The 2015 Metropolitan Opera Guild Holiday Card, Designed by Melanie Spector

2015 handed me some incredible opportunities. I was accepted to Manhattan School of Music, am studying with my first-choice voice teacher, and I even got to see my favorite team, the New York Mets, battle it out in the postseason – to the bitter end. One last opportunity granted to me in 2015 was to have the honor of designing the Metropolitan Opera Guild’s holiday card. After seeing some of my other works, such as my 2013-14 Met Season drawing, those on the Guild were interested in having me design their card. Here is the final product:

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The front of the 2015 Metropolitan Opera Guild Holiday Card © Melanie Spector 2015

As the English-version of Die Fledermaus is being performed at the Met right now and as it is always associated with New Year’s Eve and the holiday season overall, I figured it would be a perfect theme for a holiday card. Champagne bubble letters, I believe, are appealing to everyone. I did have another idea, however, that I was hoping would pull through as the favored design of the two I created. Here is my other card design:

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2015 Metropolitan Opera Guild holiday card alternate design © Melanie Spector 2015

One with any prior knowledge of opera would understand that this is a reenactment of the end of Act II of Puccini’s Tosca. Instead of Tosca stabbing Scarpia with a knife, however, she kills him with snowballs. The two candelabra set on either side of him are seen in any production that is true to the libretto. The snowman is obviously not in the libretto, but I thought it would be a nice touch to a relatively vulgar holiday card. This design was not chosen to be used, however, I’m sure I can make use of it in the future.

I hope all of you readers have a wonderful new year. Thank you so much for keeping up with my posts in 2015. I look forward to writing more about opera and other subjects in 2016. Happy New Year!

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Boxing Day: Opera Edition

Today is December 26, the day after Christmas. Presents have been opened, carols have been sung, and Christmas festivities are dying down. However, today is a holiday in itself: Boxing Day! Originally, Boxing Day was a holiday for servants and tradesmen to receive presents from their bosses or employers. Now, it is a day for people to flood to the mall in order to take advantage of end-of-the-year sales and to “box” up presents for returns.

Imagine if opera characters could do the same thing…

Here are some great regifting and return ideas for distressed, dying, and discontent opera characters:

The Ring

The Ring in Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen is a seriously dangerous stocking-stuffer that would be great to return at the mall. Imagine if the Ring hadn’t been put in the hands of so many villains! The Gods, Siegfried, Fasolt, and a bunch of other characters’ lives would’ve been saved. I’m pretty sure if Brünnhilde had taken the Ring to Tiffany’s rather than riding with it on her finger through the Gibichung pire at the end of Götterdämmerung to give it back to the Rhinemaidens, she would have lived too. Wotan’s regifting the Ring for the Rhinemaidens right at the end of Das Rheingold would have been really convenient…but he waited 16 to 17 hours to do the same thing at the end of Götterdämmerung after a lot of bloodshed. I guess he was trying to wait for those end-of-the-world sales…

Otello

Johan Botha as Otello and Renée Fleming as Desdemona in Verdi's "Otello" at the Metropolitan Opera , © Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

Johan Botha as Otello and Renée Fleming as Desdemona in Verdi’s “Otello” at the Metropolitan Opera , © Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

The handkerchief in Otello would have saved both Otello’s and Desdemona’s lives. If Iago had returned the handkerchief at Nordstrom, (or even given it back, or “regifted” it, to Desdemona herself), instead of tormenting Otello’s mind, everyone would have been fine. Then again, he didn’t even buy the handkerchief- he stole it through Emilia. He is more like one of those stupid people who thinks its funny to still Christmas packages off people’s porches. If Iago had not STOLEN the handkerchief, he would still have been jealous of Otello’s rank, but he might not have come up with another plan to torment/kill him.

Tristan und Isolde

Isolde should have taken some serious thought into regifting that chemistry set her mom got her for Christmas. Considering she doesn’t know how to read directions, or refuses to read them…or lets Brangäne read them, it was definitely not the best gift. First of all, she is crazy enough to almost give Tristan lethal poison in Act I because she is so angry with him for killing her previous fiancé Morold. Brangäne then decides to mix the drinks (remember, kids, never accept or leave out open drinks at a party), and, instead, serves Tristan and Isolde a love potion. They evidently fall in love, and five hours later, they are both dead. If Isolde had regifted that “cool” chemistry set her mom got at Toys R’ Us, both she and Tristan would have still been alive. (Isolde would probably have been reluctantly married to King Marke, however).

