Das Rheingold & Die Walküre Essay Example & Outline
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Das Rheingold and Die Walküre
Richard Wagner’s Libretto and Der Ring des Nibelungen can arguably be described as one of the best operatic works ever written. The meticulous details and representation of characters throughout the four different works is a testament of the operatic genius of Richard Wagner. In addition to this, the representation of real life and social concerns depicts the high level of Wagner’s desire to address the social problems that every modern day society faces. The first two dramas, Das Rheingold and Die Walküre, form the basis of the entire operatic work.
In the first musical drama, Das Rheingold, Alberich and Wotan play the central developmental roles. Alberich is lustful and greedy. This is evidenced by a number of events in the first scene, in this first drama. At the beginning of the drama, Alberich’s lust is awakened when he encounters the Rhinedaughters. He wishes that he could have one of the daughters to embrace and tries to get a hold of them. His lust drives him from one daughter to the other, though his attempts fail miserably since the Rhinedaughters are only teasing him.
This lust is transformed into greed when he shifts his attention to the gold. The news that whoever forges a ring from the gold will attain wealth drives his greed and his diversion from the Rhinedaughters to the gold. Alberich is also very cunning. He tricks the Rhinedaughters into revealing that only he who renounces love can access the gold. Needless to say, once this information is in hands, he quickly renounces love and proceeds to acquire the gold, to the dismay of the Rhinedaughters. In scene three, Alberich’s greed is also depicted by the fact that he plans to master the entire world through greed and the love of gold. To him, the ring is a means of power through wealth. Having being consumed by greed himself, he only wishes to attain more power and wealth.
Wotan, the king of the gods, is a character at a crossroads. The many conflicts he faces make him display a puzzling contradiction of traits. Wotan is just. Being the king of the gods, he rules through the treaties he establishes with other gods, and with the other creatures under his rule. To protect these treaties, they are engraved as runes on his spear. However, he is also a character that is willing to circumvent these same treaties that he formulated, as depicted when he tries to cheat the giants out their payment for the construction of Valhalla in scene four. Wotan is also ambitious and covetous. His willingness to trade love for power highlights his ambitious and covetous nature. He was willing to trade Freia, his sister-in-law, as payment to the giants for constructing Valhalla. Wotan is also a man seeking self-consciousness seeing that he willingly gave up one eye so that he could drink from the fountain of wisdom.
Wagner uses a number of motifs to depict the emotions and traits of characters. The use of Fricka’s motif highlights the renunciation of love by Wotan with regard to Freia, who is Fricka’s sister. Loge’s cunning motif highlights the cunning behavior of Wotan when he tried to cheat the giants out of obtaining Freia as payment for their services. In the beginning of the drama, the motif of the Rhine is used to depict the majestic and pristine nature of the Rhein. This motif, however, develops into one depicting the rushing along of the Rhein once Alberich appears at the river. The renunciation of love motif is used consistently in the dramas, as well. It is a symbol of the willingness of individuals to renounce love in order to attain wealth and power. The ring motif is also of great importance in this work. At the beginning, the bright ring motif plays when the Rhinedaughters explain the abilities of the ring and its pure nature. This motif transforms into the sinister ring motif that highlights the evil desires of Alberich. The curse motif is also used when Alberich places a curse on the ring in scene four after Wotan forcefully takes the ring from him.
In the second drama, Die Walküre, Wagner employs the use of Siegmund and Brünnhilde to develop the plot of the entire operatic work. Siegmund comes across as a woeful character. Having undergone a myriad of problems and challenges in his life, he considers himself a very unlucky person. His mother died and he was separated from his father and sister at a tender age. Due to the constant sorrow that plagues him, he also calls himself Wehwalt.
Siegmund is also liberal. This is evidenced by the fact that he challenges what the society perceives to be wrong. This is when he commits incest with Sieglinde. To him, it was not wrong to love his sister. He challenges conventional morality on the matter by taking Sieglinde away from Hunding. Siegmund is also an empathetic character. This is highlighted when he attempts to rescue a girl from a forced marriage. He willingly engaged in a fight to save the girl, a feat that contributes greatly to his eventual death. His empathy is once again aroused when he rescues Sieglinde from Hunding. In addition to loving her, he wanted to rescue her from the unwanted marriage she had been forced into many years ago. Being one of the characters Wagner chose to portray the power of love, he is a loving character, as well. He loved Sieglinde so much so that he was ready and willing to give up his place in Valhalla because Sieglinde would not be there with him.
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Brünnhilde is the favorite daughter of Wotan. She is a kind character. When she was told to ensure that Siegmund dies in his fight with Hunding, she informs Siegmund of his impending death as an act of kindness. She offers him a chance to let Sieglinde escape but Siegmund rejects her kind offer. Her kindness is once again portrayed when she helps Sieglinde flee from Wotan. She gives her the broken pieces of Nothung and sends her on her way to flee from Wotan. This is after her failed attempts to have her sisters help her rescue Sieglinde from Wotan. Brünnhilde is also compassionate. She willingly disobeyed her father out of the compassion she felt for Siegmund and Sieglinde. Her compassion towards Siegmund and Sieglinde’s love forces her to revolt against Wotan-a feat for which she pays with her immortality.
A number of motifs are employed in this second drama. The upward turn of the spear motif is used in the beginning, in scene one, to highlight the presence of Wotan. It also highlights the possibility that his power and will may be challenged later on in the drama. The Nothung motif is used when Siegmund successfully removes Nothung from the tree in Hunding’s house, as well as when Wotan shatters Nothung. Erda’s motif is used when Fricka appears to remind Wotan that he must punish Siegmund and Sieglinde for their incest. This motif represents the epitome of feminine wisdom. The fate motif is played when Brünnhilde announces to Siegmund that she has come for him. Since only those doomed to die can see a Valkyrie, it shows that fate has caught up with Siegmund. The redemption motif plays when Brünnhilde announces to Sieglinde that she is expecting a child-Siegfried, in the third act.
In his works, Wagner paid close attention to the selection and composition of motifs. He used motif to highlight emotions, character traits, virtues and even as symbols. The transformation of motifs is also applied in cases where the character traits of individuals in the drama change. The tempo used relates greatly to the emotions depicted in the drama, seeing that it also rises gradually as the dramas near their climaxes.
Sabor, R. (1997). Richard Wagner "Der Ring des Nibelungen": A companion vol. London: Phaidon Press.