Wagner, Ring des Nibelungen, Siegfried, Synopsis, Handlung

Online opera guide and synopsis to Wagner’s SIEGFRIED

The Ring of the Nibelung is a total work of art on a par with works of world literature such as Homer’s Iliad or Dante’s Divina commedia. It is astonishing how homogeneous this work appears to us, which was created over a period of 25 years and in a complex process of development. “Siegfried” is a huge heroic epic about a revolutionary. It ends with one of the great love apotheoses of the opera genre.






♪ Act I  (Mimes home)

♪ Act II   (Forest scene, Fight with the dragon)

♪ Act III  (Rock scene)



Notung! Notung! Neidliches Schwert 

Hoho! Hohei! Hahei!

Du holdes Vögelein

Waldweben (Forest weaving)

Wache, Wala! Wala! Erwache!

Heil dir, Sonne

Ewig war ich, ewig bin ich (Finale)


Recording recommendation

♪ Recording recommendation












Bayreuth, 1876


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.


Wotan / Wanderer, god and ruler of the world (baritone) - Siegfried, son of Siegmund and Sieglinde (tenor) - Brünnhilde, Valkyrie and daughter of Wotan (soprano) - Alberich, Nibelunge (bass) - Mime, Nibelunge and brother of Alberich (tenor) - Erda, seeress and mother of the Norns (alto) - Fafner / Dragon, giant turned into a dragon (bass)


DECCA, Wolfgang Windgassen, Hans Hotter, Birgit Nilsson, Gustav Neidlinger and Joan Sutherland conducted by Georg Solti and the Vienna Philharmonic.








The Interpretation and 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.

Link to the Portrait to “The ring of the Nibelung”



The classic heroic story peppered with many symbols

The story of the second evening is basically quickly told. The hero forges a sword, kills the dragon and wins the bride. All in all the classic heroic story. What makes the story rich are the different actions and objects on the symbolic level and there are many of them. It is the killing of his stepfather, the dragon’s blood, Siegfried’s (unconscious) duel with his creator and so on.



A huge vocal challenge

Vocally, the leading role of the tenor is a tremendous challenge. Already in the first act Wagner takes Siegfried to its limits. And after another exhausting second act, the tenor meets a vocally rested Brünnhilde, who only appears in the last act.


The history of origins I/II

Wagner began work on Siegfried in 1857, 3 years after Rheingold and right after the completion of the Valkyrie. But soon the work began to falter. Wagner, who was permanently in financial difficulties, was horrified to learn that his publisher refused to publish the ring and that the dream of a performance delayed therefore far away in the future. The consequence of this was that no money would flow in the near future. Moreover, Wagner was in the middle of a liaison with Mathilde Wesendonck, which meant that his head was not clear for the demanding history of the Ring. The work on the ring came to a standstill.


Mathilde Wesendonck

Mathilde entered Wagner’s life in 1852. He met the 24-year-old during his Zurich exile. The subsequent story is well known. Her husband became his Zurich patron of the arts and Wagner began a secret relationship with Mathilde, who lived in close proximity. In that year 1857 he wrote the famous Wesendonck Songs, based on Mathilde’s five poems which were followed by his opera “Tristan and Isolde”. The plot of Tristan and Isolde is significant: Tristan (Wagner) and Isolde (Mathilde) cannot meet on earth because of Isolde’s relationship with King Marke (Wesendonck). The two find refuge in love death.

The close relationship between the two was disturbed by Wagner’s wife Minna when she intercepted a letter the following year. The later wife Cosima wanted to erase all traces of Mathilde in Wagner’s estate and burned them. Thus, only Wagner’s letters to Mathilde bear witness to this relationship, from which Mathilde claimed to the end, that it was purely platonic.



The history of origins II/II

It was not until 1869 that Wagner resumed work on Siegfried (in the meantime the Meistersinger had also been created). It was about composing the 3rd act (the scenes at the Valkyrie Rock). 1871 the work was finally completed. In between there were still delays because of a dispute Wagner had with his patron Ludwig II, who ordered Rheingold and the Valkyrie to be performed in Munich against Wagner’s will.


