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George P. (George Putnam) Upton.

The standard operas: their plots, their music, and their composers online

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the hero. Seizing her in his arms, Siegmund disappears
with her into the depths of the forest, and the curtain
falls.

The second act opens in the mountains of the gods, and
discloses Wotan with spear in hand in earnest converse
with Briinnhilde, his daughter, who is arrayed in the armor
of a Valkyrie. He tells her of the approaching combat,
and bids her award the victory to Siegmund the Volsung,
beloved of the gods. As she disappears among the rocks,
shouting the weird cry of the Valkyries, the jealous Fricka,
protector of marriage vows, comes upon the scene in a
chariot drawn by rams. A stormy dialogue occurs between
them, Fricka demanding the death of Siegmund as com-
pensation for the wrong done to Hunding. Wotan at last
is overcome, and consents that the Valkyries shall conduct
him to Walhalla. As he yields, Briinnhilde's jubilant song
is heard on the heights, and Wotan summons her and
announces his changed decision. Siegmund must perish.
As he stalks gloomily away among the rocks, Briinnhilde
falls into deep dejection, and turns away moaning : " Alas !
my Volsung ! Has it come to this, — that faithless the
faithful must fail thee?" As she enters a cave for her
horse, the fugitives Siegmund and Sieglinde hurriedly ap-
proach, pursued by the infuriated Hunding. They stop
to rest, and Sieglinde falls exhausted in his arms. The



4 2o THE STANDARD OPERAS

scene is marked by alternations of passionate love and
fear, hope on the one side, despair on the other, vividly
portrayed in the instrumentation. As the music dies away
and Sieglinde rests insensible in his arms, Briinnhilde, with
deep melancholy in her visage, shows herself to Siegmund.
In reply to his question, "Who art thou?" she answers,
" He who beholds me, to death in the battle is doomed.
I shall lead thee to Walhalla." Eagerly he asks, "Shall I
find in Walhalla my own father Walse? " and she answers,
" The Volsung shall find his father there." With passion-
ate earnestness he asks, " Shall Siegmund there embrace
Sieglinde?" The Valkyrie replies, "The air of earth she
still must breathe. Sieglinde shall not see Siegmund
there." Siegmund furiously answers, " Then farewell to
Walhalla ! Where Sieglinde lives, in bliss or blight, there
Siegmund will also tarry," and raises his sword over his
unconscious sister. Moved by his great love and sorrow,
Briinnhilde for the first time is swayed by human emotions,
and exultantly declares, " I will protect thee." Hunding's
horn sounds in the distance, and soon is heard his defiant
challenge to battle. Siegmund rushes to the top of one
of the cloudy summits, and the clash of their arms re-
sounds in the mists. A sudden gleam of light shows
Briinnhilde hovering over Siegmund, and protecting him
with her shield. As he prepares himself to deal a deadly
thrust at Hunding, the angry Wotan appears in a storm-
cloud and interposes his spear. Siegmund's sword is shiv-
ered to pieces. Hunding pierces his disarmed enemy,
and he falls mortally wounded. Briinnhilde lifts the insen-
sible Sieglinde upon her steed and rides away with her.
Wotan, leaning upon his spear, gazes sorrowfully at the
dying Volsung, and then turning to Hunding,. so over-
comes him with his contemptuous glance that he falls
dead at his feet. " But Briinnhilde, woe to the traitor.
Punishment dire is due to her treason. To horse, then.



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WAGNER 421

Let vengeance speed swiftly." And mounting his steed
he disappears amid thunder and lightning.

The last act opens in a rocky glen filled with the Valkyries
calling to each other from summit to summit with wild cries
as they come riding through the clouds after the combat,
bearing the dead bodies of the warriors on their saddles.
The scene is preluded with an orchestral number, well
known in the concert- room as the " Ride of the Valkyries,"
which is based upon two motives, the Valkyries' call and
the Valkyrie melody. In picturesque description of the
rush and dash of steeds, amid which are heard the wild
cries of the sisters, "The Ride" is vividly descriptive.
Brunnhilde arrives among the exultant throng in tears,
bearing Sieglinde with her. She gives her the fragments
of Siegmund's sword, and appeals to the other Valkyries
to save her. She bids Sieglinde live, for "thou art to
give birth to a Volsung," and to keep the fragments of
the sword. " He that once brandishes the sword, newly
welded, let him be named Siegfried, the winner of victory."
Wotan's voice is now heard angrily shouting through the
storm-clouds, and calling upon Brunnhilde, who vainly
seeks to conceal herself among her sisters. He summons
her forth from the group, and she comes forward meekly
but firmly and awaits her punishment. He taxes her with
violating his commands ; to which she replies, " I obeyed
not thy order, but thy secret wish." The answer does not
avail, and he condemns her to sleep by the wayside, the
victim of the first who passes. She passionately pleads
for protection against dishonor, and the god consents.
Placing her upon a rocky couch and kissing her brow, he
takes his farewell of her in a scene which for majestic
pathos is deeply impressive. One forgets Wotan and the
Valkyrie. It is the last parting of an earthly father and
daughter, illustrated with music which is the very apotheosis
of grief. He then conjures Loge, the god of fire ; and as



