The online opera guide about THE VALKYRIE
“The Valkyrie” offers a wealth of great scenes that belong to the greatest in all of opera literature. First and foremost Wotan’s farewell scene and Sieglinde’s and Siegmund’s happiness in love.
OVERVIEW AND QUICK ACCESS
♪ Act I
♪ Act II
♪ Act III
♪ Ritt der Walküren (Hojotohe)
♪ Leb wohl, du kühnes herrliches Kind (Finale)
ROLES & SYNOPSIS OF THE VALKYRIE IN 4 MINUTES
What happened so far
Synopsis of Rheingold
Synopsis of “The Valkyrie”
Richard Wagner, based on a wide variety of primary sources. The main ones are: Greek mythology, the Nordic Edda saga and Völsung saga, and the German Nibelungenlied.
THE MAIN ROLES
Siegmund, son of Wotan and brother of Sieglinde (Tenor) - Sieglinde, wife of Hunding and sister of Siegmund (Soprano) - Brünnhilde, Valkyrie and daughter of Wotan (Soprano) - Wotan, god, ruler of the world, searching for the ring (Bariton) - Hunding, husband of Sieglinde (Bass)
DECCA with Jon Vickers, Birgit Nilsson and George London conducted by Erich Leinsdorf and the London Symphony Orchestra.
The Interpretation & much more informations
In the overall portrait to the ring I present the different approaches to the interpretation of the work. To read them, click on the link below. Moreover you will find there much more Information about history, interpretations, theory of leitmotifs etc.
Three major highlights of the ring
In the Valkyrie we experience some of the absolute highlights of the Ring, which are among the most magnificent that opera literature has produced:
- The love frenzy of the siblings Siegmund and Sieglinde in which they recognize that they are destined for each other (“Winterstürme wichen dem Wonnemond”, “Du bist der Lenz”)
- The sword scene (“Deines Auges Glut…Nothung “)
- The beginning of the “incarnation” of Brünnhilde and the farewell to Siegmund (“Sieh auf mich”)
- and Wotan’s shattering farewell to his favorite daughter Brünnhilde (“Leb wohl du kühnes herrliches Kind”).
History of origins and first performance
Wagner had already completed the libretto two years earlier, when Wagner began composing The Valkyrie in the Zurich years of 1854. Wagner’s creativity was rekindled by his acquaintance with Mathilde Wesendonck, and the first act went well. For the second act, Wagner struggled for a long time with Wotan’s great monologue. In 1856 he was able to finish the score
Wagner did not want to present the Valkyrie to humanity until his Theater of the Future as part of an integral Ring performance was finished. But Ludwig II did not want to wait until an undefined day in the future. He possessed the rights and the sheet music and ordered a performance in Munich. After Wagner’s disgraceful intrigue during the preparations for the premiere of the Rheingold, the Walküre was prepared and performed entirely without Wagner’s participation. The premiere took place on June 26 at the National Theater in Munich. It was a triumphant success. A large part of the musical world (Brahms, Saint-Saens, Liszt) had made a pilgrimage to Munich to see the work. Only Wagner and Cosima remained in Tribschen and sulked; it seems that he would rather have wished Ludwig a fiasco than a success.
The role of Brünnhilde
A lifelong theme of Wagner’s was the search for suitable singers for his works. Under the financial patronage of his benefactor Ludwig, he dreamed of a singers’ academy that would train the next generation of singers who could perform his works. While still in Bayreuth, he lamented, “What good is it to me if I write notes, however beautiful, and cannot find a singer who knows how to sing them?” One of the most difficult Wagner roles is Brünnhilde. In “The Valkyrie” she appears for the first time and becomes the main character of the whole Ring. She is a daughter of Wotan and Erda and one of the eight Valkyries. The word Valkyrie comes from “Wal” (war) and “Küre” (the choice), whose task is to bring the fallen heroes to Valhalla. She is Wotan’s favorite daughter and loses her status as a god through her disobedience, but as a result becomes a free, loving human being in “Siegfried” and “Götterdämmerung”. Musically, she is, next to Isolde, the greatest highly dramatic role in Wagner’s repertoire. Looked at closely, the Brünnhilde of the Ring consists of three different roles. The Brünnhilde of the “Walküre” is the middle but most versatile role, while that of the “Götterdämmerung” is quite low and that of the “Siegfried” is very high. The part is difficult to cast, the strain on the voice is huge, it demands great volume and the singer needs many years of experience. As a result, the choice of singers is always limited and many singers ruined their voices at a relatively early age. Famous Brünnhilde were Kirsten Flagstadt, Astrid Varnay, Martha Mödl and Birgit Nilsson (in the Solti Ring), Gwyneth Jones (in the Chéreau Ring), in more recent times one may mention Nina Stemme.
