Continuing Melanie Newbould‘s occasional blogs on faith and the arts.
The Ring II
The story of the Ring had got to a point where Brünhilde is asleep, actually on a rock on top of a mountain, surrounded by a burning ring of fire. The ring and the Rheingold are underneath a sleeping dragon, Fafner. Wotan is now walking the earth as a sort of tramp, Wanderer. The third opera, Siegfried, is about the early exploits of Sieglinde and Siegmund’s son. His mother died in childbirth, so Siegfried has been brought up by a Nibelung, Mime, Alberich’s brother. (I think that Wagner himself felt affinity with and loved playing this character—not, of course in the theatre, but when he entertained friends. Though Mime is evil and sly, he is a brilliant comic creation). They live in a dark forest and the music is dark and low. Mime finds that whatever sword he forges proves inadequate and is smashed by Siegfried; furthermore he finds he cannot repair the fragmented sword (Nothung of course) that Siegfried’s mother left for him. Siegfried decides to re-forge this sword himself, and he succeeds.
Siegfried realises that he cannot feel fear and wants to learn what it is like. Mime suggests that he try to do this by fighting a sleeping dragon, who happens to reside nearby and who happens to own a ring, a tarnhelm and a large store of gold, items that mime covets. So Siegfried fights and kills poor Fafner. He tastes dragon blood accidentally which results in him developing an understanding of bird song. A wood bird tells him to beware of Mime’s intentions (Mime does indeed intend to poison Siegfried), so Siegfried kills the Nibelung. She tells him to collect the ring and tarnhelm from the dragon’s hoard, as they will be useful to him. Finally, the wood bird tells Siegfried that there is a woman he needs to win, guarded by a burning ring of fire. He sets off up the mountain but finds his way is blocked by a tramp-like old man (Wanderer). Siegfried loses patience and forces his way past the old man, breaking Wanderer’s spear with Nothung. At this point, Wotan’s power is forever lost in the world. In Walküre, the sword had given way to the spear, but now the opposite has occurred and the sword forged by a human has defeated the spear fashioned by a God. Well of course, Siegfried succeeds in passing through the burning ring of fire and waking Brünhilde to life (again his power has overcome Wotan’s). The sing a glorious love duet ending in the light bright key of C major. For Brünhilde, life as a human women is pretty good at this point.