Siegmund collapses exhausted inside Hunding’s hut. Sieglinde, Hunding’s wife, looks after him. When Siegmund announces that he must leave since he brings misfortune wherever he goes, Sieglinde persuades him to stay.
Hunding returns. Struck by Siegmund’s resemblance to his wife, he asks the stranger his name. Siegmund is evasive but tells his life story. He describes his mother’s murder and his separation from his twin sister and ‘Wolf’, his father. He has never integrated anywhere. Just now he has tried to rescue a bride from an arranged marriage and caused the slaughter of her and her family. Hunding realises that Siegmund is speaking of his kinsmen and that Siegmund is his enemy. He warns Siegmund that although he is his guest for tonight, he should be ready to fight in the morning. Sieglinde drugs Hunding’s night-time drink.
Siegmund calls to his father for the sword he promised him if ever he was in need. Sieglinde returns and describes her wedding, at which a stranger thrust a sword into a tree. Nobody has managed to extract it; whoever does will release her from all her misery. The door of the hut opens: a perfect spring night is revealed. The feelings of the couple are overwhelming. They detect that they are brother and sister and that their father has left the sword for them. Siegmund claims the sword ‘Nothung’ and Sieglinde as his bride.
Interval of 40 minutes
Wotan orders his Valkyrie daughter, Brünnhilde, to protect Siegmund in the forthcoming fight with Hunding. As goddess of marriage, Wotan’s wife Fricka tackles her husband on Hunding’s behalf. She is incensed that he should condone the twins’ incestuous relationship; the future of the gods is at stake. Wotan counters that he has been trying to develop a spirit with free will who will do what he, as a god, is forbidden from doing. Fricka demolishes his fantasy that mortals have free will. They are made in the image of the gods and thus have no will of their own. She forces Wotan to withdraw his and Brünnhilde’s protection of Siegmund.
Wotan explains to Brünnhilde why he is angry and ashamed. His plans to create a special hero to recapture the ring and prevent it falling into Alberich’s hands have been ruined. All he can now wish for is an ending. Wotan commands Brünnhilde to ensure that Hunding kills Siegmund. Brünnhilde is confounded.
Siegmund and Sieglinde are on the run from Hunding. Sieglinde is overcome with shame and begs Siegmund to give her up. He refuses and is intent on avenging the injustice done to her by killing Hunding. Delirious, she has a premonition of Siegmund’s death and collapses.
Brünnhilde announces to Siegmund that he must die and follow her to Valhalla, leaving Sieglinde behind. He is defiant: he would rather kill Sieglinde and himself than be separated from her. Moved by Siegmund’s love for Sieglinde, Brünnhilde resolves to disobey Wotan and save Siegmund.
Brünnhilde attempts to protect Siegmund in the fight, but Wotan shatters Siegmund’s sword and Hunding kills Siegmund. Brünnhilde gathers up the pieces of the sword and escapes with Sieglinde. Wotan strikes Hunding dead and vows to punish Brünnhilde.
Interval of 30 minutes
The Valkyries assemble. Brünnhilde arrives with Sieglinde. She asks her sisters for help, but they refuse; no one is prepared to incur Wotan’s anger. Sieglinde reproaches Brünnhilde for not leaving her to die with Siegmund. The Valkyrie rouses her by telling her that she is carrying Siegmund’s son, Siegfried. Entrusting her with the fragments of Siegmund’s sword, Brünnhilde urges Sieglinde to escape.
Wotan arrives and the Valkyries shield Brünnhilde, who knows that she must face her punishment. Wotan decrees that Brünnhilde is to be stripped of her status as a Valkyrie and become mortal. She is to be put to sleep on a mountain top and claimed by the first man to discover her. Wotan dismisses the other Valkyries, forbidding them from seeing Brünnhilde again.
Brünnhilde tries to convince Wotan that in helping Siegmund she had been acting in her father’s interests. Wotan is implacable. Brünnhilde begs Wotan to encircle her with a ring of fire so only the bravest of men will claim her. Wotan agrees and summons Loge to surround her with flames.