Love between Siblings and the Relation to “Tristan”
Of course, the incest scene of the first act was a scandal. However, Wagner had already taken up the theme of sibling love or sisterly sacrificial death in various earlier works (“Die Sarazenin,” “Die Feen,” “Rienzi”), but incest was never so openly depicted musically and dramatically as in “The Valkyrie”. In addition, there was the adultery of Sieglinde. With the latter, the Valkyrie was something like the predecessor of “Tristan and Isolde,” the second great adultery of Wagner’s musical literature. At the time of composition, Wagner had already begun his relationship with Mathilde Wesendonck, the wife of his patron Otto, and there is no doubt that when he composed the first act of “The Valkyrie” in 1854, his thoughts were already with this woman, who ten years later became his inspiration of Isolde. Wagner, who was married to Minna Planner, wrote on the original score the ominous “G.S.M.” – which means “Blessed be Mathilde”).
THE VALKYRIE ACT I
Synopsis: In a dense forest during a hurricane-like thunderstorm. The wounded Siegmund is on the run.
With simple means, Wagner draws a gripping opening to the opera. With tremolo strings he describes Siegmund’s dramatic escape, and with dotted low strings and flashy brass interjections he paints the thunderstorm.
You will see two gripping interpretations with great conductors (Erich Leinsdorf and Wilhelm Furtwängler).
Vorspiel (1) – Leinsdorf / LSO
Vorspiel (2) – Furtwängler / Wiener Philharmoniker
Synopsis: With his last ounce of strength, he reaches refuge in a lonely house. It is the place of Hunding and his wife Sieglinde. Sieglinde takes pity on the stranger and gives him something to drink.
Wes Herd dies auch sei, hier muss ich rasten – Vickers / Janowitz
Synopsis: Hunding comes home. Thoughtfully, he recognizes the resemblance of Sieglinde and the stranger and wants to hear his story. Siegmund tells that one day he came home and found his mother dead. The house had been burned down and there was no trace of his twin sister. He later learned that his sister was forced into a marriage and he tried to save her. At this moment Hunding recognizes Siegmund as his mortal enemy, whom he had hunted this night. By tradition, he grants Siegmund hospitality and challenges him to a duel the next day.
With Hunding’s entrance, the magical atmosphere is swept away. The Hunding motif resounds with its broad staccatos.
Musical Quote “Hunding Motiv”
Synopsis: Hunding and Sieglinde go to their bedroom. Siegmund is at the mercy of the enemy without a weapon. He remembers that his father once promised him a sword. Longingly, he thinks of the woman who attracted him so strangely.
Now Siegmund begins his great monologue “ein Schwert hiess mir der Vater” (My father promised me a sword). Proudly, the sword motif soon resounds in the winds:
Musical Quote «Sword Motif»
With a powerful voice Siegmund conjures the clan of the Wälse to help him to the sword.
Ein Schwert hiess mir der Vater – Kaufmann
You can hear the passage “Ein Schwert verhiess mir der Vater” in two other versions. One recording is by Mario del Monaco (1915-1982) with a brilliant, metallic voice – you hear pure force of nature.
Ein Schwert verhiess mir der Vater (1) – del Monaco
In the leading male role of Siegmund there is a singer who outshines all other tenors: Lauritz Melchior (1899-1973). If you have never heard him before, get an acoustic impression of his voice with the passage “Wälse”, a famous document in the recording history where he sings the Wälse calls more often with 15 or more seconds of sound!
Wääääääääälse! – Melchior
Synopsis: When Siegmund has laid himself down to rest, Sieglinde appears. She has given Hunding a sleeping pill and now tells that she was once married to Hunding under duress and that a stranger hefted a sword into the tree and promised it to the strongest who could pull it out. No one succeeded until now and she shows Siegmund the sword stuck in a tree. Since then, Sieglinde has been eagerly awaiting the hero who will wipe out her disgrace.