Faust

Faust is an aging scholar who wishes he had appreciated his youth more than he did. He decides to transform into a younger man so he can date the girl of his dreams by selling his soul to the devil. Méphistophélès, the devil, helps him through the process, and they both go off to stalk Marguerite (the girl of Faust’s dreams) in Act II. In Act III, Méphistophélès helps Faust leave a jewelry box and a hand mirror on Marguerite’s doorstep (Siébel, another one of her lovers, had already put a lame bouquet of flowers on her porch that was now trumped by the jewels). Marguerite finds the jewels and falls in love with them, as well as Faust himself, but then he seduces, impregnates, and abandons her, motivating her to kill her own child and go to jail where she eventually dies, not to mention that she was cursed by both her own brother AND the devil. As much as Marguerite cherished the jewelry box, it would have been nice to take Siébel’s lame-looking flowers instead and to regift the jewels. He seemed like a nice guy anyway..

Tosca

Karita Mattila in the title role on the cover of the Met's DVD of Luc Bondy's production of  "Tosca"

Karita Mattila in the title role on the cover of the Met’s DVD of Luc Bondy’s production of “Tosca”

It would really have been to Tosca’s advantage not to have flipped out over Scarpia’s “gift” of the Attavanti fan. If she or he had regifted the fan, Scarpia’s groupies would not have found Cavaradossi and Angelotti in the first place. Her jealousy of Cavaradossi and Marchese Attavanti’s nonexistent affair, provoked by Scarpia’s discovery of the fan in the chapel, allowed Cavaradossi to be tortured and eventually executed. She gets so upset over his death that she flings herself off the roof of Castel Sant’Angelo. Thanks to a fan that could have been regifted, or returned for an even better Christmas present, Scarpia, Cavaradossi, and Tosca were all killed brutally.

Wozzeck

Marie and Wozzeck are two desperate individuals living very poor lives. Marie goes after other men to find security and to avoid his general weirdness, while Wozzeck himself works odd jobs involving catching salamanders, eating beans, and urinating only when told to do so. Marie, being the desperate woman she is, gets involved in an affair with the Drum Major, who gives her a nice pair of earrings. One day, Marie is trying on the earrings when Wozzeck walks in and asks where she found them. Instead of saying she bought them on sale at Bloomingdale’s, she tells him that she just “found them” in the street. Wozzeck thinks its utter nonsense, saying that no one ever finds two of the same earring on the street. This initiates his suspicion of her having an affair. He eventually finds out about her affair with the Drum Major, and promptly knifes her while on a nice stroll by the lake…and then he drowns by trying to throw the knife he used further and further into the lake. If Marie had regifted the earrings or gotten some money back after returning them, she and Wozzeck would have been able to put food on the table and feel more secure. Marie may have continued her affair, however…

I guess Boxing Day does not exist in the opera world. Even for little problems like curses. If Rigoletto had been able to return Monterone’s curse, he might still have a daughter. Then again, opera would be far less entertaining if the troubling factors and powerful symbolism found in certain objects like handkerchiefs and earrings were taken out. Happy Boxing Day!

Macbeth: Shakespeare vs. Verdi

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Yes, that’s me. Dressed as a witch. Holding a book on Verdi. Why do you ask?

For the past week I have been preparing myself for seeing William Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth at the Globe Theater. I read the play for the first time this week and I have seen the opera by Giuseppe Verdi several times. After reading the play, I wondered how closely Verdi had followed Shakespeare’s lines and plot…

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Verdi managed to include everything essential to make the plot flow. However, there are a few minor details that he did not include in the opera. For example: In the play, King Duncan’s sons Donalbain and Malcolm flee from Scotland. Donalbain flees to Ireland and Malcolm flees to England. MacDuff also joins Malcolm in England. Neither MacDuff’s nor Malcolm’s escape to England are mentioned in the opera. When the curtain opens in Verdi’s Act IV, we find both of them with their armies at the border between Scotland and England. It comes as a surprise!

Verdi also did not mention some of the characters. For example: Hectate, the goddess of witchcraft, who helps the witches conjure up Macbeth’s apparitions. Verdi used an entire women’s chorus to act as Shakespeare’s three Weïrd Sisters, so one of them could possibly have been Hectate. However, if it was planned that way, it is not clear to the audience. Verdi also did not mention Donalbain, the second son of Duncan who flees to Ireland. Donalbain is not featured in the play after he flees to Ireland. He is also the younger brother of Malcolm, putting him out of the competition for the title of king if Macbeth was thrown over. 

