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Die Walküre

Richard Wagner 1813-1883

Libretto by the composer
World premiere: June 26 1870, Nationaltheater; Munich
1st performance as part of a Ring cycle: August 14 1876, Festspielhaus, Bayreuth
1st performance of this production October 31 2010

With German and English surtitles.  ca. 5 hrs, including 2 intervals
Introductory talk, in German, in the Holzfoyer half an hour before performances begin

An exhausted man enters a stranger’s house. He's on the run and has lost his weapons. A woman tends him, telling him that she is Hunding’s wife. The stranger makes to leave. The woman asks him to stay. Hunding comes home and questions the stranger. Their guest calls himself “Woeful.” The house belonging to Wolfe, his father, was demolished, his mother killed and twin sister vanished. He and his father lived in the forest, defending themselves against their enemies until they became separated. Hunding realises that he's the man he was seeking to kill. He grants the stranger hospitality for the night but says they will do battle in the morning. Left alone, the stranger remembers that his father promised him he'd find a sword if he was in great danger. The woman, who has gaven Hunding a sleeping draught, shows him a sword that an old man thrust into the ash tree on the day she was forced to marry Hunding. She senses that the man for whom the sword was intended has arrived at last. The feeling that they were meant for each other grows. They become more and more aware of how alike they are. The woman realises that the man is her twin brother and tells him his real name: Siegmund. He pulls the sword from the tree, calling it »Nothung«. The woman says that she is Sieglinde, Siegmund’s sister and, now, his bride. ACT II The mysterious man was Wotan, the supreme god. He fathered Siegmund and Sieglinde with a mortal woman. Wotan now prepares Brünnhilde, his daughter by Erda, to stand by Siegmund in his fight against Hunding. But first the god must answer the reproaches of his wife, Fricka. She demands that Wotan punish Siegmund and Sieglinde for their adultery and incest: they have broken the laws upon which the power of the gods is founded. She reminds him that if he tolerates this breach of the law he will be undermining her authority as the guardian of marriage vows. Wotan clarifies his plan: only a free hero, one not subject to the will of the gods, can win back the Ring and the power it bestows. Siegmund was to be this hero. Fricka points out the flaw in his logic: Siegmund is his creation, his fate is steered by Wotan and therefore his actions are not free. If Siegmund breaks the laws of the gods in order to act freely, this will lead to the gods’ downfall. Wotan realises his mistake and promises Fricka the punishment she demands. Siegmund must die. Brünnhilde asks her father to explain. Wotan tells her that he wanted to bring order to the world through a system of contracts and is therefore bound to uphold them himself. Wotan may not take the Ring from Fafner, the giant, who guards it in the form of a dragon, because he is contractually bound, but the Nibelung Alberich is free to try and do so. Wotan realises his hopes that a »free hero« could help have been dashed. Wotan orders Brünnhilde to abandon Siegmund. He threatens her with terrible punishment if she rebels. Siegmund and Sieglinde are on the run. In a dreadful premonition Sieglinde sees Siegmund fall to the ground and die. Brünnhilde appears to Siegmund, telling him that he will die. He is to follow her to Valhalla, the highest honour for a fallen hero. But Siegmund would rather die with Sieglinde than leave her. Brünnhilde tells him that Sieglinde is expecting his child. Siegmund raises his sword to kill Sieglinde so that they can be united in love and death, but Brünnhilde stops him. Overcome by the depth of their love, the Walkyrie decides to go against Wotan’s wishes: Sieglinde shall live, and Siegmund too. Hunding and Siegmund fight. Wotan intervenes: Siegmund’s sword shatters on his spear. Wotan deserts his son. Siegmund dies. Brünnhilde flees with Sieglinde. Wotan kills Hunding without laying a finger on him. ACT III The Walkyries gather, escorting dead warriors to Valhalla. Brünnhilde brings Sieglinde with her and asks her sisters for protection from Wotan. None of them dare help her. Sieglinde would have rather died with Siegmund. Brünnhilde tells Sieglinde that she is pregnant, naming her unborn child Siegfried. She gives her the broken sword and helps her flee. Wotan finds his defiant Walkyrie. Brünnhilde's punishment is to be deprived of her divinity. She will lie asleep, defenceless, until a man claims her as his wife. Brünnhilde is convinced that she has only done what Wotan would have really wanted. She begs her father not to let her fall into unworthy hands. The god softens his sentence slightly, surrounding his sleeping daughter with a ring of fire that only the bravest of heroes can walk through: one who is freer than he himself.

Die Walküre is back, following on from last season's revival of Das Rheingold. The opera is about the Wälsung siblings Siegmund and Sieglinde, born to a human woman, fathered by Wotan, who haven't seen each other since they were tiny. They fall in love ... Jens Kilian on his set for the Frankfurt ring, four versatile, rotating rings: »From the cold, mystical blue of Rheingold, more natural tones come into play. The stump of the world oak, from which Wotan made his spear. The journey takes on more human dimensions. The search for true meaning continues!«.