The Norse god Wotan - like his counterparts in the south, Zeus and Jupiter - got around as they say. He wasn't named "all-father" for nothing. The second opera of Richard Wagner's Ring cycle is about three of his offspring.
First, the legitimate daughter Brünnhilde, who is a Valkyrie -a collector of the heroic dead slain in battle - and after whom this opera is named. Then there are the twins Siegmund and Sieglende, their mother is Erda - mother earth.
In one of the most unexpected of turnarounds after managing, in "Rheingold," to save Walhalla and briefly maintain dominance over the world, in "Die Walküre" it all comes undone though the humanity of the gods.
Unlike the father gods of the South, Wotan has future sight after drinking from the Urdar-well. This one drink was expensive though, and he paid by sacrificing his left eye.
It is with this wisdom and prophetic gift that Wotan hoped to outwit the forces marshaled against him, and using his children as a player would sacrifice chess pieces, finds that the ruthlessness, lies and duplicity required to keep his grip on power is finally beyond even his abilities.
Between humans and gods
A man in a fight for his life arrives at the home Sieglende and her husband Hunding. The twins reunited, Siegmund is aided by Sieglende. He recounts his escape and near death in the woods, and as they speak it is clearer and clearer that they have been destined for each other, and become lovers.
Braut und Schwester, bist du dem Bruder – Bride and sister you are to your brother
The dilemma of this encounter is revealed in what follows. In Act 2 as Wotan insists in his long dialogue with Fricka that Siegmund must be left alone to create his own destiny, she will not be fooled.
She is aware that Wotan has attempted to help the pair born of his scandalous affair with Erda. To protect her honor, Siegmund must die, and he does along with Sieglende's husband Hunding.
Ride of the Valkyries
Before that happens, Brünnhilde and the Valkyries arrive after the most famous horse ride in all music. Again Wotan recounts his dilemma, but Brünnhilde understands both what he says and what he means.
The father of the gods is overcome by a fit of compassion and humanity. He wants the couple to love and flourish, knowing of the hero and champion that will come from the union.
Brünnhilde, after meeting Siegmund on the field of battle with a pregnant and delirious sister/bride offers him a hero’s immortality - he rejects it all for the love of Sieglende. Brünnhilde is also overwhelmed by the passion and sacrifice of the hero and rebels against her father, Wotan.
Fricka is outraged and insists Wotan intervene, he does and causes the death of the very man he meant to save. Brünnhilde hides Sieglende and her precious unborn child, and after a furious confrontation with her father she is told that she is now to live as a mortal.
Beginning "War es so schmahlich," she responds: "Was my crime so shameful?" Wotan now confronts his hopeless situation, for indeed she is as she claims, "the daughter of his will."
If she is to be made a mortal it is with a superhuman protection, a ring of fire that only the greatest and bravest of heroes can breach, then he bids her a passionate, almost sixteen minute, farewell:
Leb wohl, du kuhnes, herrliches Kind! - Farewell, you dauntless, glorious, child!
The Metropolitan Opera production
Robert Lepage's production of Wagner's "Der Ring des Nibelungen" is back, on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the composer's birth. In the second installment, the focus of the story shifts from the realm of the gods to the human world. Deborah Voigt and Katarina Dalayman share the role of Brünnhilde and Mark Delavan and Greer Grimsley are Wotan. Stephanie Blythe, Martina Serafin, Simon O'Neill, and Hans-Peter König also star. Principal Conductor Fabio Luisi is on the podium.
Tune in at 10 a.m. for Wagner’s "Die Walkure," here on KPAC 88.3 FM.
- Learn more online at: ringcycle.metoperafamily.org