11 Sep 2005

Das Rheingold — An Overview

Das Rheingold is the first of the four works that constitute Der Ring des Nibelungen. On the title page of Der Ring des Nibelungen, Wagner refers to Das Rheingold as a Vorabend (a preliminary evening). Nevertheless, Das Rheingold sets the foundation on which the remainder of the Ring is built.

Composer: Richard Wagner (1813 - 1883)

Composed: 1851-1854

First Performed: 22 September 1869, K√∂niglich Hof- und Nationaltheater, M√ľnchen

Libretto: The composer

Prelude and Scene I

The Setting

At the bottom of the Rhine.

Introductory Stage Instructions

Greenish twilight, lighter above, darker below. The upper part of the scene is filled with moving water, which restlessly streams from right to left. Towards the bottom the waters resolve themselves into a fine mist, so that the space, to a man’s height from the stage, seems free from the water which floats like a train of clouds over the gloomy depths. Every-where are steep points of rock jutting up from the depths and enclosing the whole stage; all the ground is broken up into a wild confusion of jagged pieces, so that there is no level place, while on all sides darkness indicates other deeper fissures.

Synopsis

Woglinde, Wellgunde and Flosshilde-the three seductive Rhinedaughters charged with protecting the Rhine gold-are swimming in the Rhine River. As they frolic in the water, Alberich the Nibelung, an ugly dwarf from the centre of the earth, approaches the water. He begins to flirt with the maidens, who tease and taunt him. Alberich becomes more and more frustrated as one by one the maidens reject him. A beam of light illuminates the Rhine gold, stopping Alberich's pursuit and drawing his full attention. Woglinde tells him that only a man who renounces love can steal the gold. The Rhinedaughters allow Alberich to get between them and the gold. He tricks the maidens, steals the gold and scurries away.

Scene II

The Setting

An open space on a mountain height

Introductory Stage Instructions

The dawning day lights up with growing brightness a castle with glittering pinnacles, which stands on the top of a cliff in the background. Between this cliff and the foreground a deep valley through which the Rhine flows is supposed.

Wotan and Fricka asleep.

Synopsis

Wotan, chief of the gods, lays sleeping, and his wife Fricka, goddess of marriage and fidelity, wakes him. A magnificent castle has appeared across the valley: Valhalla, the new home of the gods. Wotan has promised to give Fricka's sister Freia, goddess of youth and love, to the giants Fafner and Fasolt as reward for building the castle. Wotan tells his wife nevertheless not to worry; he would never harm the goddess who gives them all their youth and immortality through her golden apples. Freia appears, and in an attempt to escape the giants, calls for protection from her brothers, Donner, god of thunder, and Froh, god of the rainbow. Wotan tells Fricka and Freia that his ally Loge, demigod of fire, has a plan. Loge arrives, and tells the assembled crowd that although he has found no solution to their troubles, he does have news: Alberich has stolen the Rhine gold and will use it to forge a Ring that will give him absolute power over the entire world - including the gods. Wotan sees the gold as a way to pay the giants. Fasolt and Fafner agree to give Wotan until nightfall to bring them the Rhine gold, but until then, they will hold the terrified Freia hostage. The gods begin to feel weak as soon as Freia and her golden apples are taken away. Loge and Wotan depart, planning to surprise Alberich at his home in Nibelheim and take the gold from him.

Scene III

The Setting

Nibelheim.

Introductory Stage Instructions

Alberich drags the shrieking Mime from a side cleft.

Synopsis

Alberich has created a Ring from the Rhine gold and has used it to enslave the Nibelung - including his brother Mime - in his gold mine. Mime has crafted a golden cap for Alberich, a Tarnhelm, that can make him invisible and able to change shape at will. Alberich wrests the Tarnhelm from Mime and puts it on, becoming invisible. He taunts Mime, then leaves to lord his power over others. Wotan and Loge arrive, speaking with the cowed Mime. Alberich appears, brandishing the Ring, and taunts Wotan and Loge with threats of domination. Loge plays along with his taunts, tricking him into becoming first a dragon, then a toad. While Alberich is in toad form, Wotan and Loge trap him.

Scene IV

The Setting

Open space on mountain heights.

Introductory Stage Instructions

The prospect is shrouded in pale mist, as at the end of the second scene.

Synopsis

Bringing Alberich back to Valhalla, Wotan and Loge force him to hand over all the treasures, including Tarnhelm and the Ring, as ransom for his release. When Wotan takes the Ring from Alberich's hand and places it on his own, Alberich curses the wearer of the Ring to death, and others to envy. As Alberich leaves, Fasolt and Fafner return, bearing Freia. As Donner, Froh and Fricka gather, Fasolt tells Wotan that the reward for returning Freia must be large enough to hide her from his view. Wotan agrees, and the gold, including the Tarnhelm, is placed in front of Freia. Fafner and Fasolt examine the pile of gold and notice a small hole near Freia's eye. The Ring will fit the hole perfectly, but Wotan refuses to give it up. Erda, the Goddess of the Earth, rises from the ground and warns Wotan to give up the Ring and the curse that accompanies it. She tells Wotan that the world as he knows it will soon end. Wotan agrees to give up the Ring and completes the bargain. As Fasolt and Fafner gather their treasure, they begin to fight over the Ring. Fafner slays his brother and departs, taking the gold as he leaves. As the gods prepare to enter Valhalla, demigod Loge remains on earth in the form of fire. As he watches their entry into Valhalla, he states that he is ashamed to be involved with a group that deems itself so powerful it cannot fail, and wonders what the future will hold for the gods. In the distance, the Rhinedaughters lament the loss of their gold.

Click here for complete libretto.

Schematic

DAS RHEINGOLD
Section Title/Description Character(s)
Scene One On the bed of the Rhine
Weia! Waga! Rhinedaughters
Alberich's Entrance Rhinedaughters, Alberich
Rheingold Appears Rhinedaughters, Alberich
Scene Two An open space on a mountain summit
Vollendet das ewige Werk! Wotan
Freia's Entrance Wotan, Fricka, Freia
Giant's Entrance Fasolt, Fafner
Froh's and Donner's Entrance Froh, Donner
Loge's Entrance Loge
Immer ist Undank Loges Lohn! Loge
Über Stock und Stein Loge
Jetzt fand ich's Loge
Scene Three Nibelheim
Hehe! Hehe! Alberich
Wer hülfe mir! Mime (Loge)
Hieher! Dorthin! Alberich
Die in linder Lüfte Alberich
Scene Four An open space on a mountain summit
Da, Vetter, sitze du fest! Loge
Wirklich frei! Alberich
Heda! Heda! Donner
Abendlich strahlt Wotan
Rheingold! Rheingold! Rhinedaughters