Wagner: Das Rheingold

DAS RHEINGOLD: Music and Video

POV's Best of Youtube

Explore the music and drama of Wagner's Das Rheingold through these selections from Youtube.



Scene 1: The Rhinemaidens, Lugt, Schwestern!

In the opening scene of the opera, the three Rhinemaidens frolic in the water. Alberich, a Nibelung dwarf, approaches, hoping to seduce one of the three sisters (he isn't particular which one). They flirt cruelly with him, each in turn leading him on, flattering him, then insulting him and eluding his grasp until he is left furious and exhausted.

As the video begins, the glow of the sun suddenly shines on the gold, and the Rhinemaidens praise the radiant treasure.

Lugt, Schwestern! Die Weckerin lacht in den Grund ...
   Look, sisters! The sunlight is greeting the gold ...
   Rhinegold! Rhinegold!
   Radiant joy! We laugh in your joyful shine!
   Glorious beams that glitter and gleam in the waves!

Alberich asks what it is that shines so, and they begin to tell him about the treasure they are guarding. Anyone who seizes the Rhine gold and fashions it into a ring will attain world domination and all the wealth that comes with it. However, the Rhinegold can be obtained only by someone who is willing to renounce love.

The Rhinemaidens are confident that the lustful Alberich is the last creature on earth who would give up a chance at love. But by now Alberich feels he has nothing to lose. Before he leaves them, he will curse love and steal the gold.

In this production from Dalhalla in Sweden, the Rhinemaidens actually swim, rather than standing on stage or being suspended from wires. The theatre is at Draggängarna, a former limestone quarry in the county of Dalarna in central Sweden, which opened in 1994 as a summer music venue with 4,000 seats and spectacular acoustics. The venue was renamed Dalhalla, in reference to Wagner's Valhalla. With its magnificent natural setting of water and rock, Dalhalla makes a perfect stage for Das Rheingold, which was presented there in 2013, the 200th anniversary of Wagner's birth.

See an aerial view of Dalhalla.

This production was directed by Marcus Jupither, with set and costume design by Monika Frelin. Ola Eliasson is Alberich, with Vivianne Holmberg as Woglinde, Cornelia Beskow as Wellgunde, and Beatrice Orler as Flosshilde.

The entire Prelude and first scene of the Dalhalla production (24 minutes) is available on Youtube and shows more of this extraordinary setting.


Scene 2: Entrance of the Giants

Wotan, leader of the gods, has hired two giants, Fafner and Fasolt, to build him a magnificent mountaintop fortress and has promised them his sister-in-law Freia as payment. However, he knows this is a very bad bargain – for Freia grows the golden apples that keep the gods young and strong. If she is gone, Wotan and his family (his wife Fricka and her brothers Froh and Donner) will lose their beauty and strength and will wither and die.

The giants have now come to collect their pay.

Note the unmistakable Leitmotif of the giants: the ominous, stomping music tells us instantly that Fafner and Fasolt are immensely strong and not to be trifled with.

This scene is from a striking production by the Catalan theatre company La Fura dels Baus. This was a 2007 co-production between the Palau de les Arts de Valencia and Maggio Musicale Fiorentino (an annual arts festival in Florence, Italy). Zubin Mehta conducts the Orquestra De La Communitat Valenciana. The stage director is Carlus Padrissa. This production was also staged by Houston Grand Opera in April 2014.


Scene 2: Loge, Immer ist Undank Loges lohn

Loge is a demi-god, who doesn't quite fit in with the rest of the gods. In creating the character of Loge, Wagner combined two Norse gods: Logi, the fire spirit, and Loki, a wily trickster. Loge is brilliant, mercurial, and unpredictable – as a result, he drives the gods nuts.

Wotan and his family have been holding Fafner and Fasolt at bay while waiting impatiently for Loge to show up, for they are counting on him to come up with a scheme to get them out of the disastrous contract with the giants.

Loge finally appears, and Wotan demands to know how he plans to keep Freia at Valhalla. When Loge insists that he had promised only to think about how to save Freia, the family insult him, and Froh tells him his name should be not Loge but Lüge (Liar). Aggrieved that his valiant efforts to help are met with neither thanks nor praise, Loge tells the gods of his unstinting efforts to find something that the giants would prize more than a woman's beauty and love.

Given Loge's irreverent, mephistophelian character, it's startling to hear how lyrical this solo is. It is the closest thing to a romantic aria in the opera.

Immer ist Undank Loges lohn
   Ingratitude ever is Loge's wage!
   For your sake alone, I looked all around me,
   Stormily scouring the ends of the earth,
   seeking a ransom for Freia that the giants might approve...