Lotte Lehmann was one of the great Sieglinde. She was not technically the best singer, but combined a voice of sensual beauty with the expressiveness of expression.
Der Männer Sippe (1) – Lehmann / Melchior / Walter
Listen to another interpretation by Kirsten Flagstadt, another great Wagnerian soprano of the past. She sang both Sieglinde and Brünnhilde.
Der Männer Sippe sass hier im Saal (2) – Flagstadt / Knappertsbusch
Wagner’s great Tenor aria: “Winterstürme wichen dem Wonnemond”
Synopsis: A magical force draws the two together. The storm has passed and the moon magically shines in the sky.
The music suddenly changes. After the encounter with Hunding and Sieglinde’s dramatic narration, we experience Siegmund in a lyrical passage. Wagner composed a cantabile for this love song, the likes of which we never experience elsewhere in the entire Ring. In ” Italian ” manner, accompanied by muted strings and swaying triplets, a lyrical aria unfolds.
You can hear no less than four great Siegmunds in the dreamlike “Winterstürme wichen dem Wonnemond.” Let’s start with the greatest Wagnerian tenor Lauritz Melchior.
Winterstürme wichen dem Wonnemond… Du bist der Lenz (1) – Melchior / Walter / Lehmann
Next you will hear Franz Völker (1899-1965) who was one of the greatest Lohengrin and Siegmund of the century. He sang Italian operas regularly in his career and combined the vocal power of a heroic tenor with lyrical vocalism. His bel canto voice contrasted pleasantly from the so-called “bell canto” (bell = bark), the unnatural, consonant-spitting sprechgesang of the Cosima Wagner years in Bayreuth.
His biography was closely linked to the rise of the Third Reich. His biography of these years was ambivalent, on the one hand he looked like the prototype of the Nordic hero, which together with his great voice made him a favorite of the audience. He was Hitler’s favorite tenor of the pre-war years 1933-1940 and enjoyed his protection. He also needed it, because his private life offered considerable areas of attack. He was married to a woman with Jewish roots. He defended her until the end of the Nazi era and she survived the war years. That would have been enough to ban him from performing, but Völker was furthermore convicted in 1938 of homosexual acts, which was the equivalent of a criminal offense in the Third Reich. Hitler’s personal protection protected him from a performance ban.
Winterstürme wichen dem Wonnemond (2) – Völker
Placido Domingo’s voice shines most beautifully in this aria; he was a brilliant, outstanding Siegmund.
Winterstürme wichen dem Wonnemond (3) – Domingo
Finally, a beautiful interpretation by Jonas Kaufmann.
Winterstürme wichen dem Wonnemond (4) – Kaufmann
Synopsis: When Siegmund tells of his clan, Sieglinde recognizes her brother, whom she had not seen for so long….
Du bist der Lenz – Flagstadt
The famous sword scene
Synopsis: Ecstatically, she calls him Siegmund. Excited, Siegmund goes to the tree and grabs the sword and with a mighty jerk he pulls it out. There is no longer any doubt, Siegmund is from the tribe of the Wälse and Sieglinde reveals herself to him as his sister. The two kiss passionately. At dawn, they flee the house together.
Wagner broke two taboos in this opera: Incest and adultery. For him, the focus was not on the act or on scandalization. What mattered to him was that with Siegfried a blood-pure hero is born.
We hear this famous scene in the interpretation of Lauritz Melchior. According to many experts, “never before has there been such a powerful tenor voice, so darkly timbrated and at the same time so brilliant, and to this day he has found no successor” (Scott).
Deines Auges Glut…Nothung – Melchior / Lehmann
THE VALKYRIE ACT II
Synopsis: In the realm of the gods: Wotan has called Brünhilde to Walhalla. She is to assist Siegmund in the duel with Hunding, since he has intended Siegmund to conquer the Ring.
The short prelude to the second act begins with reminiscences from the first act. First we hear the sword motif, which merges into the love motif of Sieglinde and Siegmund:
Musical Quote «Sieglinde’s and Siegmund’s love motif»
Next we hear the motif of the Ride of the Valkyries for the first time. After Wotan’s entrance we hear the famous battle cry of the Valkyries “Hojotoho”.
Listen to this passage with Birgit Nilsson in the role of Brunhilde. Birgit Nilsson was a gifted Wagner singer with her “vocal power”. She was the leading “high dramatic” of the post-war period and thus the successor of Kirsten Flagstadt.