King Duncan, as important a character as he is in Shakespeare’s play, does not sing or speak one word in Verdi’s opera. He is only shown marching in with his train into Macbeth’s home, and walking to his bedroom where he will be murdered later that night. In some opera productions, like the Met’s most recent one, Duncan’s bed, drenched with blood, with him in it, is carried out for the household to see. However in most productions, King Duncan is not featured as greatly as he is in the Shakespeare play.

Macbeth and Banquo’s Ghost at the Metropolitan Opera 2007 © Ken Howard

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The same goes for Banquo’s son Fleance. He has plenty of conservations with his father in the play, but does not say a word in the opera.

One other part of the play that Verdi did not include in his opera were certain scenes. For example: There were several scenes of King Duncan talking to his sons, Macbeth, and other characters. Duncan does not even sing in the opera! There were also scenes where Ross, Lennox, and other Scottish noblemen would talk over the situation of Macbeth, and the mysterious deaths that were occurring in Scotland. There is also one scene, Act IV Scene 3 to be exact, where Macduff and Malcolm meet each other and plan their battle in Scotland. Malcolm at first is suspicious of Macduff, and thinks he could possibly be a spy for Macbeth. Proven wrong, Macduff and Malcolm trust each other and prepare their armies. Finally, one of the other scenes that Verdi did not include was where Lady Macduff and her children are murdered by Macbeth’s men. The witches tell Macbeth to beware of Macduff, so he decides to brutally kill his family. In the opera, Macduff receives a letter telling him that they were murdered, and regrets the fact that he was not there to protect them in his aria, “Ah, la paterna mano”. The feeling of regret that Macduff experiences in the opera is reflected in the way Lady Macduff refers to him in the play. She tells her son that his father was a traitor for leaving the family unprotected in Scotland, that he should feel regretful. Verdi exclusively included Macduff’s reaction, rather than including both Macduff’s and his wife’s reactions.

The characterizations that Shakespeare made for his characters and the ones that Verdi created for his characters differed. For example: Both Shakespeare and Verdi made Macbeth a careful, scared character, who followed all of his evil wife’s commands. However, once Lady Macbeth dies, their characterizations became diverse. In the Shakespeare, Macbeth becomes ruthless and nasty to his servants, making them keep watch for Birnam Wood and prepare for battle. He also goes into the actual fighting and kills young Siward. In the opera, Macbeth keeps that scared and nervous attitude, just as he had when he encountered Banquo’s ghost at the ball. He is killed by Macduff with no other fighting or killing. The characterizations of the other characters remain equal with each other, especially the outright evil and demon-like characterization of Lady Macbeth.

Birgit Nilsson as Lady Macbeth (Verdi)

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The play and the opera are not completely different. Verdi did in fact follow the text of the play closely, and wove it into his libretto. For example: In the opera, Lady Macbeth’s aria in her sleepwalking scene is called, “Una macchia è qui tuttora!”, meaning “Yet here’s a spot! (V.1.31)”. That line is uttered by Lady Macbeth in her sleepwalking scene in Shakespeare’s play. Another line that Verdi copied was “He has no children (IV.3.222)”, which is said by Macduff. In reference to Macbeth, Macduff explains to his men that he [Macbeth] is brutal and that he killed his [Macduff’s] wife and children because he has no children of his own. This line is also sung in Verdi’s opera.

I am a huge fan of both Shakespeare and Verdi, making Macbeth one of my favorite plays and operas. I am looking forward to seeing the Shakespeare play live at the Globe Theater, the theater that Shakespeare built specifically for his plays, just as Wagner built Bayreuth specifically for the Ring and Parsifal. I will also looking forward to its return to the Met in the future.

Mysteries of the Ring Cycle

For the past month the Met has held Richard Wagner’s epic Der Ring des Nibelungen on its stage. I have attended an entire cycle (Ring Cycle 2), along with one extra of Das RheingoldDie Walküre, and Siegfried. As I watched those Wagnerian rock-stars perform on the stage of the Met, it occurred to me that the Ring has several unanswered questions. Either Wagner did not include detailed text about how characters completed certain tasks, or he simply made up if and how characters could complete tasks to make the four operas flow more easily. For example: How does Brünnhilde know that Sieglinde is pregnant? Some of the other unanswered questions can simply be due to stage direction. For example: The Rhinemaidens are unable to stop Alberich from taking the gold, and yet he walks right by the Rhinemaidens when he leaves the stage (at least in the Lepage production).

