Opera: Siegfried – Richard Wagner

“Siegfried” has been called the scherzo of the great Nibelungen symphony. To the tragedy and defeat of ” The Valkyrie,” with its thunder and war-cry and rushing flame, succeed peace and serenity with the young laughter of the innocent boy and the singing of the forest birds. It is a veritable paean of youth and love and courage.

CHARACTERS

Siegfried. Mimi. Wotan, The Wanderer. Alberich. Fafner. Erda. Brunnhilde.

After the close of the preceding drama, Sieglinde, to escape the heavy hand of Wotan, flees to the forest, where she wanders until, starving and exhausted, she finds herself in the cavern of Mimi, the dwarf-brother of Alberich. Here Siegfried is born and his mother, dying to give him life, entrusts him to the care of her misshapen host. Mimi brings him up in ignorance of his real parentage and plans to use him as the instrument for the recovery of the gold. In the depths of the untrodden wood, the boy grows to manhood strong as an oak and knowing no fear. The wild beasts are his companions and his diversion is to imitate the cries of the birds which circle about him and which merrily answer his call. But sometimes into the peace of his heart penetrate half-formed longings and aspirations which he cannot understand.

When the curtain rises, there is seen the grimy work-shop of Mimi, a cave which opens towards the wood. Here the dwarf is at work before the forge, hammering a sword upon his anvil and voicing his chagrin that the ” fiery stripling,” with untutored strength, breaks every weapon made for him. Mimi is growing discouraged, for he long has striven to weld a blade with which his bold charge might slay the enemy Fafner, who, as a dragon watches over the ring, the helmet and the hoard.

While he is complaining, Siegfried rushes into the workshop, leading a huge bear which he has bridled and which he mischievously urges to the attack of the cringing dwarf. When Mimi has been thoroughly frightened, Siegfried finds that he has had enough of the sport and, sending Bruin back to the wood, he runs to the forge and with one blow shatters upon it the dwarf’s latest achievement. Impatient with such worthless workmanship, he throws himself down in rage near the fire, while Mimi tries to regain his favor with offers of food and drink. These Siegfried thrusts from him in disgust, for he is heartily tired of the fawning dwarf and his treatment of him. In this mood, he demands some knowledge of what love means and of his own parentage. He inquires contemptuously

Where have you, Mimi, Your minikin consort That I may call her mother?

After many lies and evasions, Mimi reveals to him the facts concerning his birth, telling him his mother’s name and that his father was slain. He then brings out the fragments of Siegmund’s sword, the legacy left at Sieglinde’s death. With troubled minci, the youth rushes to the forest to escape Mimi’s hated presence and the dwarf begins to hammer on the pieces of the sword Nothung. While he is thus engaged, Wotan, disguised as The Wanderer, with his hat drawn low to hide his missing eye, comes upon Mimi’s cave and stops to inter-view him. Wotan proposes a contest of wit and each stakes his head upon successfully answering three riddles. Wotan replies correctly to Mimi’s questioning but Mimi fails on his part. The god refuses to take advantage of such a puny adversary and leaves the dwarf the gage. But he tells him that no one can forge Nothung anew, except he who knows not the meaning of fear.

Mimi, realizing his own limitations, does not attempt to resume the work and is upbraided for idleness when Siegfried returns. The dwarf explains the conditions of the task and as the youth does not know even the meaning of the word fear, he describes graphically many kinds and causes of terror even to that produced by sight of the ” monstrous worm,” Fafner. But Siegfried cannot recognize any of them. He springs up and seizes the fragments of the sword, blows the darkened coals to a glow, and fixing the pieces in a vise, files them to a powder which he puts in a crucible and reduces to molten metal over the heat. He then carefully casts the weapon and hammers the blade to shape, lustily singing

Nothung! Nothung! Notable sword!

The blade is finished, is in the handle and Siegfried breaks forth in triumphal praise of his work. Then to test its power he smites with it the anvil, which splits in twain from top to bottom, falling asunder with a great noise, while Mimi, in terror, sinks prostrate upon the floor.

The scene now shifts to another part of the forest, where Mimi’s brother Alberich, former master of the ring, keeps gloomy guard at the entrance to the cave where Fafner, the dragon, hugs his gold. Dense darkness reigns. A sudden gust of wind sweeps by, rustling all the leaves, and brings The Wanderer, Wotan, to warn the dwarf of the approach of a fearless one who shall wrest the treasure from the Nibelungs. The dragon, waked by Wotan, calls out that he is fairly starving for a hero, and then peacefully resumes his slumbers.