What happened so far


Preliminary events


The synopsis of Rhinegold (Part 1)


The synopsis of the Valkyrie (Part 2)







Mime needs the sword, but cannot forge it himself

Synopsis: Mime is his cave and forges the sword for Siegfried. Many years ago he took Siegfried in as his foster son, who is now to help him wrest the ring from Fafner. With the help of the magic helmet, the keeper of the ring has transformed into a dragon that only a hero can defeat.

Haunting timpani in piano and two pale chords forming a diminished seventh introduce the prelude. They probably symbolize Mime’s despair at his inability to forge the sword. From this develops the busy Nibelheim motif, the hammering work of the forge, which we know from Rheingold:

Musical Quote: Nibelheim Motif

Then Wagner combines two other motifs with the Nibelheim motif. On the one hand the Fronarbeit motif (a falling second) and the Schatz motif:

Musical Quote: Treasure-Motif

In this way, Wagner combines three leitmotifs and ingeniously introduces the listener to Mime’s world.

 Vorspiel  –  Solti


Synopsis: Mime is frustrated. His swords cannot withstand the power of the brutal and simple-minded Siegfried. The only sword that could withstand his strength would be Nothung. But it lies smashed to pieces in a cloth. If he could forge it together, he’d be at the ring! He tries again. Siegfried enters in Mime’s house.

With the motive taken from the horn, Siegfried sings a cheerful “Hoiho!” upon entering Mime’s dwelling. It contrasts with Mime’s chromatic, somber tonal world through its tonal leap. A little later, we hear Siegfried’s motif taken from nature played in the horn:

Musical quote: Siegfried’s Horn-Motif

Hoiho! Hoiho!



Synopsis: He examines the sword. In one fell swoop, he destroys it and curses Mime for being a bungler.

Wild agitation in the orchestra accompanies Siegfried’s imprecations.

Da hast Du die Stücken, schändlicher Stümper  –  Melchior



Mime’s role

Synopsis: Siegfried despises the dwarf, who is still a  stranger to him.  The only thing Mime could still do for him, is to explain who his mother is. When Mime claims that he is both mother and father, Siegfried threatens to use violence.

Mime’s name is descriptive, it means something like “pretend”. Wagner does not see Mime as a creative spirit (as a true artist), even the magic helmet could only be created under Alberich’s supervision. He does not have the greatness of the gods and is a selfish man.  In his opening narrative, we hear his unsympathetic and awkward Obstinato motif in the basses.

Musical quote: Mime motif


His “Sprechgesang” is also unnatural. In productions, mime is often depicted as a Jewish caricature. In Wagner’s correspondence or in his statements, however, there is no corresponding corroboration, except for one passage where Wagner refers to a Jewish artist who had played the role of mime. Thus the characteristics of mime probably stand for universal human traits rather than for any racial themes. To ingratiate himself with Siegfried, Mime sings a veritable song. However, Wagner wrote the performance instruction for the dwarf “with a shrill and plaintive voice.

Als zullendes Kind zog ich Dich auf –  Svanholm


Synopsis: Now Mime tells the story of a woman named Sieglinde, whom he found alone in the forest with a small child. He took her in, but she died soon after. He did not know Siegfrieds father, he had been killed, and he had only got the debris of his sword from him.

We hear reminiscences of “Die Walküre” (“So my mother died of me?”, “Then my mother died of me?”)

Einst lag wimmernd ein Weib da draussen im wilden Wald



Wolfgang Windgassen – the Siegfried during twenty years

Synopsis: When Siegfried sees the parts of the sword, he forces Mime to forge a new sword out of them and leaves the cave. But Mime is at a loss, he has often tried to forge the sword back together.

In this recording we hear the tenor Wolfgang Windgassen. He was the favourite Siegfried from 1950 to 1970, the time of the great recordings of the Ring cycle. He replaced Max Lorenz in Bayreuth, where Wieland Wagner wanted to push through a generational change after the Nazi years. Thus he was the Siegfried of various Ring cycles such as the famous Solti recording or Wieland Wagner’s Ring Inzenierung with Karl Böhm. His acting must have been great, unfortunately there are very few film documents.