Yes, I know that the Ring is based on Norse mythology and that none of the characters are actually real people. Because of this, Wagner was able to play around with his characters, and tell the audience certain details, while he left some behind. Here are some unanswered questions:

Why do the Gods look alive when Wotan and Loge return from Nibelheim?

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This question first occurred to me just last night when I was watching Das Rheingold. The Giants have taken Freia and they still have her in their grasp. Wotan and Loge let Alberich go back down to Nibelheim when they gain all the gold, and the other Gods: Fricka, Donner, and Froh come out to greet Wotan and Loge. When Wotan and Loge left earlier in Scene 2, Fricka, Donner, and Froh were all lying down and aging due to the lack of Freia’s golden apples. The apples give the Gods youth and life, thus, they felt weak when Freia was taken away. However, when Wotan and Loge return, they all walk around, healthy as ever, and gleefully welcome them back. Froh launches one of his few lines excitedly and with energy, “Sie kehrten zurück!”, or “They have returned!”. Froh could not have hit that high G when he was lying on the rocks moaning because of his lack of golden apples, likewise for the others.

Why doesn’t Wotan know what Valhalla means?

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(The Rainbow Bridge in the Lepage production of Das Rheingold)

After Donner has stormed the sky and Froh has made his Rainbow bridge, Wotan sings his monologue and the Gods are ready to enter their new palace: Valhalla. Before they cross the Rainbow, Fricka asks: “Was deutet der Name? Nie dünkt mich, hört’ich ihn nennen”, meaning approximately “What does that name mean? I have never heard of it before”. Wotan responds saying, “Was mächtig der Furcht mein Muth mir erfand wenn siegend es lent, leg’ es den Sinn dir dar”, meaning “What my spirit has found to conquer my dread, when triumph is won, making the meaning clear”. Does that really answer Fricka’s question? Has Wotan even “triumphed” yet? He barely gave up the Ring to save Freia, making Fricka very upset. Fricka doesn’t even think that Wotan has triumphed, thus, confusion exists when Wotan replies confusingly about the name of Valhalla…and 14 hours later we still don’t know what Valhalla means.

Who is the mother of the Wälsungs?

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(My family tree that I drew depicting the characters in the Ring. Notice the Question Mark as the mother of Siegmund and Sieglinde.)

The mother of the Wälsungs is never mentioned in any of the Ring operas. The only relatives of the Wälsungs that we know are Wotan being the father, and Hunding being the husband of Sieglinde. When Fricka rides up the mountain to confront Wotan about the incest between Siegmund and Sieglinde, she refers to their mother as a “she-wolf”, based on my sub-titles, and also a mortal. If Fricka can mention those two characteristics, why can’t she say the name so we can know who the Wälsungs’ mother is?”. The lack of a name or face does not affect the story, however.

There is another question mark in the paternal spot of the Norns. We know that the mother of the Norns is Erda, but we do not know who fathered them. Their father is never referred to in any of the operas. When the rope breaks, they say “Zu Mutter”, and not, “Zu Mutter und Vater”.

How does Brünnhilde know that Sieglinde is pregnant?

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This one has stumped me for a long time. There is no evidence in the four operas that Brünnhilde has a doctoral degree, or has X-Ray vision to see if Sieglinde is really pregnant. She simply says to Sieglinde: “Rette das Pfand das von ihm du empfing’st: ein Wälsung wächst dir im Schoos!”, meaning “Save the pledge you got from him [Siegmund], you bear a Wälsung’s life”! Brünnhilde knew that Sieglinde was sick and delusional because of seeing her lying on the ground during the “Todesverkündigung” in the second act, and also when she carries her aback Grane when fleeing from Wotan. Brünnhilde sees that she is sick, but how does she know that she is pregnant? We may not know how Brünnhilde diagnosed Sieglinde’s pregnancy, but at least we leave Die Walküre looking forward to Siegfried’s arrival.

How does Brünnhilde know what has happened while she has been asleep?