When the morning breaks, Siegfried approaches with Mimi, his guide, and as they wait for the coming forth of the foe, Mimi describes again its horrors, its yawning maw, its lashing tail, its noisome venom and its fiery breath. Siegfried does not quail but chatters gaily of his method of assault. Nothing disturbs the youth save Mimi’s false protestations of great love which rouse in him such irritation that he summarily dismisses the dwarf, who hobbles off muttering, ” Fafner and Siegfried, Siegfried and Fafner, would each the other might kill ! ”

While Siegfried sits alone under the lime-tree, waiting for the dragon to appear, the forest murmurs sound in his ears and he falls to musing upon his birth. He is sure that his sire bore no resemblance to Mimi and he wonders whether his mother’s eyes were soft and tender. As he broods sadly upon the fact that he never shall know, the birds’ songs attract his attention and he fashions a pipe from a reed and tries to imitate them. But after repeated trials, forced to acknowledge his failure, he throws the pipe away and blows a challenging call upon his hunting-horn. At this, there is an ominous stir in the cave and a huge, snarling, lizard-like thing comes forth from its lair. Siegfried laughs as he rushes to the fray. He eludes the flaming breath and horrid claws and, when his opportunity comes, thrusts his sword deep into the monster’s breast. Before he dies in awful convulsions, the dragon warns his slayer of the curse of the Ring. As Siegfried draws the blade from the wound, a drop of fiery blood falls upon his hand and he seeks to alleviate the burn by touching it with his lips. To his amazement, the taste of the blood enables him to understand the song of the birds. From one of them he learns that the Nibelung hoard in the cave is now his by right of conquest and that while the Tarnhelm can tide him through wonderful tasks, the Ring can give him the ward of the world. Thanking his feathered friend, he descends into the cavern, and comes forth with his magic equipment to meet Mimi and Alberich who, deeply suspicious of each other, are hastening in. As they slink aside at sight of him, the bird speaks once more and warns the hero against the fawning Mimi, who soon approaches, proffering a poisonous draught. Siegfried, out of all patience with his deceit, draws his sword and kills Mimi with a single blow, the brother dwarf laughing in delight at the sight. The hero flings the dead body into the cave and again pauses to listen to the bird in the lime-tree. This time it tells of Brunnhilde, lying in fire-girdled slumber till he who knows no fear shall come to-awaken and claim her. Eagerly Siegfried starts to his feet, for a strange new feeling has found place in his breast and, with the bird fluttering ahead to show the path, he starts joyfully out upon the quest.

When the curtain rises again, a wild mountainous region is revealed dimly through the shadows of night. Wotan, The Wanderer stands in the midst of thunder and lightning. The place is the foot of Brunnhilde’s rock. Wotan conjures his witch-wife, Erda, from her earthly abyss and, pallid as with hoar-frost, she rises in bluish vapor from the depths, reluctant to break her long sleep. He questions her as to the future and whether the doom of the gods may be averted but she knows nothing more except that the time of Brunnhilde’s awakening has arrived. As she sinks back into her chill abiding-place, the mellow light of the moon reveals and illumines the figure of Siegfried, who comes across the gorse led by the bird. Wotan attempts to bar the youth’s passage, knowing that he who wakes and wins the sleeping Valkyrie shatters the power of the gods. Siegfried, brooking no interference, shivers to pieces Wotan’s spear, the emblem of the god’s authority, and, with a song on his lips, passes unfaltering and untouched toward the wall of magic fire. The scene changes and Brunnhilde is discovered lying at the foot of the fir-tree just as Wotan left her sleeping there. Near by lies Grane, her war-horse, waiting till his mistress wakes. Siegfried has passed the wall of magic fire and now finds the motionless maid. He thinks her a warrior but when he lifts the helmet and her long hair escaping its bondage, ripples about her in a golden flood, he starts back in surprise at the beauty revealed. She does not stir, he listens for her breathing, but in vain. Tenderly he cuts the iron corselet and greaves from her body, and she lies before him, throbbing with life, a beautiful woman in soft female garb. Trembling, he sinks down with his head upon Brunnhilde’s bosom, for love has taught him the fear which Fafner could not inspire. Finally, with an ardent kiss he rouses her who went to sleep a goddess and awakes a woman, with a woman’s reluctance to surrender to love. She resists him. She pleads with him but, at last, won by his wooing, although knowing that capitulation means the downfall of Walhalla, and the doom of the gods, she throws herself into the arms of the hero whose coming she herself has foretold. She deems all well lost for love and exclaims exultantly

Far hence, Walhall’ lofty and vast, Let fall thy structure of stately tow’rs; Farewell, grandeur and pride of gods! End in rapture, ye AEsir, your reign! Go rend, ye Nornir, your rope of runes! Round us darken, dusk of the gods! Night of annulment, now on us gain! Here still is streaming Siegfried, my star. He is forever, is, for aye My own, my only and my all. Love that illumines, laughing at death.