Bear cave if you break meaning

Richard Wagner:
"The Rheingold"
Eve of the stage festival play "Der Ring des Nibelungen"

A summary

(by Dirk Meyer)

The "Rheingold" takes place in mythical prehistory. The people who appear in it are exclusively mythical creatures from Germanic mythology: giants, dwarfs and gods.
The "Rheingold" was described by Wagner as the "pre-evening" for the three-day stage festival "Der Ring des Nibelungen". It serves as an introduction to the world of the "Ring" and describes the prehistory that is necessary to understand the actual three opera days ("Die Walküre", "Siegfried", "Götterdämmerung").

The "Rheingold" is divided into four scenes that are played without a break. The first scene follows - in the spirit of Wagner's "infinite melody" - without a transition to the prelude, just as the other scenes are linked by short orchestral interludes.
The prelude symbolizes the origin of the Rhine, the river that runs through the whole plot of the "Ring". Some interpretations associate this foreplay with the creation of the world. The motif, the emergence of which one hears in the prelude, becomes important later in the "Ring" as the "motif of becoming".
A little anecdote about the making of this prelude by Wagner himself best describes the music:

"Coming home in the afternoon, I stretched out dead tired on a hard couch to await the long-awaited hour of sleep. She did not appear; instead I sank into a kind of somnambulistic state in which I suddenly felt as if I were in The rushing of it was soon presented to me in the musical sound of the E-flat major chord, which surged inexorably in figured refraction; these refractions showed themselves as melodic figurations of increasing movement, but the pure triad never changed of E-flat major, which through its duration seemed to want to give an infinite meaning to the element in which I sank. With the sensation as if the waves were now roaring high above me, I awoke in a sudden shock from my half-sleep. I immediately recognized that the orchestral prelude to the ´Rheingold´ had occurred to me, as I carried it around in me, but had not been able to find it exactly. " [Richard Wagner: "My Life"; Volume II]

After this prelude, the curtain opens and the audience sees the three Rhine daughters romping around in the water of the Rhine. The Rhine daughters can be imagined as water mermaids. Your job is to guard the Rheingold. With the Rheingold it has the following reason: Those who renounce love can forge a ring out of it, which guarantees them power over the world. The Rhine daughters - beings full of innocence - are very negligent in guarding, since they cannot imagine that someone would renounce love and gain power in return.

But now Alberich appears. Alberich is a Niblung. The Nibelungs are dwarfs in Wagner - unlike in the Nibelungenlied - (as in older sources such as the "Edda", on which Wagner mainly relies), and they are ugly, cunning and rather wicked beings.
At first, Alberich was only interested in the Rhine daughters swimming happily in the water. One by one, he tries to seduce each of the three, but they only mock him. When a ray of sun penetrates the depths of the Rhine, the Rhine gold lights up brightly. The Rhine daughters let go of their hustle and bustle and sing about the Rhine gold. Alberich becomes curious and asks the Rhine daughters about the gold. They let him in on the secrets of gold because they think he is in love and therefore harmless. But they are mistaken: frustrated by the rejection he has received, Alberich curses love and snatches the gold from the Rhine daughters.

At this point a new storyline begins. The viewer is transferred to a "free area on mountain heights". Wotan's castle of the gods, Walhall, has just been completed there. Walhall Castle also has its leitmotif.
Wotan had commissioned two giants, Fasolt and Fafner, to build him a magnificent castle. In Germanic mythology, giants are tall, lazy, but strong fellows who are usually not particularly intelligent.
As a reward Wotan had promised the giant Freia, the goddess of youth. Freia is the only one who knows how to care for the apples that the gods must eat every day to stay young.
Of course, Wotan had no intention of actually giving Freia to the giants. He relied entirely on Loge, the demigod of fire who is known for his cunning (sometimes insidious) advice for this trade. Lodge should look all over the world for a replacement for Freia that the giants could accept as wages.
Anyway, on stage the audience can now see the giants Fasolt and Fafner claim their wages, Freia, from Wotan. When the giants appear in the orchestra, the characteristic giant motif sounds with its dumb, powerful rhythm.
Wotan denied them Freia in words, and as God - although more power-conscious, but also ethically conscious - he prevents the other gods from becoming violent. After all, he has signed a contract with the giants that he cannot simply break.

Wotan's spear is the symbol of morality on which his power is based. "Wotan cut runes into the shaft of the spear. He held it as the shaft of the world." [Götterdämmerung, Nornenszene]. Associated with the spear is a leitmotif of the "ring".

The lodge now appearing helps him out of the dilemma. He heard around on earth whether there was anything that was more important than "woman's delight and worth" (meaning Freia). He heard about the ring from the Rhine daughters that Alberich had meanwhile forged from Rhine gold. Since he has cursed love for this, the ring must be more valuable than Freia, even for the giants.
Lodge tells the giants that possession of the ring means limitless power to its owner. Fasolt and Fafner are worried that Alberich owns the ring, because they have already clashed several times, and the giants never managed to outsmart Alberich.
That is why they agree to receive the ring instead of Freia as a reward. They set the gods a deadline until evening and take Freia with them as a pledge.
As soon as Freia has disappeared, the gods suddenly begin to age. Wotan recognizes the absolute necessity of redeeming Freia and stealing the ring from Alberich, who ultimately stole the gold for the ring himself.