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Wagner did not make it clear whether Brünnhilde was psychic or not, but it seems that she is when she wakes up in Act III of Siegfried. She states two things that do not make sense due to her lack of being awake. First, she says to Siegfried: “O wüsstest du Lust der Welt, wie ich dich je geliebt” meaning “I know you, joy of the world, I have always loved you!”. How can you love someone if the last time you saw them, never really, was in a woman’s womb? This is the first time they have ever met, and she is only about six pages ahead of “Heil dir Sonne”. Slow down, Brünnhilde. Slow down. The second strange thing that she says is in response to Siegfried’s question about his mother. Siegfried asks: “So starb nicht meine Mutter?”, meaning “So my mother did not die?”. Brünnhilde responds with, “Du wonniges Kind! Deine Mutter kehrt dir nicht wieder”, meaning approximately, “You wonderous child, your mother no longer lives”. How does Brünnhilde know that Sieglinde died in childbirth? She has been asleep! She should be the one asking him, “How is Sieglinde doing? Are you two getting on well?”.  Wagner must have forgotten to tell us that Brünnhilde is psychic.

Why does Siegfried go to the Gibichung Hall?

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Siegfried journeys down the Rhine and arrives at the Gibichung Palace, why? Brünnhilde just let him go on a journey and let him take Grane, she never told him to go there and he never said he was going there. When he arrives, Siegfried asks who Gibich’s son is, and says that his fame has spread down the Rhine. Siegfried has obviously heard of the Gibichungs, but we have not. In Die Walküre, Wotan says that Alberich found himself a woman and planted a Nibelung seed of evil in her womb, but he did not say that the woman was a Gibichung. Maybe Siegfried just stopped at the Gibichung Palace because he thought it was a nice looking rest-stop?

Vice-versa, it is never said how the Gibichungs, or Hagen really, know about Siegfried. Hagen tells Gunther and Gutrune that Siegfried is the strongest of men and that he is the son of the Wälsung twins: Siegmund and Sieglinde. Most likely, Hagen knows about Siegfried because his father Alberich told him about him. However, Wagner never tells the audience how the Gibichungs know Siegfried’s history so well.

Those are some questions that I have been pondering over for the last month when I’ve watched the Ring. Wagner wrote a magnificent epic, but some parts are missing, none of which are key to the outcome of the story. If you can answer my questions, go ahead and try (If you can, you’re psychic). If you have any questions that I have possible answers to, please ask and comment away! Hojotoho!

Moods of the Ring: Götterdämmerung

The last part of the four part analysis of the characters in Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen is here. The grand finale, the sugar on top, the twilight of the Gods: Götterdämmerung. Let’s analyze!

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

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The Norns: The Norns change tremendously in their scene of the opera. They change themselves and the whole plot of the opera! For years and years the Norns have spun the rope and read the past, present, and future. They give the past of when Wotan lost his eye and also when he cut down the World Ash tree for his spear. For the future, they read that Wotan will set fire to Valhalla and that the Gods will perish. Well, they do a little too much reading and tugging: The rope breaks. The Norns have changed because they have lost their control and they can no longer predict what will happen. They predict that due to the breaking of the rope, the world will end. The three sisters solemnly walk back down to their mother: Erda. 

Photo: The Norns (Arthur Rackham)

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BrünnhildeAct 1: Brünnhilde has become used to her life as a human housewife. She sends Siegfried down the Rhine on an adventure and stays home. How can Brünnhilde stay away from adventure? Later on in the act, we revisit her valkyrie life. Waltraute, Brünnhilde’s sister, returns to the rock to tell her how Wotan has changed and that the Gods are dying. She begs Brünnhilde to give back the Ring, but she refuses, as it proves the love that Siegfried has for her. Now, we see the stubborn Brünnhilde that we did in Die Walküre, but we also see a change. Brünnhilde always sided with Wotan and took all of his orders. Now, she refuses to give the Ring back to the Rhinemaidens, even though it would help Wotan and the other Gods. Waltraute leaves and Brünnhilde is visited by Gunther (really Siegfried in disguise). He claims her as his wife and takes the Ring from her. We now return to Brünnhilde’s life as a woman controlled by men.

BrünnhildeAct 2: Brünnhilde has reluctantly become Gunther’s wife. They will wed at the same ceremony as Siegfried and Gutrune. Wait, Siegfried?! Brünnhilde recognizes the Ring on his finger and accuses him of seducing her, not Gunther. He has no idea what is going on due to the potion that Gutrune gave him. Siegfried swears on Hagen’s spear that Brünnhilde’s accusations are false, while she swears that they are true. Later on, Brünnhilde, Hagen, and Gunther have all gathered to commiserate about Siegfried. They all agree that Siegfried must die.

