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
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)
Brünnhilde: Act 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.
Brünnhilde: Act 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.
Brünnhilde: Act 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)
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.
Siegfried: Act 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.
Siegfried: Act 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.
Siegfried: Act 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)
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.
Hagen: Act 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.
Hagen: Act 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.
Hagen: Act 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)
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.
Gunther: Act 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.
Gunther: Act 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.
Gunther: Act 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
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.
Gutrune: Act 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.
Gutrune: Act 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.
Gutrune: Act 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)
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)
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