Saturday, September 27, 2008


Richard Wagner's Dusk of the Gods

Radio New Zealand Concert network
Sunday 28th of September 2008 at
3 - 7.20 pm

UNDERGROUND The meaning of it all

WAGNER: Der Ring des Nibelungen, the stage-festival play, performed as a tetralogy of prologue and three operas

(4) Götterdämmerung, an opera in a prologue and three acts
Siegfried........................ Stig Andersen
Gunther......................... Oscar Hillebrandt
Alberich........................ Hartmut Welker
Hagen........................... Matti Salminen (He's the man!)
Brünnhilde..................... Susan Bullock
Gutrune......................... Eszter Wierdl
Waltraute...................... Cornelia Kallisch
First Norn..................... Annamária Kovács
Second Norn................ Judit Németh
Third Norn.................... Mária Temesi
Woglinde...................... Monika Gonzales
Wellgunde..................... Katalin Gémes
Flosshilde...................... Atala Schöck
Hungarian Radio Chorus & Orch/Adám Fischer (recorded in the Bartók National Concert Hall, Palace of Arts, Budapest)

The Ring is a massive opera of the fairy-tale genre. Right? The Rhine nixies, the Valkyries, and the Norns would be the fairies.

The title is literally “gods-dusk”; it is usually translated as “Twilight of the gods”; 'twilight' means 'between-light', the light that is seen when the sun is below the horizon, either at morning or evening. The word 'dusk' refers to the darker side of twilight, and 'Dämmerung' ('dawning' or 'dusking') can even be translated as 'nightfall', thus implying 'downfall', in Wagner's word. At the end Brünnhilde will say that the gods' end is now dusking/dawning (dämmert). So the libretto I have before me seems to have got it right: “The dusk of the gods(Goetterdaemmerung)”.
A pause for a note on German orthography (eminently superior to English chaotic spelling, which was corrupted when French conquered Anglo-Saxon, and the very simple and sensible 'cwic' became 'quick' with two additional and superfluous 'c' letters; x is not necessary, 'focs' shows all the sounds; and German 'braun' tells us precisely how to say the word, but English 'brown', with almost the same pronunciation as the German word, gives a choice, whether as in drown, or grown, or grow-en): the 'umlaut' sign (which turns the sound of the vowel around) consists of two vertical strokes, representing the letter 'e' in the old German handwriting, but it comes out as two dots on typewriters. The o (as in Gott, and god and dog, two words the English system gets right!) becomes ö (in Götter, 'gods') and is pronounced as in 'fleur'. A survival of the ä appears in English as 'man' becoming 'men' (German 'Mann', plural 'Männer'). The e can be restored, if necessary or desired, hence Goetterdaemmerung.
And now, on with the show! The Dusk of the Gods, the fourth facet of the Ring (@ 4h15m), is the longest but has the fewest longueurs (Denis Forman reassures us). In our video-opera group we are not racing through it (as happens on the radio); we are taking in one scene at a time (12 or more), devouring only one 'bleeding gobbet' ('lump of raw meat') on each occasion. Remember its libretto was written first of the four, and it has a prologue plus three acts, which became a prologue (Rheingold) plus three other operas; another way of describing it is: an evening and three days. Along the way we will have the whole story related again, and again. The Rhine nixies will swim back to delight us (if they sing in tune with pleasant tone); they will at least get the golden ring back, but as the river finally engulfs all, then presumably the rest of the gold is back where it belongs.
Strange to say, Wotan never appears (saving the expense of another baritone), but he gets several mentions (not all honourable). In Siegfried (Act 3) Wotan the Wanderer and Wonderer (those two words should each be used for the other and their spelling would be truly phonetic) had mused on “the end of the gods”, and had summoned up Erda for psychiatric consultation and predictive information; she was too tired and told him to go to her three daughters, the Norns, who weave fate (or whatever) with their rope.

Scene 1
[1] And here they are, the three Norns, nameless but vocally distinguishable (soprana, mezzosoprana, contralta; I give them feminine gender endings to exclude men playing the parts). They are doing their German rope trick at Brünnhilde's rock. The first and eldest Norn ties the golden cord to a fir-tree. They usually sing and sling the string at the World-Ash-Tree (Welt-Esche), but Wotan has chopped it down (and up) for firewood. He once came to the tree, and drank from its spring, and paid for a boon with one of his eyes (poked out by a protruding twig?!). He made his powerful spear from one of its branches, and on it he wrote in true Runes (a true rune is actually simply a letter in another form of the Greco-Roman alphabet, the Runic alphabet, which itself was borrowed from the Phoenicians; but Wagner has added mystery to the term). Wotan’s inscriptions recorded his treaties, and that is why, whenever covenants are mentioned, we hear the spear motif (a long descent down a scale). Incidentally, there will be an oath on a spear scene later.
The second Norn winds the cord around a rock at the mouth of the cave (if permitted by the director). Her report is that the spring has run dry. After young Siegfried shattered the spear, Wotan ordered Walhall's heroes to destroy the Ash-tree (and soon it will be reduced to ashes). [Despite what you thought I said in the Manawatu Standard about clearing the landscape of forests to make more lawns, meadows, and pastures, and the uselessness of trees as not being able to grow money, I don't class idiots who cut down trees as heroes. See bonzoz]
The third weird-sister tells us that in the giant-built hall Wotan sits with heaps of faggots (Scheite), awaiting the dusking of the end of the gods.
The rope is being frayed by the sharp rock, and when it is to be thrown northwards, it breaks. All their wisdom is finished, and they retire to bury themselves with Mother Erda.