BrünnhildeAct 3: Siegfried has been slain by Hagen and taken back to the Gibichung Palace. After accusations against other characters and more killing, Brünnhilde enters. She commands a funeral pyre to be built for Siegfried. She takes the Ring off of Siegfried’s finger and tells the Rhinemaidens to take it from her ashes. She also tells Wotan’s ravens to return to Valhalla. With the Ring and aback Grane, Brünnhilde rides into the fire. The world has been redeemed.

Photo: Brünnhilde in the Immolation Scene (Arthur Rackham)

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Brünnhilde slowly returns to her usual self in Götterdämmerung. At the beginning, she is a wife and a regular human being, and she also refuses to do anything to help Wotan and the Gods. By the end, she knows that her duty by Wotan is to do the work to redeem the world. By giving the Ring back to the Rhinemaidens, the world is redeemed. She finally returns to her life as a valkyrie because she follows orders from Valhalla and helps Wotan and the Gods.

SiegfriedAct 1: Siegfried and Brünnhilde have enjoyed living together atop Brünnhilde’s rock. She decides to send him off on an adventure down the Rhine, and he accepts. He gives her the Ring and goes on his Rhine Journey. Siegfried finds himself at the hall of the Gibichungs, a family that dwells near the Rhine. The two Gibichung siblings, Gunther and Gutrune, are advised by Hagen that they need spouses. He suggests Brünnhilde for Gunther and Siegfried for Gutrune. Siegfried arrives and he is greeted by Gunther, lord of the Gibichungs. Gutrune gives Siegfried a drink, but not just any drink. She gives Siegfried a potion that will make him forget the love that he has for Brünnhilde. However, she is not aware that he and Brünnhilde know each other. After the potion has taken affect, Siegfried tells Gunther that there is a lovely lady on top of a rock surrounded by fire, and that he will win her for him as a wife. They take a blood-brotherhood oath and they both go back up the Rhine to get Brünnhilde. Siegfried uses the tarnhelm to disguise himself as Gunther, and hikes up to Brünnhilde’s rock. There, he claims her as his (Gunther’s) wife, and takes the Ring from her. He drags her back to the Gibichung Palace.

SiegfriedAct 2: Siegfried returns with the tarnhelm to the Gibichung Palace, and Hagen summons the vassals, and Gunther and Brünnhilde for the wedding ceremony. The ceremony begins and Gutrune and Siegfried walk in as the happy couple. Gunther and Brünnhilde are anything but. She sees Siegfried with the Ring on his finger and accuses him of seducing her. With the potion’s affect, Siegfried has no idea what is going on. Siegfried swears on Hagen’s spear the her accusations are false while she swears that they are true. Siegfried shakes it off and happily walks off with Gutrune.

SiegfriedAct 3: Siegfried, Gunther, Hagen, and the vassals have all gone hunting together. Siegfried gets separated and happens to encounter the Rhinemaidens. They beg him for the Ring back and he refuses. They warn him that if he does not give back the cursed Ring, that he will die. He laughs it off. The rest of the hunting party joins Siegfried and they all sit down for refreshments. While resting, Siegfried tells the vassals the stories of his youth and how he rescued Brünnhilde. Before he can get to how he fell in love with Brünnhilde, Hagen gives Siegfried a potion that brings back his memory. Siegfried describes how much he loves Brünnhilde and suddenly, Hagen stabs him in the back. Hagen proves that Brünnhilde’s accusations were correct. By swearing falsely on the spear, Siegfried was “rightly” stabbed with it. The vassals are shocked and saddened. They carry Siegfried’s body back to the Gibichung Palace.

Photo: Siegfried seeing Wotan’s ravens and being stabbed by Hagen (Arthur Rackham)

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Siegfried is not Siegfried in this opera. He is controlled by the minds of others. Through the two potions that he is given by Gutrune and by Hagen, he is the one at the party who gets drunk and has no idea what’s going on. His fate is chosen for him. Siegfried was killed because Hagen planned he would be. He set this plan all up so he could get the Ring. Luckily, Brünnhilde prevented that from happening by throwing it back to the Rhinemaidens.

HagenAct 1: Hagen is the minister of the Gibichung household. It is his job to advise Gunther, lord of the Gibichungs. Before he even talks to anyone in the opera, he already has a plan for Gunther. Hagen knows about Siegfried and Brünnhilde and that Siegfried is making his way down the Rhine. He advises Gunther that he should get himself a wife and that Gutrune should get herself a husband. He suggests Brünnhilde for Gunther and Siegfried for Gutrune. Siegfried arrives and Hagen advises Gutrune to give Siegfried the potion that will make him forget his love for Brünnhilde, however, Gutrune is not aware of Brünnhilde. Hagen watches this from behind and watches Siegfried and Gunther make the blood-brotherhood oath. He is always watching.