Nun zäume dein Ross, reisige Maid – London / Nilsson / Leinsdorf
Kirsten Flagstadt was the greatest Brunhilde of the thirties. Her voice was rich and powerful and at the same time supple and glorious. Her performances at the Metropolitan Opera mostly with Lauritz Melchior became legend “Kirsten Flagstadt achieved a new standard of popularity for herself and the Wagner repertory, so much so that there were critics who divided American Wagnerian care into the ages ‘before and after Kirsten’ (Fischer, Grosse Stimmen).” We hear the excerpt of Brünnhilde’s battle cry.
Brünnhildes battle cry – Flagstadt
And yet a third Brünnhilde by Nina Stemme (also a Scandinavian), the most renowned Brünnhilde of the 2010s.
Brünnhildes battle cry- Stemme
Synopsis: Wotan’s wife Fricka goes to her husband and demands that he support Hunding, since Wotan had fathered Siegmund with another woman. As the guardian of marriage, Fricka cannot accept this sacrilege; moreover, he undermines his own laws with his plan.
So ist es denn aus mit den ewigen Göttern – Ludwig
Synopsis: Wotan calls Brünnhilde to him. She has never seen Wotan so sad and depressed. He confides in her the story of the ring and the treaties. Deeply saddened, he orders Brünnhilde that Siegmund should die in the duel.
Wotan’s great soliloquy is introduced by somber, empty basses. It is the most detailed account of the prehistory of the Ring. The narrative is repeatedly commented on by leitmotifs from the orchestra. This section has often been criticized for its length. It is the drama of Wotan, who is the absolute ruler but the “least free of all” because he is bound by his contracts and sees his plan fail because Fricka has had enough of her god’s husband’s extramarital escapades.
Als junger Liebe Lust mir verblich – London
Brünnhilde walks the path to becoming a sentient human being
Synopsis: Brünnhilde wants to contradict him, but with a humiliating gesture of power he silences his daughter and orders her to obey. Brünnhilde sets off to join the two fugitives. In a rocky area Siegmund and Sieglinde rest exhausted. Hunding and his avengers are close on their heels. As Sieglinde falls exhausted into sleep, Brünnhilde appears. She announces to Siegmund that he will not survive the fight with Hunding. As a reward, she promises him entry into Valhalla to join his father Wotan and his sisters the Valkyries. But when Siegmund learns that Sieglinde would not be with him and would have to go on living, he declares without further ado that in this case he would not even think of following Brünnhilde to Valhalla, but would rather die, even kill his beloved Sieglinde himself if necessary, than part with her. Even Brünnhilde’s hint that Sieglinde is pregnant does not stop Siegmund: he draws his sword and lunges to slay Sieglinde. This gesture moves Brünnhilde to such an extent that she feels compassion and decides to support Siegmund in his fight against Hunding.
This section describes the first meeting of a divine and a human figure. Brünnhilde, the goddess of war, feels pity for the first time, a feeling previously unknown to her. To underscore the significance of the moment, Wagner prominently employs the so-called “Wagner tubas,” which were specially constructed for the Ring. In a solemn, measured tempo, Brünnhilde appears to Siegmund like an angel of death, and the tubas play you the poignant motif of fate.
Musical Quote «Fate motif»
This motif of fate forms the basis for the second important motif, which remains present throughout the scene:
Musical Quote «Death announciation motif»
Sieh auf mich – Nilsson / King
The duel of Siegmund and Hunding
Synopsis: The horns announce the arrival of Hunding, and Siegmund prepares for battle. Brünnhilde disobeys Wotan and promises to help Siegmund in the fight. When Hunding and Siegmund face each other and begin the fight, Wotan intervenes and destroys Siegmund’s sword. Hunding stabs the unarmed Siegmund. As he triumphantly drinks Siegmund’s blood, Wotan kills Hunding. Brünnhilde takes the remains of the sword and flees with Sieglinde on the horse Grane.
