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
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
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
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
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)
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)
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