COMPOSED BY

Richard Wagner (May 1813 - February 1883) in 1856

DURATION

Approximately 230 minutes (total 3 acts)

Instrumentation

2 piccolos, 3 flutes, 3 oboes, 1 cor anglais, 3 clarinets, bass clarinet, 3 bassoons, 8 horns, 2 tenor tubas in Bb, 2 bass tubas in F, 3 trumpets, 1 bass trumpet in E flat, 4 tenor-bass trombones, 1 contrabass trombone, 1 contrabass tuba, percussions, strings, cow horn, and thunder machine

Roles

Human: Siegmund (tenor), Sieglinde (soprano), Hunding (bass) | God: Wotan (bass-baritone), Fricka (mezzo-soprano) | Valkyries: Brünnhilde (soprano), Gerhilde (soprano), Ortlinde (soprano), Waltraute (mezzo-soprano), Schwertleite (contralto), Helmwige (soprano), Siegrune (mezzo-soprano), Grimgerde (mezzo-soprano), Roßweiße (mezzo-soprano)

SUMMARY OF THE COMPOSITION

Based on the Volsunga Saga and the Poetic Edda versions of the Norse mythology, Die Walküre (The Valkyrie) is the second of the four music dramas in Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen. It tells the tale of the Volsung twins Sieglinde and Siegmund, who had been separated in childhood. Their union and love send anger amongst the gods, who demand the death of Siegmund. Sieglinde and the couple’s unborn child are saved by the defiant Valkyrie Brünnhilde (Wotan’s daughter), and her actions lead her to gods’ retribution.

1

Act 1

Mythical times. It is a stormy day. Siegmund stumbles upon a house as he is being pursued by enemies. When Sieglinde finds him lying by the hearth, the two immediately feel attracted to each other. Hunding, Sieglinde’s husband, interrupts and asks the stranger for his identity. Siegmund tells them that he is “Woeful” and relates his disaster-filled life. Siegmund learns that Hunding is a kinsman of his enemies. Hunding challenges Siegmund to a death battle the next morning.

Siegmund, alone now, calls on his father Wälse, who is actually Wotan the leader of the gods in human disguise, and asks for the sword he had once promised him.

Sieglinde finds Siegmund after giving Hunding a sleeping potion. She tells of her wedding, her unhappiness, and the sword – once trusted by a one-eyed stranger to a tree – that resists every effort to pull it out.

Siegmund pulls her into his embrace, promising to free her from her forced marriage to Hunding.

Under the moonlight that floods the room, Siegmund compares their feelings to the marriage of love and spring. Sieglinde addresses him as “Spring” and asks if “Wolf” is really his father. Siegmund tells her that his father’s name is Wälse, and Sieglinde realises that he is actually her twin brother. 

Siegmund pulls the sword from the tree and claims Sieglinde as his bride, rejoicing in the union of the Wälsungs. They flee into the night.

2

Act 2

In the mountains, Wotan asks his warrior daughter, Valkyrie Brünnhilde, to aid his mortal son Siegmund in his battle with Hunding. Joyfully, Brünnhilde leaves to carry out his father’s order as Fricka, Wotan’s wife and the goddess of marriage, appears. Fricka insists that Hunding’s marriage rights must be defended, ignoring Wotan’s argument that Siegmund could save the gods by winning back the all-powerful ring from the dragon Fafner. Realising that he has been caught in his own trap, that he will lose his power if he does not enforce the law, Wotan reluctantly gives in to his wife’s demand.

The devastated Wotan tells the returning Brünnhilde about the theft of the Rhinegold, and Alberich’s curse on it. Brünnhilde is shocked when her father orders her to fight for Hunding instead.

In the forest, Siegmund comforts his fearful bride and watches over her when she falls asleep. Brünnhilde appears in what looks like a vision and tells Siegmund that he will meet his death and go to Valhalla soon. When Sieglinde threatens to kill himself and Sieglinde if his sword is powerless against Hunding, Brünnhilde, now touched by his steadfastness and devotion, decides to help Siegmund instead.

Siegmund bids Sieglinde farewell as the challenge approaches. The fight begins. Siegmund is about to gain a winning hand when Wotan appears and shatters Siegmund’s sword, leaving him to be killed by Hunding. Brünnhilde escapes with Sieglinde and the broken weapon. Wotan contemptuously kills Hunding with a wave of his hand and leaves to punish Brünnhilde for her disobedience.

3

Act 3

The eight warrior sisters of Brünnhilde are gathering on the Valkyries’ Rock with their slain heroes to Valhalla when Brünnhilde arrives with Sieglinde, taking them by surprise. As they learn that Brünnhilde is fleeing Wotan’s wrath, they feel afraid to hide them.

Sieglinde is numbed by her despair over Siegmund’s death and learns from Brünnhilde that she is carrying Siegmund’s child. Thanking Brünnhilde, Sieglinde takes the broken sword and hides in the forest.

Wotan appears. He punishes Brünnhilde to an enchanted sleep as a mortal woman and will only be awakened by a man. His other daughters object to the punishment but he silences them by threatening to do the same to them. 

Now alone with her father, Brünnhilde tells him that what she has done is something he has wished to do himself. However, Wotan does not give in. Brünnhilde pleads to be surrounded by a wall of fire that only the bravest hero can pierce. Both sense that this hero must be the child of Siegmund and Sieglinde.

Wotan sadly kisses Brünnhilde’s eyes with sleep and mortality. Then, he summons Loge, the demigod of fire, to encircle the rock with fire. As Wotan departs, he invokes a spell defying anyone who fears his spear to brave the flames.

WHO IS ... Richard Wagner?

Suprising fun facts

  • Wagner was not a music prodigy. He rose to unspectacular stardom at age 29 but only became really successful after he turned 50.
  • Wagner was not only a composer but also a polemicist, conductor and theatre director.
  • Wagner was the first person to use the musical signature called Leitmotif, which represents a theme or character, in an opera.
  • His first opera, The Fairies, was performed only after his lifetime.
  • Wagner had his own concert hall, The Bayreuth Festspielhaus.

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