The circle closes

The fire, flood and apocalypse of the last scene of Götterdämmerung are a major challenge to stage. Here’s the 1992 Bayreuth solution to the multiple problems of the horse, Grane; the funeral pyre; inundation; and the destruction of Valhalla: (The Harry Kupfer and Daniel Barenboim Ring. Bayreuth 1992. Götterdämmerung Act 3 Scene 3 Immolation Scene Anne Evans: Brunnhilde […]

The beginning of the end

Götterdämmerung begins with a prologue: the Norns, daughters of Erde; spinners of past, present and future, weave their golden rope by night. To their horror and astonishment, the rope breaks; in consternation they sink into the depths of the earth, seeking their mother. Siegfried and Brünnhilde enter… (First half of Götterdämmerung, with Siegfried Jerusalem in […]

The triumph of the Volsung

Siegfried, having slain the dragon and dispatched the treacherous Mime, must survive an encounter with Wotan, who bars with his spear the hero’s path to the fire-enveloped, sleeping Brünnhilde. (Last act of Siegfried, with Siegfried Jerusalem in the title role. James Levine leads the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra – 1990 production directed by Otto Schenk.) Twelve years […]

A deadly quiz

Years have passed and Siegfried, child of Siegmund and Sieglinde (Sieglinde having died in childbirth), has been brought up in the care of the dwarf Mime, Alberich’s brother. The climax of Act I is a forging scene when Siegfried, with Mime plotting and scheming  in the background, reforges his father’s sword, Nothung. (Conclusion of the first act […]

Wotans Abschied

The exquisite beauty of Wotan’s farewell to his daughter, the valkyrie Brünnhilde, is one of the high points of the Ring Cycle†: (it’s sung here by James Morris in the 1990 Metropolitan Opera production – the DVD has been released by Deutsche Grammophon) The scene gives us fine examples of Wagner’s use of the leit-motif… …and chromatic […]


At the opening of the second music drama of the Ring cycle – The Valkyrie – we enter, for the first time, the world of human beings. Siegmund is a fugitive; Sieglinde gives him shelter… Nothung [Needful] the sword General course materials: Keyboard Cycle of 5ths Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as “fair use/dealing”, for the […]

Ye gods!

  The gold has been stolen, the Rhine maidens are distraught. But it’s not only in the depths of the Rhine that the inexorable nemesis of the Ring is beginning its dark stirrings. Wotan has commissioned the giants, Fafner and Fasolt to build Valhalla – a home for the gods and the heavenly reward of […]

What is a leitmotif?

  Fifteen hours (or thereabouts, depending on the conductor) of music, spread over four nights, woven from an intricate, cross-referenced nexus of small melodic cells and chord progressions (leitmotifs), Wagner’s Ring Cycle is considered by many to be one of the greatest and most influential works of the nineteenth century. It can, however –mainly due […]