OPERA IN A MINUTE After poisoned drinks, mistaken identities and much deception, Brünnhilde and Siegfried are reunited in love and death. The world of the gods goes up in flames and nature reasserts itself. The cycle of life starts once more.
FULL-LENGTH SYNOPSIS Prelude Three Norns spin the Rope of Fate, which binds the past, present and future. They recall when a young Wotan visited the World Ash Tree, seeking wisdom from the well beneath the tree. He paid with the loss of an eye, and took as his reward a spear broken from the tree itself, upon which he inscribed his contract with Nature. When the spear shattered, the well dried up and the tree withered and died. Wotan's warriors have chopped down the tree and gathered the wood around Valhalla. Wotan will soon set the world aflame. As the Norns wonder what will happen next, the Rope frays and breaks. Their power gone, they descend into the earth in search of their mother, the earth goddess Erda. As dawn breaks, Siegfried sets out from his home in search of adventure. Brünnhilde bids him a loving farewell. As he departs, Siegfried gives Brünnhilde the Ring. ACT I Scene i: In the Hall of the Gibichungs, where Gunther and his sister Gutrune rule, Gunther consults with his half-brother Hagen. Both Gunther and his sister are lamentably single, and unsure of where to find suitable matches. Hagen suggests Brünnhilde for Gunther and Siegfried for Gutrune. He tells of Siegfried's great feats and convinces the siblings to use a magical potion that will secure the hero’s support. On his path to adventure, Siegfried arrives and the plan is put into motion. Scene ii: Siegfried introduces himself to the Gibichungs, and shows them his sword, Nothung, and his helmet, Tarnhelm. The Ring, he says, is with Brünnhilde. Gutrune hands Siegfried the magic drink. As he drinks it, he forgets Brünnhilde entirely and falls in love with Gutrune. Siegfried volunteers to help Gunther find a wife. Gunther suggests they seek out Brünnhilde, and Siegfried agrees. They swear a bond of blood-brotherhood to one another. As they depart, Hagen congratulates himself on his success and departs to keep watch for their return. Scene iii: Brünnhilde is visited by her sister, the Valkyrie Waltraute, who tells her that Wotan is lost since he imprisoned Brünnhilde in the ring of fire. He sits on his throne clutching his shattered spear. Waltraute explains that the only thing that can possibly save the gods now is the return of the Ring to the Rhinemaidens. Brünnhilde refuses to part with it, and Waltraute leaves in despair. As evening falls, Siegfried returns, disguised by the Tarnhelm to resemble Gunther. He seizes the Ring from Brünnhilde and claims her as Gunther's bride. ACT II Scene i: While on night watch at Gibichung hall, Hagen is haunted by the spirit of his father—Alberich the Nibelung. He promises to obtain the Ring from Siegfried, so that he and Alberich can rule the world together. Alberich curses Wotan. Scene ii: Aided by the magic of the Tarnhelm, Siegfried appears and brings news of Brünnhilde's capture. Hagen calls for Gutrune and commands that preparations begin for a double wedding. Scene iii: Hagen calls the vassals to Gibichungs, armed. When they arrive, he announces the weddings and orders a celebration. Scene iv: Gunther and Brünnhilde arrive, escorted by vassals. Gunther leads Brünnhilde into the hall, and introduces her to his sister and her betrothed. Brünnhilde reacts violently upon seeing Siegfried, astonished that he has forgotten her. She spots the Ring on Siegfried's hand and discovers that it was he who came to her, not Gunther. She tells the packed hall that she and Siegfried have been lovers. He denies it, and suggests they allow Brünnhilde some time to recover. Scene v: Confused and believing herself betrayed, Brünnhilde succumbs to Hagen's guile and reveals Siegfried's only vulnerability—a blow to his back can kill him. Gunther joins in the murder plot and, as the three contemplate the hero's downfall, Siegfried and Gutrune's wedding procession passes by. ACT III Scene i: The Rhinemaidens Woglinde, Wellgunde and Flosshilde, stand at the banks of the Rhine bewailing the loss of their gold. Siegfried approaches, having wandered from his hunting party. The Rhinemaidens attempt to tease Siegfried into handing over the Ring, but fail. They tell him of the Ring's curse, but Siegfried doesn't believe them. The Rhinemaidens go in search of Brünnhilde as the hunting party arrives. Scene ii: Wine and food is brought out, and the men ask Siegfried about his exploits. Hagen adds an herb to Siegfried's drink causing Siegfried to tell an astonished Gunther about his rescue of Brünnhilde. Hagen uses the distraction to stab Siegfried in the back. As Hagen slinks away, Siegfried begs Brünnhilde's forgiveness and dies. Above, two ravens take flight, returning to Wotan to tell him the end has come. Scene iii: Gutrune awaits the return of her husband; instead Hagen enters followed by a funeral procession. Hagen tells her that her husband is dead, killed by a bear. Through her grief, Gutrune realizes Hagen has lied, and accuses her brother Gunther of murder. Hagen confesses to the murder and attempts to take the Ring from Siegfried's finger, but Gunther stops him, claiming the Ring is rightfully Gutrune's. Challenging Gunther to a fight, Hagen slays him. He reaches once again for the Ring, but this time Brünnhilde stops him. She has learned everything from the Rhinemaidens, tells Gutrune the truth about her relationship with Siegfried and reveals Hagen's part in the death plot. Shamed, Gutrune curses Hagen. Brünnhilde orders the vassals to prepare a funeral pyre for Siegfried. As the men place Siegfried onto the pyre, Brünnhilde takes the Ring from his finger. Placing it on her finger, she lights the pyre and throws herself upon it. The Rhine overflows its banks; the Rhinemaidens regain their gold and drag the greedy Hagen beneath the waves. In the sky, flames consume Valhalla.
Mats Almgren as Hagen and the COC chorus in Götterdämmerung (COC, 2006). Photo: Michael Cooper