DIE WALKÜRE, Act One

Premiered

June 26, 1870 – Munich, Germany (as a standalone opera and a duology). It premiered as part of the full Ring Cycle in August 1876 at the inaugural Bayreuth Festival.

Composer

Richard Wagner ( May 22, 1813 – February 13, 1883)

Librettist

Richard Wagner ( May 22, 1813 – February 13, 1883)

Language

Sung in German with English supertitles

Running Time

65 Minutes (no intermission)

Synopsis

Siegmund, calling himself Wehwalt (“woeful one”), seeks shelter as he flees pursuers. Exhausted, wounded, and without his weapons, he comes upon a house in a clearing near a large tree. There he is found by Sieglinde, who lives there with her husband, Hunding. Sieglinde takes pity upon the weary warrior, but says that she and her home are under the authority of her husband, and they must wait for his return before making a decision to grant shelter to this traveler. As they speak, the two share a connection, a pang of recognition and attraction, without knowing why. Siegmund, alias Wehwalt, says that he is plagued by misfortune, and doesn’t wish to inflict that upon Sieglinde, who counters that he cannot inflict misfortune upon someone who is already deeply unhappy.

Sieglinde’s husband Hunding arrives home and agrees to hear Wehwalt’s story, and appeal for shelter. Wehwalt tells them he was born of a mysterious father who wore a wolfskin, and that he had a twin sister. As a youth, his mother was killed, his sister vanished, and his father absented himself, leaving only his wolfskin behind. Wehwalt’s current trouble was caused by him encountering a distressed woman being forced into marriage — he heroically rushed in to save her, killing her brothers and drawing the wrath of her clan. In the course of the ensuing battle, the woman was killed, Wehwalt has now lost his sword and is wounded, and is being pursued.

Hunding listens to this appeal, but reveals that he is one of Wehwalt’s pursuers. He agrees to provide shelter and rest to this stranger for one night, but tells him that in the morning, they must duel to the death in order to settle the score. Sieglinde, hearing everything, drugs Hunding’s drink when they retreat to bed, so that Hunding will fall into a deep sleep and she may steal away to meet with Wehwalt in the night.

Wehwalt, alone, reminisces about his father’s long-ago promise that he would provide a sword to his son in his time of need. Sieglinde rushes to meet Wehwalt, and tells him her own tale of woe. She was forced into marrying Hunding against her will, and at her wedding party, a mysterious man plunged a sword into the base of this very tree. The man said that the sword would belong to the man who could draw it out from the tree. No one has yet been able to do so. Sieglinde believes that the sword must be destined for Wehwalt, and that he can save her from her unhappy life.

They begin to connect that this mysterious stranger must be the same man as Wehwalt’s father, and the two finally come to grasp their undeniable bond of attraction. They finally comprehend that they are long lost twin brother and sister, children of Wotan, and rejoice in finding one another. She calls him by his true name, Siegmund. He draws the sword from the tree triumphantly and names it “Nothung.” Despite their familial relationship, the two passionately declare their love and decide to flee away together. This decision will not go without major, dark consequences in the future.

Musically, Act 1 of Die Walküre tells an unbroken, theatrical story with the three characters in dialogue, but never singing in duet nor – for the most part – in distinct, traditional “arias” in the sense that we may be familiar from other classic operas. This form is the realization of Wagner’s desire to synthesize word and music in a new way, casting aside the existing models for operatic structure. He wished for the poetic word to drive the operatic story in a more natural and unbroken manner, and he put this philosophy into notable practice in this first act of Die Walküre. Wagner’s signature use of leitmotiv – associating certain ideas with certain musical phrases – also manifests prominently here. This act alone contains more than a dozen recurring musical signatures, including distinct motifs for love, Sieglinde, Hunding, and the sword Nothung, among others. The single act functions as a standalone story, even as it provides the foundational prelude to the events of the rest of Die Walküre, and indeed the remaining operas in the full Ring Cycle.


Contributing writers: Amrita Vijayaraghavan and Andrew Stephens