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Das Rheingold

Richard Wagner 1813-1883

The eve of Der Ring des Nibelungen
Libretto by the composer
First performed September 22 1869, Royal Court and National Theatre, Munich
First performed as part of a Ring cycle August 13 1876, Festspielhaus, Bayreuth
(premiere of this production: May 2 2010)

Sung in German with English & German surtitles
ca. 2 hours 30 minutes, with no interval
an introductory talk, in German, begins in the upstairs foyer 30 minutes before every performance  

Looking at the sea in the early autumn of 1853 Wagner had »the feeling that I was being sucked into its strong current«. The sound of this water can be heard at the beginning of the Ring des Nibelungen in a 140 bar long passage of powerful, surging, E flat. Wagner ruminated upon how the world was created and wanted to get to the bottom of the beginning and end of all things in Das Rheingold, which was nearly calledThe Theft of the Rhine's Gold. The Ring which Alberich made from the gold which could only be possessed by one prepared to renounce love, gave it's owner power over the world. It is not returned to its rightful home, the Rhine, until the end of Götterdämmerung. The director Vera Nemirova felt it was important to create a parable about human civilisation in her highly praised production (available on CD & DVD – OehmsClassics). Their downfall is their own fault - not caused by the elements of water, fire, earth and air.

Wotan sacrificed an eye to drink from the fountain of knowledge. He made a spear from a branch of the world-ash-tree, into which he carved runes describing the order he has brought to the world. The Rhine Rhinemaidens play in the water. Alberich watches them. They make fun of him, flirt with him, rebuff him. The Rheingold gleams on the river bed. The Rhinemaidens explain the gold’s magical powers: he who is willing to renounce love can forge a ring from the gold which will bestow limitless power. Feeling rejected and humiliated Alberich curses love and steals the gold. Mountain top Wotan, woken by his wife Fricka, sees that the gods’ castle has been finished. He is delighted, Fricka anxious, because Wotan sold her sister Freia to the giants Fasolt and Fafner in return for building it. Wotan says that Loge, who advised him to enter into this contract, is supposed to be finding a way out of it. The giants come, demanding payment. Wotan denies that he was serious about the contract. Fasolt reminds the god that his power is only founded upon contracts. If Wotan does not honour them then he is putting peace in jeopardy. Fasolt wants Freia as his wife. Fafner knows that if the gods lose Freia they will be robbed of eternal youth and, eventually, power. The gods and giants argue. Loge arrives. During his search for a replacement for Freia he has realised that there is nothing in the world of greater worth to a man than »a woman’s beauty and love«. Only one man has renounced it: Alberich. Loge passes on to Wotan the Rhinemaidens plea for help in restoring the gold to the Rhine.Wotan, Fricka and the giants long to possess the gold when Loge tells them about the power the Ring bestows. The giants agree to accept the gold in return for Freia, keeping her with them as forfeit until payment as been made. The gods begin to age immediately. Wotan climbs down to Nibelheim with Loge to steal the gold from Alberich. Subterranean cavern Since forging the Ring Alberich now rules over the Nibelungs. He forced his brother Mime to make a magic helmet. Alberich can now make himself invisible. Wotan and Loge find out from Mime about the Nibelungs suffering. Loge coaxes Alberich into divulging his plans: he intends to use his gold to control the world. He then taunts Alberich into proving that the helmet has magical powers. Alberich turns himself into a giant worm and then a toad. Wotan grabs the toad, Loge removes the helmet, they tie up Alberich and drag him away. Mountain top Alberich must hand over the gold and helmet if he wants to be set free. But Alberich does not want to give up the Ring yet. Wotan takes it from him by force and releases him. The Nibelung greets his freedom with a curse: possession of the Ring will result in death. Wotan doesn't  take this seriously. The giants return with Freia. They insist the gold be piled up until it covers Freia’s shape. Loge is forced to hand over the helmet when her hair is still visible. When Fasolt can still see one of her eyes Fafner demands the Ring to cover it up. Wotan intends to keep the Ring for himself. Fasolt is preparing to leave with Freia. Erda appears, warning Wotan about the dangers the Ring brings with it and prophesies the downfall of the gods. Wotan wants her to tell him more but is held back by the other gods. He gives up the Ring. Freia is saved. The giants argue over the treasure. Loge tells Fasolt to just take the Ring. Fafner, wanting it for himself, kills his brother: the curse has found its first victim. Donner summons up a cleansing thunder storm. Froh sees a rainbow which will lead them to the castle. Wotan calls the castle Walhall. Loge watches them enter their new home. He knows their days are numbered. From the depths of the river the Rhinemaidens can be heard, mourning the lost gold.