Wotan and Loge immediately begin their journey to Nibelheim, the home of the Nibelungs. There you can see how Alberich has already mastered the Nibelungs: You have to mine gold for him from underground fissures and forge it into bars. The Nibelungs can be heard at work in the orchestral interlude. The Nibelungen / Schmiede motif is introduced here with a very concise rhythm.
Wotan and Loge are the first to meet Mime, a Niblungen like Alberich.
Mime is the best blacksmith among the Nibelungs and was instructed by Alberich to forge a helmet in a very specific way: it is the camouflage helmet that enables transformation into any shape and even absolute invisibility. It is associated with an eerie motif that always begins with a pause. Mime himself wasn't exactly known what he was forging, but he recognized the magic that the helmet harbors. He tried to keep the helmet to himself and was beaten up by Alberich for it.
In this state, Wotan and Loge find him. Mime tells them that Alberich now owns a camouflage helmet, he also tells how Alberich gained power with the help of the ring and is now making full use of it: He lets the Nibelungen amass a hoard (gold treasure), with which Alberich is in the second phase of his Seizure of power wants to bring the whole world under his control. When Alberich arrives, he explains his plans to Wotan and Loge in more detail: He intends to take over world domination from the gods and forbid every living being to love, just as he had to renounce love.

Loge begins with his art of tricking. He asks how Alberich wants to defend himself against enemies: Alberich demonstrates the power of the tarn helmet by transforming himself into a dragon. Loge is impressed and asks how Alberich intends to steal away from danger. A dragon is too conspicuous for that. Alberich - in the exuberance of his power - transforms into a little toad. Wotan puts his foot on her, Loge takes Alberich's camouflage helmet off, the two tie him up.
So they take him with them to the top of the mountain. On the way they pass the forging Nibelungen again, as you can hear in the music.

Alberich must now have the hoard fetched, hand over the tarn helmet - and finally the ring too. Only now does Wotan release him. At Alberich's first words in freedom, the orchestra plays a motif that will gain great importance in "Götterdämmerung": the hate motif with its "rhythm of annihilation". Left in freedom, Alberich curses the ring:

"As by a curse he told me that this ring be cursed! Gave me power without measure, now his magic will bring death to him who wears it! [...] Whoever owns it, let worry, and whoever it has not, the envy gnaws! [...] The master of the ring as the servant of the ring: until I hold the stolen one in my hand again! "
The viewer hears a striking leitmotif in addition to these sharp words: the woe motif, which rises mightily and then intensifies in a brilliant way.

After Alberich has disappeared, the two giants reappear with Freia. Fasolt, who is a little more delicate than his brother Fafner, says that he cannot leave Freia as long as he sees her: the gods should therefore stack the Nibelungen hoard around Freia until it is completely covered, which is where they begin. This motif is widespread in Germanic mythology, Wagner took it up and reinterpreted it in his sense. When all the gold in the hoard is gone, Freia's hair still shines through. Wotan has to put the camouflage helmet on them. However, Fasolt can still see Freia's eye through a crack and Fafner demands that the crack be plugged with the ring that Wotan has on his finger.

Wotan doesn't want to give up the ring for anything in the world. He would rather leave Freia with the giants, which angered the other gods very much. Still - Wotan doesn't want to give up the ring.
Erda appears, a kind of primal sage, a goddess who existed before the other gods. She is the only one (with the exception of the Norns and Erda's daughters) who knows about the fate of the world.
She strongly warns Wotan not to keep the ring:

"Soft, Wotan! Soft! Flee the ring's curse! Your profit dedicates you to lifeless dark doom. [...] Everything that is ends. A gloomy day dawns on the gods: I advise you, avoid the ring!" "

Erda disappears again. So warned, Wotan also gives the ring to the giants. Fafner immediately begins to pack the hoard in a sack, ignoring Fasolt. He complains, wants his share of the after-school care center. Fafner claims to be entitled to the greater part. Fasolt calls on the gods for a fair division. Loge advises him to only insist on the ring and leave the hoard to Fafner. A violent argument ensues around the ring, and Fafner kills Fasolt. At this point, the woe motif sounds to indicate that the curse has claimed its first victim here. Wotan is appalled by the violence of the ring and resolves to visit Erda to learn more about the fate of the world.
From now on, Fafner will guard the hoard up to the "Siegfried" in a cave - transformed into the form of a dragon.

Wotan can only take possession of his castle with clouded joy, the prophesied end never lets him go. Meanwhile, the Rhine daughters complain about the stolen gold in Valhalla.
The curtain falls.