The finale of the second act begins with tender tones as Sieglinde awakens. But soon the resounding horns announce the arrival of Hunding. When the two men line up for a duel, everything happens very quickly. First Sieglinde throws herself between the two in vain, and immediately afterwards Brünnhilde appears, accompanied by the Valkyrie motif in the brass, to support Siegfried. Finally Wotan appears, snatches the spear from Brünhilde and with it destroys Siegmund’s sword, leaving Hunding to stab the weaponless Siegmund. Accompanied by two lurid chords, Siegmund dies. The music calms down. Wotan mourns Siegmund and decides to punish Brünnhilde. He kills Hunding and with a wild, agitated brass sequence this act ends.
Zauberfest bezähmt ein Schlaf – London / Vickers / Nilsson / Ward / Brouwenstin
THE VALKYRIE ACT III
The Ride of the Valkyries
Synopsis: Brünhilde and Sieglinde have fled to Valhalla to find help from their sister Valkyries.
The third act begins with the so-called Valkyrie Ride. The seven sisters are seen dragging bloodied, slain warriors to Valhalla. A thunderstorm rages and the Valkyries shout their battle cry “Hojotoho”.
Hojotoho! Hojotoho! Heiaha! Heiaha! – Jankowski
The great scene of Sieglinde’s farewell to Brünnhilde
Synopsis: The sisters are horrified that Brünnhilde defied their father’s will and refuse to help. Brünnhilde gives Sieglinde the remains of Siegmund’s sword and announces to her that she will give birth to a hero named Siegfried. She gives her the horse Grane so that she can flee to the east and hide from Wotan in Fafner’s forest. She herself will await Wotan’s revenge.
In this dramatic scene, in which the pregnant Sieglinde desperately seeks shelter, Brünnhilde reveals to her that the fruit of her love for Siegmund will be a hero; gloriously, the Siegfried motif resounds for the first time:
Musical Quote «Siegfried motif»
She then hands Sieglinde the remains of Siegmund’s sword. Brünnhilde is now overcome with emotion over Brünnhilde’s selflessness and she sings over the most colorful orchestra, the radiant love redemption motif:
Musical Quote «Love redemption motif»
We will not encounter this motif again until the end of the Ring; it will conclude the Twilight of the Gods and thus the entire work.
So fliehe denn eilig und fliehe allein! – Nilsson / Brouwenstijn
Wotan’s punishment of Brünnhilde – the great farewell scene
Synopsis: Brünnhilde has defied Wotan’s command. Wotan expels her from Valhalla and takes away her status as a god. He warns her sisters that whoever approaches her will meet the same fate. Wotan wants to put her to sleep on a path, where the defenseless one is at the mercy of the first man. Wotan chases away the Valkyries. Now alone with her father, Brünnhilde appeals to him to put a fire around her sleeping place for her protection, so that only a hero can get her. Now Wotan is overcome by emotion at the loss of his favorite daughter and the two fall into each other’s arms. With a tender kiss on her forehead, Wotan puts Brünnhilde to sleep and he instructs Loge to build a wall of fire around Brünnhilde’s sleeping place.
Wotan’s farewell to Brünnhilde is one of the great scenes of the Ring. Listen to how Wotan, tenderly moved, says goodbye to Brünnhilde and the music dissolves in an ecstatic conclusion. This musical section is marked by many leitmotifs.
First we hear the nostalgic resting place motif:
Musical Quote «Sanctuary motif»
Then we hear the Siegfried motif in the horns («Denn einer nur freit die Braut, der freier als ich, der Gott»). It is followed by Wotan’s love motif (from 2:55), which expresses the pain of parting. It appears first in the winds and then, in an overwhelming gesture of pain, in the violins:
Musical Quote «Wotan’s-Love motif»
The long lyrical scene in which Wotan puts Brünnhilde to sleep ends abruptly with the spear motif with which Wotan moves to action:
Musical Quote «Spear motif»
With the magic fire motif, Wotan, with the help of Loge, lights the fire around Brünnhilde’s sleeping place
With the counterpoint of various motifs, this scene ends wonderfully.
Leb wohl du kühnes herrliches Kind – London / Leinsdorf
See the scene in another interpretation from an impressive excerpt of a television recording of the famous Chéreau/Boulez production of the Bayreuth Ring of the 1970s.
Leb wohl du kühnes herrliches Kind – McIntyre / Jones
DECCA with Jon Vickers, Birgit Nilsson and George London conducted by Erich Leinsdorf and the London Symphony Orchestra.
Peter Lutz, Opera-inside, the online opera guide to THE VALKYRIE by Richard Wagner