Und diese Stücke sollst Du mir schmieden … Aus dem Wald fort in die Weg ziehn  –  Windgassen



Synopsis: At this moment an unknown wanderer enters. It is Wotan, who secretly follows Siegfried’s progress and tries to secure his power through Siegfried. He tells Mime that the one who never learned to fear should forge the sword and that Mime will die by his hand.

With solemn chords, Wotan enters Mime’s cave. It is the so-called Wanderer motif:

Musical quote: Wanderer motif

As befits a god, they are solemn, measured chords, which in their major form stand out from the world of Mime.

Heil dir weiser Schmied



Synopsis: The embers of the fireplace ignite mysteriously. Now Siegfried enters and Wotan leaves the cave unnoticed. Siegfried rages when he does not see Mime behind the anvil. Mime tells about the prophecy of the wanderer.

With the motif of the fire spell, the fireplace ignites. When Siegfried appears, we again hear the cheerful excerpt of the Fahrtlustlied.

Verfluchtes Licht!



Siegfried forges the sword

Synopsis:  To save his head he advises him to learn to fear by fighting the dragon Fafner. Siegfried realizes that he needs the sword to survive in the fight against the dragon. When Mime again fails to forge the sword, Siegfried realizes that he himself is the one who has never learned to fear and must forge the sword himself. He shreds the sword into swarfs and reforges it. Fascinated, Mime watches as the ignorant man recreates the sword in the embers.

With a firework of leitmotifs and a colorful orchestral sound, Wagner stunningly depicts the forge scene. When Siegfried himself takes over the work, the music becomes very busy and vividly describes Siegfried’s hand movements. Siegfried’s motif is heard again and again, paired with the busy motif of the blacksmith’s art:

To create the new, Siegfried must leave all the conventions of blacksmithing. Mime marvels at the work of the ignorant man, and when the work is done, the sword is heard to move.

Her mit den Stücken  –  Windgassen


Synopsis: Siegfried asks Mime the name of the sword. It was called Nothung and so it shall be called again. Now Mime also decides to abuse Siegfried for his own purposes. He plan to stun Siegfried with a poison potion, who will be tired after the fight with the dragon, then kill him and take the ring.



In this piece we hear the motif of the sword Nothung, which Siegmund already used in “Die Walküre”. With this motif, he fires up the bellows. Again and again, the motif sounds heavily in the winds.

Listen to Lauritz Melchior’s interpretation in this scene. He sings this act, so demanding for the tenor, with great intensity and vocal power. He was probably the most brilliant Siegfried in the history of recording.

Nothung! Nothung! Neidliches Schwert  –  Melchior


Synopsis: While Siegfried triumphantly finishes forging his sword, Mime brews the poisonous potion that will secure him the ring and thus world domination. When the sword is finished, the weapon is so powerful that Siegfried can split the anvil with it.

Like Mime, Siegfried hammers the sword to the rhythm of the Nibelung motif. The two sing triumphantly in a duet whose voices – untypical of Wagner’s later style – unite triumphantly at the end.

Hoho! Hohei! Hahei!  –  Jerusalem / Zednik









Synopsis: In the nocturnal forest.

The fact that the giant Fafner has turned into a dragon is no coincidence. With this, Wagner wants to show that whoever is in possession of gold turns into a monster. The prelude begins with the theme of the dragon Fafner:

To this we hear the dotted motif of the giants in the timpani. Compared to the leitmotif of the giants from Rheingold, the dragon motif has become nothing more than a ponderous, sycophantic motif.




Wotan and Alberich meet

Synopsis: Alberich waits in front of the cave, Fafner’s sleeping quarters. The ring lies unreachable for him with Fafner, who with the help of the magic helmet turned into a dragon and thinks he is invincible. For a long time Alberich has been waiting for an opportunity to take the ring back. He recognizes a shadow. It is a wanderer in whom Alberich recognizes his old adversary Wotan.

