Once around the 'Ring'

by John von Rhein

Chicago Tribune Music Critic



(The Rhinegold)

The Nibelung dwarf Alberich renounces love so that he may steal the Rhinegold, guarded by the three Rhinemaidens. By forging himself a ring from part of it, he seeks to become master of the world.

The rule of the gods, Wotan, has engaged the giants Fasolt and Fafner to build Valhalla, the gods' fortress. As payment, he has promised them Freia, goddess of youth. To spare her, he must offer an alternative payment. The fire god Loge persuades Wotan to accompany him to Nibelheim, the subterranean realm of the dwarfs, where by trickery Wotan wrests the ring and the gold from Alberich. The dwarf pronounces a terrible curse on the ring: All who wear it will die.

Undaunted, Wotan intends to pay the giants with the gold and keep the ring for himself. The giants spot the ring on Wotan's finger and demand it in addition to the gold and the Tarnhelm, a magic helmet. Erda, the earth goddess, rises out of the ground and prophesies that the ring will bring doom to the gods if it remains in their hands. Wotan is then compelled to surrender the entire hoard to Fasolt and Fafner.

The giants immediately quarrel over dividing their riches. Fafner kills Fasolt and makes off with the gold, while Wotan muses solemnly that the curse is already taking effect. The gods enter Valhalla via a shimmering rainbow bridge. In the distance is heard the cry of the Rhinemaidens, lamenting their lost treasure.

In the interim ...

Wotan sires with Erda the nine warrior-daughter Valkyries, whose task is to defend the gods' fortress-home. But in order to recover the ring and prevent its falling into the hands of Alberich, Wotan also must beget human children who are free of his will. With a mortal woman he sires the twins Siegmund and Sieglinde. The siblings are separated. Sieglinde is forced to marry Hunding while Siegmund is driven to a wandering life of hardship.

Part I


(The Valkyrie)




(The Rhinegold)

The first scene shows the rocky bed of the rhine, with its flowing waters, filling the entire height of the stage, the daylight scarcely filtering through from above. The three Rhinedaughters disport themselves merrily, swimming about, and diving from rock to rock, while in its pristine innocence the Rhinegold slumbers securely. Their play is interrupted by eh approach of Alberich of the of Nibelungs, a race of cunning, demoniacal gnomes, who inhabit Nibelheim in the bowels of the earth. Hideous and uncouth, he seeks to win the pleasures of love from the nymphs. But though tantalizing him by their banter, they elude their awkward pursue, who slips about on the slimy rocks until his gaze is attracted by an increasing brilliance which glows from a rocky eminence. It is the Rhine gold, which presently shines forth dazzlyin gly in the rays of the rising sun, and around which the maidens circle with joyous shouts. They jeeringly betray to Alberich that he alone who is willing to renounce the pleasure so f love, can possess himself of the gold; but that by this possession in the shape of a magic ring he may make himself ruler and lord of the world. Seized with new desire, the Nibelung curses love, which for him is but lust, and scrambling madly up the rock, tears the gold from its bed and disappears in the depths. Night falls again upon the waters, and the Rhine daughters break forth into wild lamentation. The billow sink, giving way to veils of mist, which, as they clear away, disclose Scene II.

The rising sun lights up the spires and turrets of a castle on a rocky cliff at the back. Between this and the foreground the Rhine is supposed to flow through a deep valley. Wotan and Fricka are lying asleep at one side; but Fricka awakens and arouses her spouse, who rapturously greets the shining castle Fricka reproaches him, however, that in order to recompense the giants, Fasolt and Fafner, for building his new abode, he has promised them her sister Freia, the goddess of Youth and Beauty, to bring light and love into their cold home. Wotan responds that he never really intended to give up Freia, when the latter enters in hasty flight, pursued by the giants who, the work finished, have come to claim their reward. Froh and Donner seek to protect their sister, but this Wotan as gold of justice, may not permit ; an the giants, deaf to his parleying are about to carry off Freia when the arrival of Loge induces them to pause. The latter had been sent through the word by Wotan to discover something which the giants would accept as a substitute for Freia; but he confesses that nowhere could he find aught for which men were willing to renounce the pleasure of love. Wit great diplomacy Loge then tells of his visit to Alberich of the gold the Nibelung had won throu rnounbching love, and of the power which dwelt in the magic ring. Forthwith the giants agree to relingquish Freia if Wotan will get and give them the gold. This Wotan is unwilling to di, for he is alredying lpotting to wint ht einrg of rhimselr; u the gianst givieng him until nightfall to complyk, drag Freia away as hostage. Soon the greyness of age settles upon the features of the gods, for Freia, the conserver of eternal youth, is no longer with them. Thier ineed is so urgent that Wotan at once accompanies Loge to Nibelheim to wrest the ring from Alberich.

