenvil out on the stage for the duration of the opera. He is constantly present, wearing black, and acts as a sign of death for Violetta. This is very similar to the angels wearing black that appear in the Met’s current production of Salome, that most likely represent death. The presence of the clock is also intriguing, in that it shows that Violetta is running out of time for Alfredo and for her life. Like the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier, Violetta attempts to stop it in despair. Death and time were both incredibly innovative and creative components of the production.

The performance of La Traviata itself made the evening spectacular, but that was not all. I had the pleasure of attending another “Opera Rocks” Twitter party at the intermission with fellow tweeters OperaTeen, donna_elvira, and parterre. It was wonderful to see all of you and talk opera. After my leaving the Met Children’s Chorus and after my last performance of Parsifal last Friday night, it was nice to finally get out and talk about opera with other people. Thank you for putting the cherry on top of a lovely evening at the opera.

My Good-Bye to the Metropolitan Opera Children’s Chorus

Yesterday was a tough day. It was not only the last Parsifal of the Met season, but it was also my last performance in the Metropolitan Opera Children’s Chorus.

As you know from my “About” page, I have been in the Met children’s chorus for seven years. I joined in March of 2006 when I was eight years old, and I can still remember my first children’s chorus class when my legs were wobbling singing “Happy Birthday” for my audition. From that same class, I also remember volunteering to sing the children’s chorus part of An American Tragedy, which the Met did a few years ago, alone in front of the entire class. After that class, I also remember going home and crying because I was not able to keep up with the children’s chorus part in La Bohème because of the rapid tempo. The director had not handed out the music, so I was sitting there going, “Parpignol..par..what?!”.

Photo: My first time performing on the stage of the Met as a communion girl in Cavalleria Rusticana, October of 2006.

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Last night, seven years later, I also went home crying, but in a different way. Those were tears of happiness.

When I first entered the children’s chorus studio last night, I was greeted with so many “Happy last performance”s , “Why do you have to leave?”s, and “We’ll miss you!”s. I even got a “We don’t even talk but I’ll miss you anyway”. Along with these greetings I received a ton of supportive hugs. We all sat down to warm up and the children’s chorus director not only announced that it was the last Parsifal, but that it was my last performance. He made clear that I had been there seven years, and that I would be leaving with a lot of Met history. He also wished that I would be able to sing on the stage of the Met again, and good luck for the future in vocal training. I felt so honored.

After warming up we were called by the stage manager to go up to the Dome. As usual, I brought my Parsifal score. I followed along for the entire second scene of Act one. The end of the act came, and my colleagues and I sang our last “Selig im glauben”, and I realized that I had tears streaming down my face. My friends saw that and gave me more supportive hugs. As if that was not enough, they gave me a very special gift. All of them had spent time in the Dome writing “We’ll miss you, Melanie” notes and preparing a scrapbook full of them. Some of them even drew pictures of me and Jonas Kaufmann because they know how much I love him. I was speechless.

I said my good-byes and gave more hugs, even one to the children’s chorus director, and left the studio. I had tickets for the rest of the performance of Parsifal. My dad and I watched Act II but I simply could not concentrate or stop crying. We left after Act II, and I had a big cry in the car. I was reminded that there are bigger and better things, and that I will go far. He also reminded me that every person I have talked to about leaving the children’s chorus, said I would be back singing on the same stage again some day. That made me feel better.

I want to thank my parents, my children’s chorus friends, my twitter friends, and all of you who follow my blog for your love and support. It was a tough evening for me yesterday, but it ended in happy tears, a thoughtful scrapbook, and the reminder that I have such supportive friends. Thank you.

Here are the thoughtful entries from the scrapbook:

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My “Stage-Mother”

Tonight is the opening of Zandonai’s Francesca da Rimini at the Metropolitan Opera. I will be attending the opening along with my father, and my mother will be playing oboe. My mother, Susan Spector is the second oboist of the Metropolitan Opera, and has been for twenty-one years. 

     There are many reasons to be excited about these upcoming performances. Eva Maria Westbroek returns to the Met for the first time after her stunning performances as Sieglinde in Die Walküre. Marcello Giordani also returns for the first time after his dropping the part of Aeneas in Les Troyens. Mark Delavan will also be an intense Giovanni as he prepares for his intense role of Wotan in the upcoming performances of Wagner’s Ring. It is another beautiful revival production with beautiful sets and costumes. But, I have one reason that most other people do not have for looking forward to Francesca da Rimini: My mom is playing onstage in costume!

     After fifteen years of waiting, my mom will finally play on the stage of the Met again, in costume! The last time she played onstage was in 1997 in the banda in the last scene of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Here is a photo of her in that banda:

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     Tonight, she will relish serenading Francesca, Paolo, and all of the other characters in Francesca da Rimini, along with the Met audience! Here is a photo of her in her Francesca costume:

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      If you see Francesca da Rimini, make sure to bring your binoculars and be on the look out (she even has some solos)! You will also see her playing onstage in Giulio Cesare later this season. Toi toi toi, Mommy!