Zur Neidhöhle fuhr ich bei Nacht  –  Volle / Konieczky


Synopsis: Alberich suspects that Wotan wants to steal the ring from him for the second time, but Wotan claims to have only come by as an innocent bystander. He warns Alberich that Mime is on his way to Fafner with Siegfried, and that his brother is his only rival for the ring, because Siegfried himself does not know about the magic of the ring. He advises Alberich to warn Fafner in order to get the ring in return. Wotan calls the dragon and Alberich offers the dragon to ward off the disaster. But Fafner is not interested and rejects the two. Disappointed Alberich returns to the cave and Wotan leaves the place with mocking words. Now Siegfried and Mime reach the place. Mime warns him of the poisonous spitting and the deadly blow with the tail. Siegfried doubts whether he can learn to fear here and plans to thrust the sword into the dragon’s heart.



Siegfried: Wagner’s autobiographical traits

Synopsis: While waiting for the dragon, Siegfried ponders what his father and mother looked like.

There follows a section (which reaches up to the fight with Fafner) that shows us a new Siegfried. If he was a rude and thoughtless youth until now, he shows his vulnerable side when he thinks of his parents, whom he never got to know.

There is no doubt that Wagner created a soul mate with Siegfried. He saw in him the revolutionary man (= artist) who Wagner was, too, and who was failing because of a society that was not yet ready for the new. And now we come to the actual topic of the section: Wagner was also never allowed to meet his biological father, who died of typhus 6 months after Wagner’s birth. It is no coincidence that so many characters from Wagner’s operas never knew their father. Besides Siegmund from the Valkyrie, we can also count Parsifal and Tristan among them. This is how Wagner was able to set Siegfried’s emotions to music so wonderfully and sensitively in the Waldweben (sound document below).

At the thought of his mother (Ach! möcht’ ich Sohn meine Mutter sehen!), the Wälsungen motif from the “Walküre” is tenderly heard and the Waldweben motif returns.  In the oboe, the song of a bird is heard.

Aber wie sah meine Mutter wohl aus  –  Windgassen 


Synopsis: He hears the birds whistling and tries to imitate the sounds with a reed. The tones do not want to succeed and he tries it on his horn.

Full of longing for his mother, Siegfried seeks his inner peace in nature. Wagner achieves maximum contrast with this piece. If the whole act was dominated by heavy tone colors and basses so far, the high tones and bright colors dominate in this section. We hear the sounds of birds in the woodwinds. Wagner is said to have gone into the forest for this scene to listen to the birds.

Meine Mutter ein Menschenweib! Du holdes Vöglein!  –  Windgassen / Sutherland


The famous «forest murmurs»

This piece also became known as an orchestral piece under the name “Waldweben” (“Forest murmurs”).

Waldweben –  Levine


Synopsis: Fafner is awakened by the sounds. Siegfried addresses him and wants to learn fear from him. The dragon wants to eat Siegfried and Siegfried thrusts Nothung right into his heart.

On the horn we hear 2 important leitmotifs of Siegfried. The first is lyrical:

Musical quote: Siegfried’s horn motiv

The second is of a heroic nature:

Musical quote: Siegfried Motiv

Haha! Da hätte mein Lied! – Windgassen


Synopsis: As he dies, the dragon transforms back into the giant Fafner, who warns him of the disaster of the Nibelungen treasure.

Wer bist du, kühner Knabe



The dragonblood

Synopsis: The hot blood has scorched Siegfried’s hand.

Here Wagner refrains in his script from an explicit staging of an important incident. Namely, Siegfried bathes in dragon blood, which makes him invincible. Only a falling leaf from a tree prevents the blood from reaching a piece of his back, which will cost him his life in Götterdämmerung.


Synopsis: When he cools his hand with his mouth and comes into contact with the blood of the dragon, he can suddenly understand bird calls. A bird, which is a mouthpiece of Wotan, advises him to take the ring and the camouflage helmet to himself. Siegfried goes to the cave to get them.

At the moment when Siegfried licks the blood from his hand, the forest weaving and the flute singing sound again. Suddenly, the same melody that was previously audible from an instrument as a bird’s voice is now heard through a soprano singing.

