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Siegfried

Musical synopsis with Alain Altinoglu

Sébastien Herbecq & Thomas Van Deursen
Reading time
6 min.

The saga of the Ring continues... Read the full synopsis of Siegfried and listen to some of the work’s musical highlights, selected and illuminated by conductor Alain Altinoglu.

Previously

Alberich stole the Rhinegold to forge a ring that grants the power to rule the world. The supreme god, Wotan, then took it from him to pay the giants Fasolt and Fafner for building his splendid home. In a final act of revenge, Alberich put a curse on the ring. Fafner, who killed his brother Fasolt to get his hands on the treasure, is now in possession of the ring.

Brother and sister Siegmund and Sieglinde, fraternal twins separated at birth, met by chance and fell madly in love. However, their incestuous union was rejected by Frika, Wotan’s wife, all the more as Sieglinde was already married to Hagen. During a fight between Hagen and Siegmund, Wotan’s favourite daughter, Brünnhilde, disobeyed her father to protect the young couple. Wotan then killed Siegmund and condemned his daughter to become a mere mortal. Before abandoning her, he put her to sleep on a rock ringed by flames that only the hero who is not afraid of Wotan’s spear will be able to cross.

ACT 1

Scene 1

In the forest, Mime’s cave houses a forge. This Nibelung, Alberich’s brother, is busy making a sword for Siegfried, the son of Sieglinde and Siegmund, whom he took in as a child and who knows nothing of his past or his origins. The cunning Mime is counting on this hero of spectacular strength to kill the giant Fafner (who has now been transformed into a dragon) and thus recover the ring and the rest of the Nibelung treasure. Alas, all the swords forged by the blacksmith are immediately broken by the brave young man, who then maliciously mocks the man who raised him.
Realizing that he bears no resemblance to Mime, Siegfried wants to know more about his parents. The Nibelung reveals that he took in his pregnant mother, Sieglinde, who died after giving birth to Siegfried. Mime, however, does not know the identity of the young man’s father. All he can do is show him the pieces of the broken sword (Nothung) that his father was holding in battle at the time of his death. Enthused, Siegfried orders Mime to reforge the sword. He then sets off into the forest. Alone, Mime is forced to admit that his knowledge will not be enough to make the precious iron.

Scene 2

A Wanderer concealing his identity asks Mime for hospitality. The stranger – in reality Wotan, the supreme god, in disguise – tells the blacksmith that he can teach him what he needs to know and, as proof of his good faith, pledges his own head. Impressed by the Wanderer’s self-confidence, Mime asks him three trivial questions, which Wotan easily answers. The god then turns the tables: it is his turn now to question the Nibelung three times. One wrong answer and Mime will die. Mime manages to answer the first two questions. The Wanderer then asks him, ‘Who will weld back together the sword Nothung out of the broken pieces?’ Terrified, Mime is unable to reply. ‘Only he who has never known fear will forge back Nothung’, the Wanderer announces before disappearing into the forest, leaving Mime stunned.

Scene 3

Disturbed by what he has just experienced, Mime thinks he sees the dragon Fafner. He is brought back to reality by Siegfried, who sees that his sword has still not been forged. Still pensive and aware of Siegfried’s strength, Mime realizes that he has never taught his protégé what fear is and decides to evoke this feeling. He then makes the young boy believe that, without fear, he will not be able to wander the world as he wishes and that only a confrontation with Fafner will stir this feeling in him. Siegfried agrees to face the opponent assigned to him and, seized by a sudden fit of enthusiasm, decides to reforge Nothung himself. Mime takes the opportunity to concoct a powerful sleeping potion which he will give to Siegfried after his fight. Once the boy is asleep, he will easily be able to recover the gold and the ring. While Mime is up to his machinations, Siegfried emerges, proudly holding up the now reconstituted Nothung.

ACT 2

Scene 1

Deep in the forest, near Fafner’s cave, Alberich takes advantage of the dark night to approach the dragon’s lair and therefore the treasure he lost earlier. The Wanderer is also lurking close by. Alberich and Wotan recognize each other immediately. The supreme god warns his former enemy that Mime is going to come with a young man who is supposed to kill the dragon and thus enable him to recover the gold and the ring. Woken by their discussion, Fafner mocks Wotan’s fears, even though Wotan warns him of the imminent arrival of a hero ready to do anything to defeat him.

Scene 2

At daybreak, Siegfried and Mime arrive at the cave. Mime decides to leave Siegfried alone and warns him that the dragon is soon going to awaken. The boy thinks of his parents, especially his mother, whose appearance he cannot imagine. The chirping of a bird snaps him out of his reverie. Eager to communicate with the animal, Siegfried carves a pipe from a reed. Blowing into the instrument, he awakens Fafner, who, just as he is about to devour him, is pierced by Nothung. Pulling the blade from the dragon’s side, Siegfried realizes that he still has not felt fear and that his hand is stained with the blood of the fabulous animal. He brings it to his lips and immediately understands the language of the bird in the forest. The bird invites him to enter the cave and retrieve the treasure and the ring. The bird tells him that with this treasure he will control the world. Following the bird’s advice, Siegfried enters the cave.

Scene 3

Casting fearful glances around him, Mime cautiously approaches the dragon to check that it is dead. Alberich observes his brother, and an altercation ensues between the two Nibelungen, who do not intend to share the treasure. Armed with the magic helmet and ring, Siegfried emerges from the dragon’s lair, causing Alberich to flee and Mime to hide. The bird encourages the young man to pay attention to the double meaning of Mime’s words, who returns to him as if nothing had happened. While the blacksmith exchanges pleasantries, his protégé understands what Mime is not saying: he plans to kill him after making him drink a powerful narcotic. In a fit of disgust, he strikes Mime, who falls dead at his feet. The bird then intones a new ritornello: a woman, Brünnhilde, asleep on a rock surrounded by flames. Only he who knows no fear will be able to wake her. Siegfried instructs the bird to show him the way and joyfully runs after it.

ACT 3

Scene 1

At the foot of the rocky mountain where sleeps Brünnhilde, the daughter of Wotan and Erda (the goddess of the Earth), the Wanderer summons Erda. He wants to know the future of the world, but ever since the fall of her daughter, Erda is no longer able to share her visions. Revealing his identity to her, Wotan confesses to the deity that he only wants one thing more: the twilight of the gods. His heritage is now in Siegfried’s hands, and the redemption of the gods will be accomplished by Brünnhilde. Erda sinks into sleep and disappears.

Scene 2

Wotan is joined by Siegfried, who has just lost track of the bird. Searching for the way, the boy asks the Wanderer where the rock is on which a young woman is asleep. Instead of answering, the god asks the boy more questions, so much so that Siegfried loses his temper and becomes increasingly insolent. Wotan, who is blocking the path to the rock with the spear, reveals to Siegfried that the spear has already shattered Nothung. Wishing to avenge his father, Siegfried breaks Wotan’s spear with a violent blow from his sword and sets off for the rock. The supreme god disappears.

Scene 3

At the top of the mountain, Siegfried discovers a sleeping body. After removing the armour, helmet and weapons protecting the sleeper, he catches a glimpse of Brünnhilde’s face and is immediately overcome by anxiety: the young hero experiences fear for the first time. Moving closer, he presses his lips to those of the former Valkyrie, who awakes from her long sleep. Brünnhilde realizes that she is in the presence of Sieglinde’s son, the child whose birth she favoured by protecting his mother from Wotan’s fury. She is ecstatic. The two lovers celebrate their budding love and promise to be each other’s ‘one and only’.

Translation: Patrick Lennon