422 THE STANDARD OPERAS

he strikes his spear upon the rock, flames spring up all
about her. Proudly he sings in the midst of the glare : —

" Who fears the spike
Of my spear to face,
He will not pierce the planted fire/' —

a melody which is to form the motive of the hero Siegfried
in the next division of the work — and the curtain falls
upon a scene of extraordinary power, beauty, and majesty.

Siegfried

The second division of the tragedy, " Siegfried," might
well be called an idyl of the forest. Its music is full of
joyousness and delight. In place of the struggles of gods
and combats of fierce warriors, the wild cries of Valkyries
and the blendings of human passions with divine angers,
we have the repose and serenity of nature, and in the
midst of it all appears the hero Siegfried, true child of
the woods, and as full of wild joyousness and exultant
strength as one of the fauns or satyrs. It is a wonder-
ful picture of nature, closing with an ecstatic vision of
love.

After the death of Siegmund, Sieglinde takes refuge in
the depths of the forest, where she gives birth to Siegfried.
In her dying moments she intrusts him to Mime, who
forged the ring for Alberich when he obtained possession
of the Rhinegold. The young hero has developed into
a handsome, manly stripling, who dominates the forest
and holds its wild animals subject to his will. He calls to
the birds and they answer him. He chases the deer with
leaps as swift as their own. He seizes the bear and drags
him into Mime's hut, much to the Nibelung's alarm. But
while pursuing the wild, free life in the forest, he has
dreams of greater conquests than those over nature.
Heroic deeds shape themselves in his mind, and some-
times they are illuminated with dim and mysterious visions




Van Rooy as Wotati

Copyright, Aime Dupotit



WAGNER



423



of a deeper passion. In his interviews with Mime he
questions him about the world outside of the forest, its
people and their actions. He tires of the woods, and
longs to get away from them. Mime then shows him the
fragments of his father's sword, which had been shattered
upon Wotan's spear, the only legacy left her son by Sieg-
linde, and tells him that nothing can withstand him who
can weld them together again. Mime had long tried to
forge a sword for Siegfried, but they were all too brittle,
nor had he the skill to weld together the fragments of
Siegmund's sword, Nothung. The only one who can per-
form that task is the hero without fear. One day Siegfried
returns from a hunting expedition and undertakes it him-
self. He files the fragments into dust and throws it into
the crucible, which he places on the fire of the forge.
Then while blowing the bellows he sings a triumphant
song ("Nothung! Nothung! neidliches Schwert"), which
anticipates the climax towards which all the previous
scenes have led. As he sings at his work Mime cogitates
how he shall thwart his plans and get possession of the
sword. He plots to have him kill Fafner, the giant, who
has changed himself into a dragon, for the more effectual
custody of the Rhine- treasure and the ring. Then when
Siegfried has captured the treasure he will drug him with
a poisoned drink, kill him with the sword, and seize the
gold. Siegfried pours the melted steel into a mould, thrusts
it into the water to cool, and then bursts out into a
new song, accompanied by anvil blows, as he forges and
tempers it, the motive of which has already been heard
in the " Rhinegold " prelude, when Alberich made his
threat. While Mime quietly mixes his potion, Siegfried
fastens the hilt to his blade and polishes the sword. Then
breaking out in a new song, in which are heard the
motives of the fire-god and the sword, he swings it through
the air, and bringing it down with force splits the anvil in



4 2 4 THE STANDARD OPERAS

twain. The music accompanying this great scene, imitat-
ing the various sounds of the forge, the flutter of the fire,
the hissing of the water, the filing of the sword, and the
blows upon the anvil, is realism carried to the very extreme
of possibilities.

