Music by Richard Wagner
Libretto by the composer
First performed: 1876
Mime complains that Siegfried breaks every sword he makes for him. If Mime could weld the broken fragments of Siegfried’s father’s sword, Nothung, together, Siegfried could kill Fafner and Mime could get the ring for himself.
Siegfried enters and breaks the latest sword Mime has made for him. Siegfried demands a true account of his parentage. Mime tells him how, before she died, Siegfried’s mother entrusted Mime with the broken pieces of Nothung. Siegfried orders Mime to re-forge the fragments into a new sword and rushes off into the forest.
The Wanderer (in fact, Wotan in disguise) enters and proposes to share his wisdom in return for Mime’s hospitality. Mime only wants to be rid of this stranger. The Wanderer wagers his life if he cannot answer three questions that Mime puts to him. After answering all of Mime’s questions correctly, the Wanderer’s poses three questions to Mime. Mime cannot answer the final question. The Wanderer supplies the answer himself: Nothung can only be forged by a man who has never learned fear. It is to this fearless hero that Mime will lose his head. The Wanderer departs, leaving Mime in a state of terror.
Siegfried returns and Mime tries to teach him fear. Mime fails, then tells Siegfried of a dragon who can teach him to fear. Siegfried is impatient to learn. In preparation for this encounter, Siegfried sets about reforging the fragments of Nothung himself. Meanwhile, Mime devises a plan to drug Siegfried after his fight, then murder him and seize the ring for himself. Siegfried forges the sword.
Alberich watches the entrance to Fafner’s lair, hoping to regain the ring. The Wanderer enters and tells Alberich that Mime and Siegfried are on their way. The Wanderer is bound by his treaties not to attempt to get the ring for himself; Siegfried is unaware of its value, so only Mime stands in Alberich’s way. The Wanderer suggests that Alberich persuades Fafner to yield the ring to him now. They wake the dragon and warn him of the approaching danger, but Fafner is contemptuous and will not give up his treasure. The Wanderer disappears into the forest and Alberich hides.
Mime and Siegfried enter. Mime again describes Fafner’s fearsome powers, but the youth remains confident of his ability to defeat the dragon. Alone, Siegfried reflects on his mother’s fate. His attention is drawn to a bird singing. Anxious to understand the Woodbird’s song and to reply to it, Siegfried makes a rough pipe. He tries to blow on it, but his efforts are unsuccessful and instead he blows a long blast on his horn. Fafner emerges. Siegfried attacks Fafner, plunging his sword deep into Fafner’s heart. As he dies, Fafner warns Siegfried about Mime’s treacherous plans. Siegfried’s hands are covered with the dragon’s blood, which burns so hot that he puts his hands to his mouth. The moment he tastes the blood, he finds he can understand the Woodbird’s song. The Woodbird tells him of the treasure hidden within, including the magic helmet – the tarnhelm – and the ring.
Alberich and Mime return and quarrel over the treasure, but when they see Siegfried emerging from the cave with the ring and the tarnhelm they withdraw. The Woodbird warns Siegfried not to trust Mime and tells him that the dragon’s blood will have the effect of making Mime’s real meaning clear. Unaware of what he is actually saying, Mime reveals his plan. Siegfried kills him. The Woodbird tells Siegfried of Brünnhilde, asleep on a mountain top, surrounded by a wall of fire, who can be won only by a fearless hero. The Woodbird shows Siegfried the way.
The Wanderer summons the earth-goddess Erda, but she cannot help him avert the gods’ impending doom and tells him to seek answers from the Norns, the weavers of the rope of destiny, or from their own daughter, Brünnhilde. When the Wanderer speaks of Brünnhilde’s disobedience, Erda accuses him of hypocrisy. He has decided to relinquish his power freely to the hero who is his heir: Siegfried will awaken Brünnhilde and she will redeem the world from the ring’s curse.
Guided by the Woodbird, Siegfried enters and the Wanderer questions him about the events that have led him on his present quest. He tries to bar Siegfried’s way by stretching out his spear, but Siegfried shatters the spear with his sword.
Siegfried has passed through the wall of fire that surrounds Brünnhilde. At first he is confused by what he sees, then overcome by Brünnhilde’s beauty he kisses her awake. Brünnhilde asks the name of the hero who has rescued her. When Siegfried tries to embrace her, she is afraid. She recalls her days in Valhalla and is momentarily horrified by the shame and disgrace of now becoming mortal and yielding to a man. The strength of Siegfried’s feelings breaks down her reticence and she returns his embraces. They swear eternal love.
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