We hear Joan Sutherland in this passage, who sang the bird as a young woman in the Solti Ring.

Zur Kunde taugt kein Toter  –  Windgassen


Synopsis: Alberich shows up and stumbles upon Mime. The two fight over the loot. When Siegfried appears, Alberich disappears. Meanwhile Wotan has arrived and watches the scene from a hiding place. Siegfried has learned of Mime’s evil intentions from the forest bird. When Mime offers him the potion Siegfried understands  his plan and kills Mime with his sword. Now Siegfried senses a feeling of loneliness and asks the bird to talk to him. The bird tells him about a beautiful woman who sleeps on a rock, protected by fire. It can only be saved by someone who does not know fear. Cheering, Siegfried realizes that he will be the saviour and follows the bird, which shows him the way to Brünnhilde.

When with Mime his only point of reference is dead, Siegfried feels infinitely lonely. Soon he falls into a nostalgic mood and a yearning love-lust motif resounds, becoming more and more urgent:


The bird gives him the answer a little later, telling him about “Brünnhilde, the most glorious of all women” and showing him the way to her.

Da liegt auch du, dunkler Wurm!  –  Windgassen / Sutherland







As described in the introduction to this opera, there is a creative pause of 12 years between the composition of the end of the second movement and that of the beginning of the third movement. At this point Wagner resumed work in 1869.


Wotan’s ghostly encounter with Erda

Synopsis: Wotan moved to the Valkyrie Rock to question Erda there. She sees through him and refuses to help Wotan.

This scene begins with the prelude to the third act. As in the second act, Wagner weaves three leitmotifs into a magnificent piece of contrapuntal music. It begins with the motif of need of the gods:

The second motif is Wotan’s spear:

Together with other motifs, the result is a great tone painting. On this stormy night Wotan enters the Valkyrie Rock in a mystical scene. Erda had sired the Valkyries with Wotan. So she became part of Wotan’s plan and lost her clairvoyance. Her prophecy is only vague now.

Wache, Wala!   –  McIntyre / Wenkel



Wotan resigns

Synopsis: But Wotan forces her to prophesy his fate. Erda announces that the power of the gods will end soon and that she and her Norns cannot change anything about it either. Wotan is tired and decides to give the power to Siegfried and waits for him at the rock.

Dir Unwesen ruf ich ins Ohr



Wotan meets Siegfried

Synopsis: The clash ends unhappily for Wotan. Siegfried, treats him, the stranger, without respect and Wotan decides to get in his way. He announces to smash Siegfrieds sword with his spear once more like he once did with the sword Nothung. Siegfried believes to recognize the murderer of his father in the wanderer and smashes Wotan’s spear with his sword. With this, Wotan loses everything and he must let Siegfried pass to Brünnhilde.

This scene is a turning point of the “Ring”. While Wotan wants to block Siegfried’s way, the fire magic motif can already be heard in the orchestra, announcing Loges’ wall of fire. Siegfried effortlessly destroys the spear that once brought death to his father. The spear that stands for rules and contracts is broken. Siegfried, the anarchist hero, does not fear even the highest authority. and Wotan leaves the scene. In the Götterdämmerung we will not even meet him anymore, his magic and power are passé.

Kenntest Du mich kühner Spross  –  Hotter



The wild walk through the fire

Synopsis: The way is clear for Siegfried, who fearlessly enters the fire.

Wagner lets this important scene end with a gigantic music. While Siegfried is in the fire, Siegfried’s horn call is heard repeatedly amidst the ecstasy of the music.

Mit zerfochntner Waffe wich mir der Feig  –  Kollo




Synopsis: Siegfried safely reaches the Rock where Brünnhilde sleeps. He sees a sleeping person in full armor. When he removes the armor, he sees a woman for the first time in his life. Now he has learned to fear, and an overpowering feeling takes possession of him. He takes courage and kisses her to awaken her.

This picture where Brünnhilde lies sleeping in front of the Valkyrie Rock is a picture of great poetry. The redemption motif resounds in the orchestra at the beginning, jubilantly.

