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!
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!
Siegmund: Act 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.
Siegmund: Act 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)
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.
Sieglinde: Act 1: Sieglinde is miserable. Her 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!
Sieglinde: Act 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.
Sieglinde: Act 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)
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.
Wotan: Act 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.
Wotan: Act 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)
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.
Brünnhilde: Act 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.
Brünnhilde: Act 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)
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)
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