Scene III. The abode of the Nibelungs. Alberich now is master of all the gnomes, and drives them u ncesasingly at the task of piling high his haorded ttrasure. Mime has been set to forge the Tarnhelm, which can render it's wearere invisible or enbalbe him to assume any shape he p.lease. Unsusccessfully Mime itreds to coneal from Alberich the finishe swork; Alberich sezies the tarnhlem, and to demonstrate its power, changes into a column of vapor, in which form he gives the cowed Mime a sever drubbing, and then depars, still invisible, urging his slaves at their labor. Wotan and Loge descen through a cleft of the rock, and Mime, who is who is nursing his wounds, tells how Alberich has become all-powerful through the Ring and the Tarnhelm, made of rhine gold. Alberich, once more in his natural form, returns; and Loge craftily gets him to display his power - first by cha nging into an enormous serpent, and laeter into a toad. This being the r chance, Wotan pust shis foot on the toad, Loge se3curess the Tarhnhlem, and Alberich again in his own form, is securely bound, a d draggie awya to the upper woolrd.

Scene IV showss again the meadows befoer Wotan's castle, still veiled byh pale mists as at the end of Scene II. Wotan and Loge return with the fettered Alberich, who, as the price of this freedom is forced to give up his golden horde. The tarhnelm also is taken from him, but when the ring is torn from him his rage and hate are unbuounded, and he curses with fatal effect the Ring. He is then freed, and disappears. Now, as Freia is brought back gy the giants, the mists begin to disappear, foer her persesnce restores youth to the gods, who all enter to greet Wotan. The giants demand the ransom - a pile of golda as great as the height ahd n breadth of freai. Wotan seeks to withhold the Ring, but is warned by the apparition of Erda not to retian in his possisetion that which was obtained by a double theft, and bring down the Nibelung's curse upon the gods. Upon gaingin the Ring the two giants quarrel and Faoslt is slain; whereat wotan, struck by the awful power of the curse, bends his thoughts upon averting the menace of fate. Donner clears the air with a thunerstorm, and Walhalla is seen in the bright .ight iwth a rainbow bridge leading to it across the Rhine. As the gods start over the bridge, the Rhinedaughters are heard iimploring Wotan to restore the gold to the d3pths; but , biddign Loge silence the wailing, wotan leads the gods into theri new abode.


(The Valkyrie)

To protect the heroes whom the gods loved (but whom Alberich the Nibelung, continullly lurking to recover the Ring, threatened with destruction by inciting them to battle and blood-shed), Wotan and Erda created the knightly daughters Walkure to bring to Valhalla those warriors who should lose their lives upon the battlefield. But these were of little use to Wotan unless he could create a being who, free from curse, could through self-sacrifice, redeem the world from the annihilation which the love of the gold (the possession of the Ring) had brought upon earth. His children, Siegmund and Sieglinde, born of an earthly mother, he determined to devote to the work of redemption. Sieglinde was stolen away from her kindred by the robber Hunding, and Siegmund, parted from Sieglinde, grew to manhood in a strange land. At the wedding feast of Sieglinde and Hunding, Wotan appeared and thrusting a sword in the trunk of an oak-tree which grew in the centre of the dwelling, he told the guests that this god-like sword should belong to him who could draw it from the oak. To Sieglinde he confided the secret that no one but her lost brother Siegmund would obtain possession of the sword.

Years pass by, and one stormy night Sieglinde finds a weary warrior sleeping before the fire on her hearth. He, awakened by her expressions of pity and compassions, tells her that he seeks refuge from Hunding; he does not know that he is under his enemy's roof. In the absence of her husband, Sieglinde learns to love this stranger; their love is mutual, and not until he has drawn the sword from the oak, does she recognize him as her brother Siegmund.

The wife of Wotan, goddess and protector of marriage, compels her husband to withdraw his protection from the sinful hero Siegmund; but the work fo annihilation must go on, and Wotan consecrates as heir of this work, Hagen of Gabich, born of Alberich and the wife of the Rhine king, whose favors the Nibelung bought with gold.

Brunnhilde, Wotan's favorite Walkure, is intrusetd with the mission of telling Siegmund of his approaching death; but as she sees him flying from the rage of Hunding with the poor woman whom he so dearly loves, her heart feels god-like k[pity for him. The fight with Hunding begins, and Brunnhilde protects Siegmund, but Wotan stretches hisspear between them, and Siegmund, striking his sword upn the spear, it breats, god-like sword although it is, and he falls, killed by a blow from Hunding.