Musical quote: renunciation motif

Das ist kein Mann! Brennender Zauber zückt mein Herz



Brünnhilde, the “hochdramatische” soprano role

Synopsis: Brünnhilde wakes up and welcomes the day. She sees her awakener and recognizes in him Siegfried, whom she once protected and always loved.

This scene is one of the greatest scenes in the entire Ring! Brünnhilde’s awakening motif sounds. This beautiful motif of the awakening Brünnhilde shows how Wagner knew how to form great things from 2 simple chords. He lets the E minor chord swell and decay in the winds and picks up the note again only in the winds in a crescendo and lets it play around with the harps. The harp arpeggios unmistakably recall the awakening of nature at the beginning of the Ring in the prelude to Rheingold.

Musical quote: Brunhilds Awakening motif

We hear this scene in 2 versions. We begin with a television recording from a performance at the Bayreuth Festival Theatre.

Heil dir, Sonne! Heil dir, Licht!  –  Evans


Brünnhilde is the role for a highly dramatic soprano. After the war this role was dominated by 3 female singers for 25 years: Astrid Varnay, Martha Mödl and Birgit Nilsson. Brünnhilde appears in 3 of the 4 evenings of the ring. The role in Siegfried is the one with the highest tessitura and therefore very demanding. In addition, she has to sing against a huge orchestra, which likes to play loud to increase the effect.

Birgit Nilsson was a vocal wonder. “Vocal chords of steel”, “trumpet” were attributes that were often heard when she outshone other singers and the orchestra with her voice. During the recordings for the ring, it is said that the loudspeaker often sounded “Please step back three steps, Mrs. Nilsson, when high notes are played”, because the sound waves overtaxed the microphones.

Heil dir, Sonne! Heil dir, Licht!  –  Nilsson

Ewig war ich, ewig bin ich ! –  I always was, I always am

Synopsis: Brünnhilde is also pleased to see her horse Grane. When Siegfried besets her, she realises with horror that without armour, sword and helmet she is no longer divine and thus defenceless. Never before has a man dared to approach her. Now she is a mortal woman and asks Siegfried to keep her virginity. In the arms of Siegfried she is overwhelmed by the human passion of love. Siegfried urges her to unite and misses the last opportunity to become knowing.

Brünnhilde asks Siegfried to keep her divine virginity. Dazu hat er ein wunderschönes Motiv komponiert. Dieses “Ewige-Liebe” Motiv hat Richard Wagner auch im Siegfried-Idyll verwendet (siehe weiter unten).

Musical quote: Eternal love motif

But Siegfried’s heating does not allow this to happen, and Brünnhilde is carried away. The opera ends with resounding horns and an ecstatic love duet in C major: “Leuchtende Liebe! Lachender Tod!” Shortly before the end there is another pause and the work ends with a C major chord.

We hear this ending in two versions.

We start with the Böhm recording. It is from the sixties and documents the production of Wieland Wagner.

Ewig war ich, ewig bin ich  –  Nilsson / Windgassen


We hear a second recording with Lauritz Melchior and Florence Easton, with an ecstasy that has an eruptive character.

Florence Easton was one of Rosa Ponselle’s great competitors at the Met of the 20s. Her repertoire was gigantically broad. Her voice was fully luminous.

Ewig war ich, ewig bin ich  –  Easton / Melchior


The scene in which Brünnhilde and Siegfried discover their erotic affection was developed by Wagner into an independent composition one year later. He gave it to Cosima for her birthday on Christmas Day 1870 in Tribschen with a concert in the stairwell of her country house. Due to the limited space available, Wagner composed it as a chamber music work. Later a version with larger orchestration was published.

Siegfried Idyll  –  Celibidache




Recording recommendation of the opera SIEGFRIED


DECCA with Wolfgang Windgassen, Hans Hotter, Birgit Nilsson, Gustav Neidlinger und Joan Sutherland under the direction of Georg Solti and the Vienna Philharmonic orchestra.



Peter Lutz, opera-inside, the online opera guide on SIEGFRIED by Richard Wagner.





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