First day of the Nibelungen Ring by Richard Wagner.
In the first scene we are introduced into the dwelling of a mighty warrior, Hunding, in whose house Siegmund, a son of Wotan and of a .mortal woman, has sought refuge, without knowing that it is the abode of an enemy. Sieglinde, Hunding’s wife, who, standing alone and abandoned in the world, was forced into this union against her will, attracts the guest’s interest and wins his love.
When Hunding comes home from the fight, he learns, to his disgust, that his guest is the same warrior who killed his kinsmen and whom they vainly pursued. The laws of hospitality forbid him to attack Siegmund under his own roof, but he warns him that he will only await the morrow to fight him.
Sieglinde, having fallen in love with her guest, mixes a powder with her husband’s potion, which sends him into profound sleep. Then she returns to Siegmund, to whom she shows the hilt of the sword, thrust deep into the mighty ash-tree’s stem, which fills the middle space of the hut. It has been put there by an unknown one-eyed wanderer (Wotan, who once sacrificed one of his eyes to Erda, wishing to gain more knowledge for the sake of mankind). No hero has succeeded until now in loosening the wondrous steel. Siegmund reveals to Sieglinde that he is a son of the Walsung, and they recognize that they are twin brother and sister. Then Sieglinde knows that the sword is destined for Siegmund by his father, and Siegmund with one mighty effort draws it out of the ash-tree. He names the sword Northung (needful). Sieglinde elopes with him and the early morning finds them in a rocky pass, evading Hunding’s wrath.
In the second scene we see Wotan giving directions to the Valkyr Brunnhilde, who is to shield Siegmund in his battle with Hunding. Brunnhilde is Wotan’s and Erda’s child and her father’s favorite. But Fricka comes up, remonstrating violently against this breach of all moral and matrimonial laws ; she is the protector of marriages and most jealous of her somewhat fickle husband, and she forces Wotan to withdraw his protection from Siegmund and to remove the power of Siegmund’s sword.
Wotan recalls Brunnhilde, changing his orders with heavy heart and sending her forth to tell Siegmund his doom. She obeys, but Siegmund scorns all her fine promises of Valhalla. Though he is to find his father there, and everything besides that he could wish, he prefers foregoing all this happiness when he hears that Sieglinde, who has been rendered inanimate by grief and terror, cannot follow him, but must go downto Hel after her death, where the shadows lead a sad and gloomy existence. He wins Brunnhilde by his love and noble courage, and she for the first time re-solves to disobey Wotan’s orders, given so unwillingly, and to help Siegmund against his foe.
Now ensues the combat with Hunding, Brunnhilde standing on Siegmund’s side. But Wotan interferes, breaking Siegmund’s sword; he falls, and Wotan kills Hunding too by one wrathful glance.
Then he turns his anger against the Valkyr who dared to disobey his commands and Brunnhilde flies before him, taking Sieglinde on her swift horse Grane, which bears both through the clouds.
In the third scene we find the Valkyrs arriving through the clouds on horseback one after the other. Every one has a hero lying before her in the saddle. It is their office to carry these into Valhalla, while the faint-hearted, or those of mankind not happy enough to fall in battle, are (loomed to go to Hel after their death.
There are eight Valkyrs without Brunnhilde, who comes last with Sieglinde in her saddle, instead of a hero. She implores her sisters to assist her and the unhappy woman. But they refuse, fearing Wotan’s wrath. Then she resolves to save Sieglinde and to brave the results of her rash deed alone. She first summons back to the despairing woman courage and desire to live, by telling her that she bears the token of Siegmund’s love; then sends her eastward to the great forest with Grane, where Fafner the giant, changed into a dragon, guards the Rhinegold and the ill-fated ring, a spot which Wotan avoids.
She gives to Sieglinde the broken pieces of Siegmund’s sword, telling her to keep them for her son, whom she is to call Siegfried, and who will be the greatest hero in the world.
Wotan arrives in thunder and lightning. Great is his wrath, and in spite of the intercession of the other Valkyrs he deprives Brunnhilde of her immortality, changing her into a common mortal. He dooms her to a long magic sleep, out of which any man who hap-pens to pass that way may awaken her and claim her as his property.
Brunnhilde’s entreaties, her beauty and noble bearing at last prevail upon him, so that he encircles her with a fiery wall, through which none but a hero may penetrate.
After a touching farewell the god, leading her to a rocky bed, closes her eyes with a kiss, and covers her with shield, spear, and helmet. Then he calls up Loge, who at once surrounds the rock on which Brunnhilde sleeps with glowing flames.