The Nibelungen Ring
A Festival-Play in three days and a fore-evening by RICHARD WAGNER.
The grand dramatic work, which cannot any longer with justice be called
an opera, differing as it does so considerably from the ordinary style
of these, is the result of many years of study and hard work.
Wagner took the subject from the German mythology, the oldest
which is found in the Edda.
We have first to do with the fore-evening, called the "Rhinegold."
The first scene is laid in the very depths of the Rhine, where we see
three nymphs, frolicking in the water. They are the guardians of the
Rhinegold which glimmers on a rock.
Alberich, a Nibelung, highly charmed by their grace and beauty, tries
to make love to each one of them alternately. As he is an ugly dwarf,
they at first allure and then deride him, gliding away as soon as he
comes near and laughing at him.--Discovering their mockery at last, he
swears vengeance. He sees the Rhinegold shining brightly, and asks the
nymphs what it means. They tell him of its wonderful qualities, which
would render the owner all-powerful, if he should form it into a ring
and forswear love.
Alberich, listening attentively, all at once climbs the rock, and
before the frightened nymphs can cry for help, has grasped the treasure
and disappeared. Darkness comes on; the scene changes into an open
district on mountain-heights. In the back-ground we see a grand
castle, which the rising sun illumines. Wotan, the father of the gods,
and Fricka, his wife, are slumbering on the ground. Awakening, their
eyes fall on the castle for the first time. It is the "Walhalla", the
palace, which the giants have built for them at Wotan's bidding. As a
reward for their services they are to obtain Freia, the goddess of
youth; but already Wotan repents of his promise and forms plans with
his wife, to save her lovely sister. The giants Fafner and Fasold
enter to claim their reward. While they negociate, Loge, the god of
fire, comes up, relates the history of Alberich's theft of the
Rhinegold and tells Wotan of the gold's power. Wotan decides to rob
the dwarf, promising the treasure to the giants, who consent to accept
it in Freia's stead. But they distrust the gods and take Freia with
them as a pledge. As soon as she disappears, the beautiful gods seem
old and grey and wrinkled, for the golden apples to which Freia attends
and of which the gods partake daily to be forever youthful, wither as
soon as she is gone. Then Wotan without any further delay starts for
Nibelheim with Loge, justifying his intention by saying that the gold
is stolen property. They disappear in a cleft and we find ourselves in
a subterranean cavern, the abode of the Nibelungs.
Alberich has forced his brother Mime to forge a "Tarnhelm" for him,
which renders its wearer invisible. Mime vainly tries to keep it for
himself; Alberich, the possessor of the all-powerful ring, which he
himself formed, takes it by force and making himself invisible, strikes
Mime with a whip, until the latter is half dead. Wotan and Loge,
hearing his complaints, promise to help him. Alberich, coming forth
again, is greatly flattered by Wotan and dexterously led on to show his
might. He first changes himself into an enormous snake and then into a
toad. Wotan quickly puts his foot on it, while Loge seizes the
Tarnhelm. Alberich becoming suddenly visible in his real shape, is
bound and led away captive. The gods return to the mountain-heights of
the second scene, where Alberich is compelled to part with all his
treasures, which are brought by the dwarfs. He is even obliged to
leave the ring, which Wotan intends to keep for himself. With a
dreadful curse upon the possessor of the ring Alberich flies.
When the giants reappear with Freia, the treasures are heaped before
her; they are to cover her entirely, so it is decided, and not before,
will she be free. When all the gold has been piled up, and even the
Tarnhelm thrown on the hoard, Fasold still sees Freia's eye shine
through it and at last Wotan, who is most unwilling to part with the
ring, is induced to do so by Erda, goddess of the earth, who appears to
him and warns him. Now the pledge is kept and Freia is released. The
giants quarrel over the possession of the ring and Fafner kills
Fasold, thereby fulfilling Alberich's curse. With lightened hearts the
gods cross the rainbow-bridge and enter Walhalla, while the songs and
wailings of the Rhine-nymphs are heard, imploring the restitution of
their lost treasure.