Die Walküre

Die Walküre

Composed by Richard Wagner
First Performed at the National Theatre Munich, Germany on 26 June, 1870
New Adaptations by Graham Vick and Jonathan Dove
First performed in 1990, Birmingham, England
August 16, 17, 23, and 24, 2013
Performed in German


After the events of Das Rheingold, Wotan, Ruler of the Gods, created a plan to secure his power. He sought out the Goddess Erda, who predicted the end of the rule of the Gods. By her, he fathered the Walküres, warrior daughters who collect slain heroes from the battlefields to protect Valhalla, the home of the Gods. Wotan then wandered the Earth disguised as the human Wälse and fathered twins, Siegmund and Sieglinde, by a mortal woman. Through them, he hopes to regain control of the Ring of Power. To prepare Siegmund for his destiny, Wotan separated the twins in their youth, leaving Sieglinde to enter a loveless marriage with Hunding while putting Siegmund through endless trials. Siegmund, who calls himself Wehwalt (“Woefull”), went to the aid of a woman who was being forced into marriage by her brothers. In his struggle to save her, Siegmund lost his weapons.

Act I

Act I, Scene 1

Exhausted from his flight, Siegmund seeks shelter from the storm in a house built around a great ash tree. Collapsing unconscious on the floor, he is discovered by Sieglinde, who offers him water and mead. Siegmund introduces himself to Sieglinde as Wehwalt. She reveals only that the house is Hunding’s and that she is Hunding’s wife. As they talk, an overpowering attraction for each other takes hold of them.

When Hunding returns and hears the stranger’s history, he reveals that he is himself one of the pursuing kinsmen. The laws of hospitality demand that he offer strangers shelter for one night, but in the morning Siegmund must be prepared to fight him. Sending his wife to prepare him a drink, Hunding leaves Sieg-mund alone. Siegmund then recalls that Wotan had vowed to pro-vide his son with a sword in his hour of need.

Sieglinde, after drugging her husband’s drink, returns to Sieg-mund and tells him of a one-eyed stranger who appeared at her wedding feast and thrust a sword deep into an ash tree, saying that only a great hero would retrieve it. Many had tried and all had failed to pull the sword from the tree. Still ignorant of their identi-ties, Wotan’s children give way to their passionate love. Sieglinde now understands that this man is her brother, and she calls him by his true name, Siegmund. Seizing the sword, Siegmund names it Nothung (“Needed One”) and drawing it from the tree, he presents it as a bridal gift to Sieglinde. From her response he, too, understands that they are brother and sister, united in love and blood.

Act I, Scene 2

With his plans developing just as he intended, Wotan instructs his favorite daughter, Brünnhilde, to ensure that Siegmund kills Hunding in the impending fight. But no sooner has Brünnhilde left than Fricka, Wotan’s wife and Goddess of marriage, arrives and angrily protests the sacrilege of Sieglinde’s incest and infidelity. Fricka argues that in Nothung, Siegmund has an instrument of the gods and therefore must abide by the laws of the Gods. She then demands that Siegmund die for her honor. Wotan, who must abide by the laws and contracts engraved on his spear, reluctantly pledges to with-draw his protection of Siegmund. Brünnhilde’s exuberant return is cut short by the tension between Wotan and Fricka. Utterly down-cast, Wotan now foresees only the end of the gods. Revealing to Brünnhilde the whole story of the Ring, he commands her to with-draw Nothung’s power. When Brünnhilde protests, Wotan angrily instructs her to ensure Siegmund’s death in the fight. Miserable over her obligation, Brünnhilde goes off to do her duty.


Act II

Act II, Scene 1

After fleeing through the forest, Siegmund and Sieglinde stop to rest. Brünnhilde comes to Siegmund and tells him he must die but that she will take his soul to join the heroes of Valhalla. Siegmund, learning that Sieglinde can never join him there, refuses, saying he would rather kill himself and his sister than allow anyone else to touch her. His devotion arouses such pity in Brünnhilde that she vows to disobey Wotan. Experi-encing feelings of love for the first time, she prepares to protect Siegmund as Hunding is heard in the forest nearby.

But Wotan’s purposes are not so easily deflected. Furious at Brünnhilde’s disobedience, he appears in the middle of the fight, shatters Nothung with his spear, and kills Hunding. Brünnhilde flees with Sieglinde and the broken pieces of Nothung.

Act II, Scene 2

In a remote location, Brünnhilde’s Walküre sisters are assembling the newly slain heroes they have gathered for Valhalla’s guard. The fleeing Brünnhilde brings Sieglinde to them. When her warrior sisters refuse to help her, Brünnhilde reveals that Sieglinde is carrying Siegmund’s child, destined to become the greatest of all heroes and to bear the name Siegfried. Giving Sieglinde the shattered Nothung, Brünnhilde sends her into the wild to escape Wotan’s wrath. Sieglinde has hardly left before Wotan arrives. Shielded at first by the other Walküres, Brünnhilde faces her angry father. Wotan tells her she has forfeited her rights as a demigod — she shall be cast into a deep sleep on a rock, prey to any man who finds her. Her pleading softens Wotan’s anger, and he finally agrees to her request — only the greatest of heroes shall be able to take her. Sadly, Wotan bids farewell to his favorite daughter. He tells her that she shall be surrounded by a wall of flame, and with a final kiss he removes her divine attributes. Gesturing with his spear, he commands Loge, the God of fire, to encircle her with flames.


adapted from San Francisco Opera