HagenAct 2: It is almost dawn. Hagen is sitting half-awake, half-asleep on the bank of the Rhine outside of the Gibichung Palace, when he is visited by his father Alberich. Alberich advises him to kill Siegfried and get the Ring. In his motionless state, Hagen swears that he will do it. Alberich leaves just as Siegfried arrives, ready for the wedding ceremony. Hagen makes his famous call to the vassals and summons them for the wedding. They arrive and think that there should be cause for alarm, but there obviously isn’t (so they think). The wedding ceremony beings and Hagen watches everything unfold, the naïveté of Siegfried and the jealousy of Brünnhilde. Hagen follows through with his plan and has them both swear on his spear that Brünnhilde’s accusations are true by her and false by Siegfried. He also reminds them that the person proven false will be stabbed with that exact spear (Hagen already knows that it will be Siegfried). The wedding ceremony dies down after Gunther and Brünnhilde exit. They all get together and commiserate about Siegfried and agree that he shall die. Hagen even says to Gunther that Siegfried would be vulnerable to a stab in the back (which he will do later). Hagen repeats Alberich’s oath and plans for murder.

HagenAct 3: Siegfried gets separated from the hunting trip. Hagen, Gunther, and the vassals catch up with him and sit down for a break. Siegfried tells the vassals stories from his youth and how he rescued Brünnhilde. As part of the plan, Hagen gives Siegfried a potion that brings back his memory for the love he has for Brünnhilde. Siegfried then describes his love for Brünnhilde and he is stabbed in the back by Hagen. The vassals are all shocked and ask Hagen “Why did you do this?”. He explains in three words: “Meineid rächt such” ( I have righted perjury). Brünnhilde’s accusations were true based on Siegfried’s story, thus, he was stabbed by Hagen’s spear. The hunting party sadly makes its way back to the Gibichung Palace. Gutrune is horrified to find Siegfried dead. Hagen makes up a lie that he was killed by a wild boar. Gunther jumps in and calls Hagen the boar, saying that he did indeed stab Siegfried. Hagen then stabs Gunther. Brünnhilde finally interrupts this and sings her Immolation Scene. She throws the Ring into the Rhine and Hagen jumps after it. The Rhinemaidens drown him after he sings the last line of the Ring, “Give me the Ring!”.

Photo: Alberich and Hagen guarding the Gibichung Palace (Arthur Rackham)

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Hagen can truly be considered one of or the most evil character in opera. Through the entire opera, he has it all planned out that Siegfried will die and will die innocent. For most of the opera he simply sits back and watches. He watches his evil plan play out. He even has trouble interacting with other characters. For example: When Siegfried asks Hagen if he wants to join the blood-brotherhood oath, he responds that his blood is too sluggish and cold and that it would ruin the drink. Hagen is a truly evil character, due to the wrath of the Ring. Like his father, he needs to have it. Siegfried, unfortunately, was the punching bag.

GuntherAct 1: Gunther is the lord of the Gibichungs. He needs a wife, and Hagen is going to get him one. Gunther is a weak character, so he knows that he is going to need help on that one. He goes with Hagen’s plan of drugging Siegfried and then going to get Brünnhilde. After Siegfried takes the potion, Gunther and he take a blood-brotherhood oath. It brings them closer together and forbids them to break any promises for each other. This only tightens Hagen’s evil plan. Gunther and Siegfried then take off for Brünnhilde’s rock. Siegfried will disguise himself as Gunther with the tarnhelm, because Gunther is too weak to surpass the flames to get to Brünnhilde. Gunther just sits in the boat while the action goes on.

GuntherAct 2: Gunther and Siegfried have returned from their Rhine Journey with Brünnhilde in tow. Hagen calls everyone, including the vassals, for the wedding ceremony. Gutrune and Siegfried stand happily and lovingly together, while Gunther is dragging Brünnhilde down the aisle. She is not happy. Gunther is also not happy, because he feels embarrassed with Brünnhilde in front of his people. The wedding ceremony gets awkward, so he, Hagen, and Brünnhilde congregate separately. He and Hagen agree to kill Siegfried on a hunting trip, and they all agree that Siegfried’s death must occur.

