The Rhine Gold, Opera by R. Wagner

Das Rheingold is the work that launches the greatest operatic saga of them all, Richard Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelung. Comprising no less than four operas, the Ring is a work whose sheer scale and ambition has never been equalled. Drawing its inspiration from the German epic poem, The Song of the Nibelungs, Wagner’s operatic cycle deals in the foibles of gods whose attempts to exert their influence over the world are undone by their all-too-human fallibilities. Premiered at the Königliches Hof- und Nationaltheater in Munich on 22 September 1869, Das Rheingold sets up the narrative for the entire story.

Craving its power, Alberich, a Nibelung dwarf, steals the Rhinegold. But there is a consequence for his crime: he will never know love. Meanwhile, the giants Fafner and Fasolt come to exact the price for building the gods’ citadel, Valhalla, but Freia, the agreed prize for their efforts, is also the source of the gods’ immortality. Their leader Wotan must find an alternative: he proposes that the giants accept Alberich’s gold instead.

The dwarf has enslaved his own people, mining more and more of the precious metal to add to his hoard. Learning of its magic, Wotan hopes to retain the ring Alberich has forged from the gold, the source of his dominion over the Nibelung. When he succeeds in capturing the ring, Alberich curses it, declaring that it will bring death to all who own it. When the earth goddess Erda appears, confirming Alberich’s curse, Wotan must decide whether to keep the ring or relinquish it to the giants.

Now in performance at the Wiener Staatsoper, Das Rheingold perfectly expresses Wagner’s fascination with the drama of his source. Teasingly Wagner sometimes claimed that he had little control over his motifs and melodies, inferring that they came to him almost out of thin air: true or not, what Wagner asserts is a wonderful metaphor for the ethereal beauty of his music.

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