Scene 2
[2] Dawn comes up like thunder; Siegfried and Brünnhilde emerge from the cave. Wagner instructs him to be fully armed (did he fit into her armour?), so she must be in her gown (she does not have a change of clothes, but she can wash it and dry it by the fire, which has not gone out but is still blazing to keep intruders out). She bids him set off to accomplish deeds of glory (does she want him out of her house because he is cluttering up the place already?). She says she is letting him go because she loves him so much, and she has given him all her wisdom and power. He says it has all been too much to take in, but he at least knows how she feels about him. It has been a great adventure for both of them, and they have plighted their troth; so he gives her the Alberich’s ring as a token of their mutual love (he is going to the Rhine, and he should have taken it with him and thrown it in the river, and then they would have lived happily ever after, and so would everyone else!). Blissfully she puts the ring on. He can have Grane the Pegasus-like horse in return (though the sturdy steed has lost his flying licence; and there goes her only source of meat).
The rapturous couple exchange some more sweet nothings, including a bunch of hearty ‘Heil’ exclamations. She waves to him till he disappears.

[3] The orchestra plays Siegfried’s Rhine Journey. We would assume that Siegfried is riding along the river bank, but I have seen suggestions that he and the horse are on a raft on the water, but Wagner has the curtain down all through it, so that they can change the scenery. However, when Siegfried arrives at his destination, the stage directions say that he is in a Kahn (a boat or a barge) which has to be moored.

And now we come to the first Act of the drama! We have had two happy scenes out of three, but now everything turns sour and everyone becomes bitter (except Siegfried, who is always happy-go-lucky and he does not know he is doing bad things, because he is on drugs).

For the fine details of the plot, and the musical leitmotifs, study the Metropera guides under STORYLINE and ANALYSIS.

For the rest, this is how Wagner divides it all.
Act 1.1 Gibichung Hall. Gunther (King of the Gibichungs), Hagen (son of Alberich through a union that did not involve love, which he has foresworn!), Gutrune Gibich (sister of one, half-sister of the other). The first two are plotting (Alberich has instructed Hagen in ways to retrieve the Ring for him) to marry Gutrune to Siegfried, and thus free up Brünnhilde for marriage to Gunther.
Act 1.2 Siegfried is seeking employment as a fighting man. They give him a potion of fogetfulness, and he immediately falls for Gutrune (as if she was the first woman he had ever seen). The two men go to get Brünnhilde. Hagen stays to keep watch.
Act 1.3 Brünnhilde is at her rock, kissing the ring and enjoying some happy memories of her lover, when her Valkyrie sister Waltraute arrives with news from home; all gloom; she must give the ring back to the Rhine maidens, or they will all perish. Unthinkable!
Act 1.4 Left alone B hears Siegfried's horn but is startled by a strange figure coming through the flames: we know it is Siegfried, wearing the tarnhelm and taking the form of Gunther. She struggles with him, but she is overpowered and sent into the cave, for consummation purposes; S takes the ring from her and announces to himself that his sword Notung will separate them while he takes Gunther's part (a very risky operation, and the cold metal would be off-putting).
Act 2.1 Hagen at his watch is visited by his father Alberich, and murder is suggested. Death to Wotan and his grandson Siegfried the Wälsung.
Act 2.2 Siegfried reports that Gunther is bringing B home to the hall. Gutrune greets him and asks Hagen to prepare the wedding.
Act 2.3 Hagen blows his huge cowhorn and summons the vassals. They think some disaster has struck, but they soon learn the truth and are amazed that that grim Hagen is being merry. (This is the only chorus in the whole thing, and it is the male voice choir; the ride of the Valkyries is not sung by the chorus but by a set of soloists.) B is astonished at what she finds, and accuses S of treachery; S denies it by an oath on the spear; B says this spear will avenge her.
Act 2.4 Hagen takes her aside and offers to be her agent; she eventually tells him that she has put a spell of invulnerability on S, but not on his back, because he would always face his foes. Right! Gunther is now brought into the plot.
Act 3.1 Siegfried's horn is answered by the cow horns of the Gibichungs, They are hunting a boar. The water nymphs of the Rhine know what is going on, and Siegfried is their hero; they tease him, as is their wont, and tell him the history of the ring, and urge him to give it back to them, threateningly. But he won't part with it.
Act 3.2 When the hunting party is united, S tells his life story, and he remembers he woke Brünnhilde; when two ravens fly out of a bush he jumps up, turns his back on Hagen, and receives a thrust of the spear. Hagen cries Revenge! and stalks off. Siegfried continues his sad tale and rejoices again in his love for his true bride. Wagner had originally given this opera the title Siegfried's Death; this now occurs, and to the strains of noble funeral music, he is carried back to the hall.
Act 3.3 Hagen arrives first and reports, untruthfully, that Siegfried has been killed by a wild boar. Gunther is struck dead while endeavouring to prevent him from taking the ring; then Siegfried's dead hand raises itself menacingly and strikes terror into all. Brünnhilde takes charge of the situation, declaring herself to be his true bride, and ordering the men to erect a funeral pyre (in typical Aryan fashion she will virtuously join him in the fire). He was faithfully faithless to her, and she takes back the ring. She and Grane ride into the flames (the Australian soprano Marjorie Lawrence was one who did this to the letter). She is thus cremated, and as the Rhine flows over the hall, the nymphs reclaim their gold ring (drowning Hagen in the process, I presume). Valhalla on high is caught up in the conflagration. Listen for the theme of love's redemption (first briefly poured out by Sieglinde in act 3 of Die Walküre) rising above the destruction (you may receive a frisson for your trouble, or a warm feeling). It is not the end of the world, I trust.

If you want to know about the Siegfried and Brünnhilde of the sagas go to:, specifically The Völsung Saga and The Nibelung Epic.

No comments:

Post a Comment