Die Walküre - Synopsis
Libretto by Richard Wagner
The Ring which Alberich, after renouncing love, had had fashioned and which was to secure for him power over the world has fallen into the hands of Fafner, the giant, as a result of Wotan’s deception. Years have past in the meantime. Fafner, living in a wood in the form of a lindworm, guards the treasure, which both Alberich and Wotan long to possess. Alberich has lovelessly fathered a son, who is to help him regain the Ring. Wotan also has plans about how to regain possession of the Ring and at the same time protect himself from the threat from Alberich and his army. Valkyries, daughters who carry out his will, bring him an army of dead heroes to Valhalla. He fathered his son Siegmund with a human woman and Siegmund is to bring him the Ring as a free hero. Siegmund and his twin sister Sieglinde were born into the house of Wälsungen but were separated while still children in the confusions of war. For years Wotan brought up Siegmund, in the guise of a wolf, to be a rebel until he disappeared without trace.
Fleeing from his persecutors and in search of shelter, an unarmed stranger finds refuge from a heavy storm in a hut built around an ash-tree. The woman of the house gives him something to drink, both are immediately attracted to each other. Her husband, Hunding, with whom she lives in a loveless marriage, returns home. He also off ers hospitality, invites the stranger to eat with them and learns from his guest’s story that he is in fact the enemy of his family. He grants him protection for the one night but challenges him to a duel the next morning.
The unarmed stranger remembers his father’s promise to provide him with a sword in his hour of greatest need. The woman has meanwhile given Hunding a sleeping draught. She wants to help the stranger escape and shows him a sword embedded in the trunk of the ash-tree which so far nobody has been able to pull out. In the course of telling their life stories they recognize each other, Sieglinde calls her brother by his correct name: Siegmund. They find their identity as twins and happiness in each other in a night of love and then flee, taking the sword with them.
Wotan instructs his favourite daughter, the Valkyrie Brünnhilde whom he fathered with the goddess Erda, to help Siegmund in his flight. His wife Fricka persuades him to change his mind, however, by pointing out to him that Siegmund and Sieglinde have failed to uphold the vows of marriage and that Wotan’s son is by no means the free hero who can regain possession of the hord and the Ring. Siegmund is Wotan’s tool and so Wotan has to promise his wife that he will allow him to die at Hunding’s hand.
Wotan can see no way out of his dilemma. He confides to his daughter Brünnhilde his despair, his hopes, his dependence and the constraints which do not allow him to act diff erently. He commands Brünnhilde to take the side of Hunding. Brünnhilde is deeply shocked. She comes across Siegmund who is watching over Sieglinde as she sleeps, exhausted by their flight. She predicts his death and promises to take him to Valhalla to her father’s army of heroes. Siegmund, however, rejects this idea when he learns that he will not meet Sieglinde there. Realizing how inseparable the couple are makes Brünnhilde aware for the first time of the power of Love and she decides to disobey her father: the two Wälsungen will live. Hunding has meanwhile caught up with the two fugitives and challenges Siegmund to a fight. In spite of his sword and Brünnhilde’s help, Siegmund falls a defenceless victim to Hunding, as Wotan interposes his spear and shatters Siegmund’s sword. Fricka’s will has been done. Hunding is then murdered by Wotan. Brünnhilde gathers up the pieces of Siegmund’s shattered sword, Nothung, and flees with Sieglinde.
The Valkyries gather to accompany the dead heroes to Valhalla. Brünnhilde begs them for their help so that she can protect herself and Sieglinde from Wotan’s anger. But her Valkyrie sisters do not want to rebel against their father. Sieglinde wants no future without Siegmund.
She is only persuaded diff erently when Brünnhilde tells her that she is pregnant with her brotherʼs child. Brünnhilde gives the unborn baby the name of Siegfried and begs Sieglinde to keep the pieces of his father’s sword, for the man who will one day become the greatest hero in the world. Sieglinde flees into the wood in which Fafner lives, the only place where she is safe from Wotan. Brünnhilde faces Wotan and he, angry about her disobedience, deprives her of her divinity, sends her into a deep sleep and makes her the defenceless prey of the first man to come along. All Brünnhilde manages to do is to get her father to surround her with flames so that only a fearless hero will be able to reach her.