So weit Leben und Weben, in Wasser, Erd' und Luft,
   Wherever there's life and breath in water, earth, and air,
   I asked ... what might man deem mightier
   than woman's delights and worth?
   Only one man I saw who foreswore love's delights

Loge recounts the story he heard from the Rhinemaidens about Alberich and the theft of the Rhinegold. The Rhinemaidens have begged him to persuade Wotan to avenge them and give them back their gold.

This revelation will allow Wotan to strike a new bargain with the giants, who are old enemies of Alberich. Wotan and Loge will steal the wealth that Alberich is amassing through the power of the ring, and they will give it to the giants who, in the meantime, will hold onto Freia as a hostage. Loge will continue to press for Wotan to return the ring to the Rhinemaidens, but Wotan already covets the ring for himself.

Peter Schreier is magnificent as Loge in this 1978 studio production with Herbert von Karajan conducting the Berliner Philharmoniker


Scene 3: Loge's trick to capture Alberich

Wotan and Loge have descended into the deep caverns of Nibelheim, where Alberich has used the power of the ring to enslave the Nibelungs. He is driving them to mine gold, forge it, and pile up ever more treasure for their master.

Alberich has also forced his brother Mime to forge him a magic helmet, the Tarnhelm, which gives the wearer the power to become invisible or to change shape.

Loge asks Alberich for a demonstration of this marvellous helmet. Alberich puts on the Tarnhelm and is transformed into a dragon. Loge is suitably terrified, but then expresses skepticism: it would be useful if Alberich could become tiny in order to hide from danger in the smallest of crevices – but that surely would be too hard to do. Unable to resist the challenge, Alberich turns himself into a toad – and Wotan and Loge pounce on the creature, capturing it.

Wotan and Loge return to the mountaintop with their prisoner. They force Alberich to summon the Nibelungs to bring up the hoard of gold. Finally, Wotan seizes the ring from Alberich's finger and then releases him. Before he leaves, Alberich places a fatal curse on the ring, promising that all who wear it will meet their doom.

This scene is from the famous 1976 Bayreuth production marking the centennial of the Ring Cycle's première. Directed by Patrice Chéreau and conducted by Pierre Boulez, it created a furor at the time with sets that evoke the industrial revolution, including a hydroelectric dam in the opening scene. Chéreau's interpretation focuses on policital and economic issues and the theme of power and its ability to corrupt – not unlike the socialist perspective George Bernard Shaw presented in The Perfect Wagnerite, his 1898 commentary on the Ring Cycle.
In this scene, Heinz Zednik is Loge. Donald McIntyre is Wotan, and Hermann Becht is Alberich.


Scene 4: Donner, Heda! Heda! Hedo!

Donner (Thor in Norse mythology) is associated with thunder, lightning, and storms. Thor is a powerful, red-bearded warrier, rather like a northern version of Hercules. His weapon of choice is his mighty hammer, Mjölnir, which was forged by dwarves and is so heavy that only Thor can lift it. Lightning flashes whenever Thor throws his hammer, and like a boomerang, it always returns to his hand. Thor/Donner lives on in the English word for "Thursday" (in German, his day is known as "Donnerstag" – Donner's Day).

In Das Rheingold, Donner usually behaves as a blustering, hot-headed young thug, ready to pick a fight on any pretext. But he has one great moment when he uses his powers to conjure up a thunderstorm.

At this point in the opera, Wotan has given the Nibelung treasure to the giants, who have also demanded the Tarnhelm and the ring. Alberich's curse has shown its power: the giants have quarreled over the ring, and Fafner has killed Fasolt before departing with Freia's ransom.

Now it is time for the gods to enter their new home, Valhalla, which is shrouded in mist. Donner uses the power of his hammer to gather the mists into a great cloud and with thunder and lightning to sweep all the fog away and clear the air.

Heda! Heda! Hedo! Zu mir, du Gedüft!
   Heda! Heda! Hedo! Now come to my call!
   You vapours, to me!
   Donner, your lord,
   summons you here!
   As my hammer swings, sweep from the sky:
   vapours and cloud, wandering fog!

Once the stormclouds lift, Froh will create a rainbow bridge to lead the gods into Valhalla. Wotan will already be devising a plan to regain the ring. Loge will contemplate his options – for he senses the gods are rushing toward their downfall, and he is tempted to turn himself back into fire and destroy them now. The opera ends with the lament of the Rhinemaidens mourning their lost Rhinegold.

Alan Held is Donner in this scene from a 1990 staging of Otto Schenk's production of Das Rheingold. The Otto Schenk production of the Ring Cycle was staged at the Metropolitan Opera from 1986 until 2009. It was inspired by drawings for an 1897 staging at Bayreuth and followed Wagner's original stage directions very closely.