GuntherAct 3: Siegfried has gone with Hagen and Gunther’s plan to go on the hunting trip. He gets separated from the party for a bit, but is later rejoined by he, Hagen, and the vassals. Gunther watches the plan turn into reality. He watches Siegfried tell the stories of his youth, Hagen give him the potion, and then he watches Siegfried get stabbed in the back. Gunther had no idea that Siegfried knew Brünnhilde previously, and he had no idea about this potion. Along with the vassals, he just asks Hagen, “Why?”. The hunting party makes its way back to the palace. There, Hagen claims to Gutrune that Siegfried was killed by a wild boar. Gunther gathers up enough courage to prove Hagen wrong, saying that Hagen was the boar and that he stabbed Siegfried. Hagen then stabs Gunther and Gunther dies next to Siegfried.

Photo: Ian Paterson as Gunther in the Lepage Ring at the Metropolitan Opera

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Gunther is a weak character. Hagen advises him on almost everything, making it seem that Hagen controls his life. For example: Gunther had no idea that Siegfried had taken a potion and that he had known Brünnhilde previously. He was just upset at Siegfried because he threatened his standing position. At one point in the opera, Gunther attempts to use bravery and stop Hagen from getting his way by lying. He tells Gutrune that Hagen was the one to kill Siegfried. He ends up killed, but he tried using courage. Gunther’s life was controlled by Hagen, who was controlled by the Ring.

GutruneAct 1: Gutrune is already part of Hagen’s master plan. She will have Siegfried as her husband. Hagen knows that Siegfried is coming to the Gibichung Hall, so he has Gutrune prepare a potion that will make him forget every women he has ever laid eyes on, and he will fall in love with the first woman he sees. When Siegfried arrives, Gutrune gives him the potion. Just as Hagen planned, Siegfried sees Gutrune and falls in love with her immediately. Hagen’s plan is working.

GutruneAct 2: It is Wedding Day! Through Hagen’s plan, Gutrune will marry Siegfried. She is thrilled to have him as her husband. Brünnhilde is not. When Brünnhilde claims that Siegfried has always loved her, she dismisses it. Gutrune claims that Siegfried has always loved her, literally since the minute he laid eyes on her. At this point, Gutrune cannot stand Brünnhilde.

GutruneAct 3: After Siegfried is killed, the hunting party returns to the Gibichung Palace. Before they do, Gutrune is awake in the palace. She is nervous that something happened to Siegfried. She also hears noises in the palace, wondering if Brünnhilde is awake. She is nervous. The hunting party returns with the dead Siegfried. She is horrified and screams. She then starts blaming everyone for Siegfried’s death: Gunther, Hagen, and even Brünnhilde. Brünnhilde shushes her and continues with her Immolation Scene. Gutrune dies.

Photo: Gutrune meets Siegfried (Arthur Rackham)

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Gutrune’s life, like Gunther’s, is controlled by Hagen. Hagen has her make the potion, but she has no idea that Siegfried was previously with Brünnhilde. She has no reason to believe that Siegfried doesn’t truly love her and that his real wife is Brünnhilde. Her life is completely controlled by Hagen.

The Rhinemaidens: The Rhinemaidens encounter Siegfried when he gets separated from the hunting party. They beg him and beg him to return the Ring, but he refuses. They warn him that if he does not return the cursed Ring, he will die. Siegfried just laughs it off, and the Rhinemaidens sink back into the water. Later on, after the Gibichung Palace is burning and the Ring has fallen back into the Rhine, the Rhinemaidens are thrilled! After 18 hours of music, the Rhinemaidens finally have their Ring back! They have to drown Hagen for it, but the Ring has finally been returned to its proper place. The world is redeemed.

Photo: The Rhinemaidens warning Siegfried (Arthur Rackham)

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None of the other characters in Götterdämmerung truly change. Alberich remains the same in that his desire for the Ring is still very strong. He reminds his son Hagen to kill Siegfried so her can get the Ring. If Hagen had gotten the Ring and survived, Alberich surely may have found a way to get it from Hagen. Waltraute also does not change. She is worried about Wotan’s future and the future of the Gods. She does not find any comfort in Brünnhilde, therefore, her concern for the Gods remains the same.

Götterdämmerung takes the Met stage starting April 23 at 6 PM. Buy tickets or listen on the radio to hear these characters interact with each other and understand their changing personalities. Hojotoho!

Photo: The Lepage Götterdämmerung at the Metropolitan Opera

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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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