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Gotterdammerung ("Twilight of the Gods") is the fourth and final piece of Richard Wagner's legendary Der Ring des Nibelungen ("The Ring of the Nibelung"), or the Ring Cycle. The first three operas, in order, are Das Rheingold ("The Rhine Gold"), Die Walkure ("The Valkyrie"), and Siegfried. As a whole, these four installments detail the theft of the Rhine Gold and its forging into the dangerous ring, the birth, life, and death of the hero Siegfried, and the ill fate of the gods, among other things, as based on Old Norse myth. Gotterdammerung tickets are passes into an epic world of gods and heroes, glory and doom.
Gotterdammerung, along with the other operas in the cycle, is through-composed; that is, there are no breaks in the acts for recitative or spoken dialogue. Wagner wanted to create each act as a single musical entity in order to form a more perfectly unified product. The musical style is richly textured and thickly orchestrated (Wagner composed for quite a large orchestra, including for instruments that were new at the time, and even one named for him: the Wagner tuba). Gotterdammerung premiered on August 17, 1876 at Germany's Bayreuth Festspielhaus as part of the inaugural performance of the complete Ring Cycle, and lives on today as a continually popular part of the operatic canon.
Prologue: On the rock of the Valkyries, the three Norns, daughters of the earth goddess Erda, weave the rope of fate, predicting the end of the gods. Suddenly, the rope breaks and the Norns, frightened and lost, disappear. The hero Siegfried and his Valkyrie bride, Brunnhilde, emerge from their cavern, on a mountain's peak surrounded by magical fire. Brunnhilde sends Siegfried away onto another journey, and as a token of his love, he leaves with her the all-powerful ring that he stole from the dragon Fafner's clutches. Taking her shield and riding her horse, Grane, Siegfried rides off.
Act I: In a castle on the Rhine River, Gunther, King of the Gibichungs, and his sister, Gutrune, receive advice from their half-brother, Hagen, on how to find spouses. Secretly plotting to procure the ring for himself, Hagen advises Gunther to marry Brunnhilde and Gutrune to marry Siegfried. In order to accomplish this, Hagen gives Gutrune a magic potion that will make Siegfried forget about Brunnhilde, fall in love with her, and secure Brunnhilde for Gunther. When Siegfried arrives at the castle seeking to meet with Gunther, Gutrune tricks him into drinking the love potion. Now in love with Gutrune, Siegfried swears a blood-brotherhood with Gunther and agrees to win him a bride; on his suggestion, he goes off to seize Brunnhilde. Meanwhile, the Valkyrie Waltraute visits her sister Brunnhilde to explain how the god Wotan's spear was shattered by Siegfried, diminishing his power. He now plans to burn down the gods' realm, Valhalla, as he waits for the end of the world. Waltraute appeals to Brunnhilde, asking her to return the ring to the Rhine Maidens (original owners of the gold it was forged from) to end the curse that is now affecting their father, Wotan, but Brunnhilde refuses to give up her love token from Siegfried, and Waltraute rides off in hopelessness. When Siegfried arrives to claim Brunnhilde disguised as Gunther under the magical Tarnhelm, he wrests the ring from her and places it on his own hand.
Act II: During the night, Hagen slumbers by the bank of the Rhine, and is visited in a semi-conscious state by his father, Alberich, the dwarf who stole the Rhinemaidens' gold and forged the dangerous and powerful ring. Hagen swears to his father that he will kill Siegfried and steal the ring. At dawn, Siegfried arrives, having left Brunnhilde with Gunther and re-assumed his original form, and Hagen summons the vassals to rejoice in the marriage. As Brunnhilde is led in, she is shocked to see Siegfried with the ring on his hand; knowing that she has been tricked, she announces that Siegfried is her true husband, and in a vengeful turn, accuses him of seducing her as himself and not as Gunther. On this news, Gunther agrees with Hagen that Siegfried must be slain for the sake of Gunther's honor, and Brunnhilde reveals that he would be vulnerable to a stab in the back. They decide to lure him on a hunting trip and murder him as the crowd departs for the wedding feast.
Act III: On the bank of the Rhine, the Rhinemaidens lament the loss of their precious gold. When Siegfried happens by, ahead of the hunting party, they ask him to return the ring for his own safety, but he refuses. When he is reunited with the hunting party, he regails them with tales of his youth and his defeat of the dragon Fafner. When Hagen gives him another potion that allows him to remember Brunnhilde, he tells the tale of how he found and won her. Hagen immediately stabs him in the back, explaining that he has broken the oath he took when he swore he never seduced Brunnhilde. In his last breaths, Siegfried recalls his love and dies. When Siegfried's body is brought back to the castle, Gutrune is horrified, and Hagen and Gunther both try to claim the ring from his hand. Hagen kills Gunther and tries to seize the ring, but Siegfried's hand rises mysteriously and he jumps away, frightened. Suddenly, Brunnhilde enters, ordering a funeral pyre to be assembled on the bank of the river. She takes the ring, mourns the loss of her lover, and rides into the flames. The blaze soon consumes the Gibichungs' castle and the Rhine surges, extinguishing the fire as the Rhinemaidens reclaim the ring. When Hagen tries to stop them, they drag him in and drown him in the depths of the river. As the maidens rejoice, all look up at a red aura in the sky. Flames rise in Valhalla, surrounding the gods and heroes there, eventually consuming them completely.
|Music and Libretto by||Richard Wagner|
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