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
Siegfried: Act 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.
Siegfried: Act 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)
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.
Mime: Act 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.
Mime: Act 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)
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)
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)
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)
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