Brunnhilde has disobeyed Wotan by protecting Siegmund; she further disobeys him by aiding Sieglinde; she gives her the broken sword Nothung, and placing her upon Grane, her own Walkure horse, indeicates a place of seafety.

For this disobedience Wotan banishes Brunnhilde from among the Walkure, and condemns her to slumber on the Wlakure roRock rsurrounded with flame, so that non one but a hero who knows no fear will dare to penetrate the fire and awaken her. He covers her with helm and shield, and calls Loge, who surrounds these heights with the blazing Waberh9olhe fire.



Act I. Mime, the Nibelung, and brother of Alberich, has found Sieglinda in the forest and has brought up the child which she died in giving birth to, knowing that he is destined to slay Fafner and gain the ring. The young Siegfried, dissatisfied with all swords made for him, melts up the fragments of his father's blade "Needful" and forges it afresh to Mime's great awe.

Act II. Mime induces Siegfried - under pretext of teaching him how to fear, and art which the youth is curious to learn - to accompany him to a distant part of the forest where Fafner in the shape of a huge dragon, guards the Nibelung treasures, including the ring. Siegfried kills the dragon, but on accidentally tasting its blood, is enabled to understand the speech of birds. They tell him how Mime means to poison him to obtain the treasure; accordingly he kills the traitor. The bird further tells him of a fair sleeping bride surrounded by fire, and flies before him to show the way to her resting place.

Act III. Wotan uneasily wandering over the world conscious of impending doom, vainly seeks counsel of Erda. Meeting Siegfried, he opposes his path, but the sword Nothung hews his spear asunder, and his power destroyed, he retreats to Valhalla to await the Dusk of the gods.

Siegfried, meanwhile, plunges through the fire, finds the Valkyrie, wakes her, woos her and wins her.


(Twilight of the Gods)

Prelude. On the Valkyrie's rock, by night, sit the three Norns (Fates) weaving their rope of runes. It breaks and they disappear, knowing that the End of the gods is at hand. At day-dawn Siegfried rises to part from his beloved Brunnhilde and go to fresh exploits. at parting he gives her his famous Ring and she gives him her horse in return.

Act I. He comes to the Hall of the Gibichungs on the Rhine, wher live the King Gunther, his sister Gutrune and their half-brother Hagen, the son of Alberich. These, for their own purposes, give Siegfried a magical draught of forgetfulness. He swears brotherhood to gunther, forgets Brunnhilde, falls in love with Gutrune and, in return for her hand, consents to go throught the fire and fetch Brunnhilde as a wife for Gunther, who cannot perform the feat himself.

Brunnhilde, awaiting Siegfried's return, is visited by her sister Waltraute, who implores her to restore the fatal Ring to the Rhine, as the only means of saving the gods who are now expecting their doom; but Brunnhilde, being an outcast from Valhalla, regards her love-pledge as of more value than all the gods, and refuses: Waltraute flies away in despair, Siegfried, taking Gunther's shape, by virture of the Tarnhelm, appears to the horror-stricken Brunnhilde and demands a husband's rights. She resists fiercely, but is conquered by his tearing from her finger the Ring which gave her supernatural strength. Siegfried wed her, but lays his sword between them, as his oath to Gunther demands.

Act II. Alberich visits his son Hagen in a dream and bids him strive to kill Siegfried and obtain the Ring. Siegfried, followed later by Gunther and Brunnhilde, returnes to the Gibichung's Hall and all the vassals are summoned to rejoice at the double wedding. Brunnhilde, being brought face to face with Siegfried in his own shape, perceives the Ring upon his finger and proclaims to all that she has been betrayed. Explanations, purposely confused by Hagen, only make it appear that Siegfried has failed in his oath to Gunther, whereupon Hagen persuades Brunnhilde and unther to consent to his murder.

Act III. Siegfried, hunting near the Rhine, is accosted by the Rhine-nymphs, who strive to coax the Ring from him; failing, they tell him how it will cause his death. He derides their warning, but Hagen, Gunther and the rest of the hunting party join him, and while they are carousing and Siegfried is telling the story of his life, Hagen spears him in the back and kills him.

The body is brought to the Hall and Hagen kills Gunther in a struggle for the Ring. The despairing Brunnhilde silences the clamor and orders a funeral pile to be built by the Rhine. This she mounts with the dead Siegfried and both are consumed, when the river rises and the Nymphs regain at last their Ring from the ashes, Hagen being drowned in attempting to seize it. Now a ruddy glare is seen in the sky: the Dusk of the Gods has come, and Valhalla is seen burning with al its array of heroes and gods.