Siegfried is the third part of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen. The title character is the central heroic figure of the Ring cycle, the offspring of the union of Siegmund and Sieglinde (in Die Walküre). This part of the cycle follows him as he discovers his potential for heroism. At the beginning of the drama he is living in the woods with Mime, the Nibelung dwarf, wondering why he has no mother and what Mime means by “fear”. By the end of the drama he has re-forged his father’s sword, slain Mime, slain the dragon, recovered the Ring, broken the power of the gods, and rescued the maiden Brünnhilde from her fire-guarded sleep. And he’s not even tired.
I believe that the main dramatic development, within the context of the Ring cycle as a whole, is the Act III confrontation between Wotan (disguised as a Wanderer) and Siegfried, in which Siegfried’s newly forged sword shatters Wotan’s spear. Here we have the conflict between two of the central symbols of the drama. Wotan’s spear has represented Law, and in particular Wotan’s power as Law-giver. Siegfried’s sword represents — well, I’m not entirely sure, but it’s not Law. Maybe Love, or Nature, or Man. Anyway, the triumph of the sword over the spear marks the onset of the twilight of the gods and the rise of the heroic man, which will be the theme of the fourth and final part of the Ring, Götterdämmerung.
I would like to highlight two segments of Siegfried that I particularly enjoyed while I was listening this week. The first is the scene near the end of Act I in which Siegfried joyfully re-forges the fragments of his father’s sword Nothung. Wagner has given him a youthful and confident song to sing: “Ho ho! Ho hei! Blow, bellows, blow!”. The other on-stage character is the scheming dwarf Mime, who, as you’ll see, hopes to use Siegfried to help him recover the Rhine gold and the Ring guarded by the dragon. This clip is from a Bayreuth production in the early 1990s, conducted by Daniel Barenboim. Siegfried is sung, fittingly enough, by Siegfried Jerusalem.
At the end of Act III, Siegfried has braved the fire that encircles Brünnhilde and, having removed her helmet, he beholds a woman for the first time in his life. He is overcome with awe and fear. She awakes, and they bring the house down with a half-hour long love duet that closes the opera. Here is the opening section of that duet, in which Brünnhilde awakens. Again, Siegfried is sung by Siegfried Jerusalem, and Brünnhilde by Anne Evans.