Metropolitan Opera trailer for Das Rheingold, directed by Canadian theatre artist Robert Lepage

Beginning in 2010, the Metropolitan Opera replaced the classic Otto Schenk staging with a new production by Robert Lepage, a Canadian multimedia wizard, best known for his Cirque du Soleil extravaganzas. The heart of the 45-ton, high-tech set was "the Machine," a rack of 24 hydraulic-powered alumininum planks that rose and fell like twisting piano keys to evoke the rippling Rhine, the depths of Nibelheim, the rainbow bridge, the walls of Valhalla. This trailer shows scenes of the Rhinemaidens, the entrance of the giants, the descent of Wotan and Loge into Nibelheim, Alberich transformed into the dragon, Thor wielding his hammer to create the storm, and the finale, when the gods cross the rainbow bridge to enter Valhalla.

The series was presented in installments during the 2010/11 and 2011/12 seasons, with the complete Ring Cycle premiering in April, 2012.



Introduction to Leitmotifs in Das Rheingold

This playlist of 43 very short orchestral excerpts is a perfect introduction to the major Leitmotifs in the opera. Mouse over the video screen to see the name of each Leitmotif. As you listen, you can also follow the score. You will already recognize some of these excerpts if you've viewed the videos from the opera. Note how well each Leitmotif encapsulates its mood and meaning.

To learn more about each motif, click on the "watch on Youtube" link near the bottom right of the video screen. This will take you to Youtube where you can also read the "about" section for each Leitmotif. Here you will find an explanation of when in the opera the theme is first heard and a discussion of the motif, including its role in the other Ring operas. As each excerpt is very short and followed immediately by the next, you may wish to pause the video while you read the text that accompanies each motif.



An Irreverent Introduction: Anna Russell and Wagner's Ring, part 1

There is surely no more humorous introduction to Wagner's Ring Cycle than Anna Russell's inimitable retelling of the story. The English-Canadian comedienne plays and sings her way through the 15-hour epic in less than half an hour, introducing the story, characters, and musical motifs.

Above is part one of Wagner's Ring from a PBS recording of Anna Russell's (first) farewell tour in 1984. This part covers Das Rheingold. You'll meet the Rheinmaidens "a sort of an aquatic Andrews Sisters", Alberich ("he's perfectly ghastly"), Wotan, the "head god," his wife, Mrs. Fricka Wotan ("a frightful nag"), and her "yummy" sister Freia.

Below, the saga continues: Part 2 covers the rest of Das Rheingold, as well as the next opera in the Cycle, Die Walküre, and the first part of Siegfried. In Part 3, Anna Russell completes the story of Siegfried ("a regular little Abner type") and gives us the lowdown on the final opera in the Cycle, Götterdämmerung.

And she's not making this up, you know!

Anna Russell and Wagner's Ring, part 2

Anna Russell and Wagner's Ring, part 3


What's Opera, Doc?

If the player doesn't work, try watching the video directly at Archive.org

This classic 1957 cartoon, directed by Chuck Jones for Warner Brothers, was the very first opera experience for many, many children and is widely considered one of the best cartoons ever.

Another chapter in the the long-running battle between Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny, it contains excerpts from a number of Wagner's operas, notably the second and third operas of the Ring Cycle, Die Walküre and Siegfried. The famous "Ride of the Valkyries" becomes Elmer Fudd's anthem, "Kill the Wabbit," and Fudd, playing Siegfried, falls madly in love with Brünnhilde (Bugs Bunny in disguise). When Bugs' disguise slips, an enraged Fudd smites the Wabbit, but then remorsefully carries Bugs up to Valhalla.

The music also quotes from The Flying Dutchman and Tannhäuser (the love songs O Bwünnhilde, you'w so wuvwy and Return my love are both from Tannhäuser).

American film and television critic Matt Zoller Seitz said of What's Opera, Doc?

It is – in my scientifically quantifiable, absolutely objective opinion ... as perfect as a movie, any movie, can get. It's a peerless example of what it means to make every screen second count; pure entertainment that doubles as a conscientious tour of Wagner's catchiest melodies ... a compact tutorial in visionary filmmaking; a cartoon encyclopedia of tragic-operatic cliches that confirms the transformative potential of animation, comedy, music, theater and mythology while showcasing what is – scientifically quantifiable, indisputably objective fact coming at ya, folks – Bugs' greatest drag performance ever.

Video from Internet Archive, a non-profit digital library of Internet sites and other cultural artifacts in digital form



Wagner's 15-hour Ring Cycle...in two and a half minutes

A fast-talking Aussie tells the story of the Ring Cycle in cartoons, courtesy of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra


Maureen Woodall



Explore Das Rheingold


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Coming from out of town? We recommend the Chateau Victoria, our host hotel. For special discount subscriber rates, contact them directly at 1.800.663.5891.