The great exploit has been successful, and Siegfried at
last has Siegmund's sword. Mime takes him to the cave
where Fafner, the giant-dragon, guards the gold. Sieg-
fried slays the monster, and laughs over the ease of the
task. His finger is heated with the dragon's blood, and
as he puts it to his lips to cool it he tastes the blood, and
thus learns the language of the birds. He cares nought
for the treasure, and takes only the ring and a magic hel-
met, which enables the wearer to assume any shape.
After the contest he throws himself at the foot of a tree
in the forest and dreamily listens to the " Waldweben,"
the rustle and mysterious stirrings of the woods. Amid
all these subtle, soothing sounds, pierced now and then
with the songs of the birds, and distant cries in far-away
sylvan recesses, he realizes that he is alone, while his old
companions of the woods are together. He thinks of the
mother whom he has never known, and of that mysterious
being whom he has never seen, with whom he could enjoy
the companionship he observes among the birds. The pas-
sion of love begins to assert itself vaguely and strangely,
but full soon it will glow out with ardent flame. A bird
flying over his head sings to him. He can understand
its song and fancies it his mother's voice coming to him
in the bird-notes. It tells him now he has the treasure,
he should save the most beautiful of women and win her
to himself. "She sleeps upon a rock, encircled with
flames; but shouldst thou dare to break through them,
the warrior-virgin is thine." The bird wings its flight
through the forest, and Siegfried, joyously seizing his
sword, follows it with swift foot, for he knows it is guiding




Alvary as Siegfried in "Siegfried''



WAGNER 425

him to Briinnhilde. The time for great deeds has come.
The wild, free life of the forest is over.

The third act once more shows us the god Wotan still
plunged in gloom. Gazing into a deep abyss, he sum-
mons Erda, who knows the destiny of all the world, to
question her again as to the twilight of the gods. The
mysterious figure appears at his bidding, but has nothing
further to communicate. Their doom is certain. The
fearless race of men is destined to efface the gods, and
Walhalla must disappear. The hero is at hand, and
coming rapidly. The despairing Wotan, who appears in
this scene as " Der Wanderer" (the wanderer), cries out,
" So be it. It is to this end I aspire." He turns gloomily
away, and confronts Siegfried bounding from rock to rock
like a deer, still following his airy guide. The god angrily
tries to bar his way, but in vain. His lance is shattered
at a single blow of the sword Nothung, which he himself
had once so easily shivered. It is the first catastrophe of
the final fate which is approaching. The hero without fear
has come, the free will of man has begun to manifest itself.
The power of the gods is breaking. Joyously Siegfried
rushes on over the rocks. He is soon bathed in the glow
of the fire, which casts weird shadows through the wild
glen. Now the burning wall of red flames is before him.
With a ringing cry of exultation he dashes through them,
and before him lies the sleeping maiden in her glistening
armor. Mad with her beauty and his own overpowering
passion, he springs to her side and wakes her with a
kiss. The Volsung and the Valkyrie gaze at each other
a long time in silence. Briinnhilde strives to compre-
hend her situation, and to recall the events that led up
to her punishment, while love grows within her for the
hero who has rescued her, and Siegfried is transfixed
by the majesty of the maiden. As she comes to her-
self and fully realizes who is the hero before her and



426 THE STANDARD OPERAS

foresees the approaching doom, she earnestly appeals to
him :

" Leave, ah, leave,

Leave me unlost,

Force on me not

Thy fiery nearness.

Shiver me not

With thy shattering will,

And lay me not waste in thy love."

What is preordained cannot be changed. Siegfried
replies with growing passion, and Brunnhilde at last yields,
and the two join in an outburst of exultant song :

" Away, Walhalla,
In dust crumble
Thy myriad towers.
Farewell, greatness,
And gift of the gods.
You, Norns, unravel
The rope of runes.
Darken upwards,
Dusk of the gods.
Night of annulment,
Draw near with thy cloud.
I stand in sight
Of Siegfried's star.
For me he was,
And for me he will ever be."

With this great duet, which is one of the most extraor-
dinary numbers in the trilogy for dramatic power and
musical expression of human emotion, this division closes.

Die Gotterdammerung

The last division of the tragedy opens under the shade
of a huge ash- tree where the three Fates sit spinning and
weaving out human destinies. As they toss their thread
from one to the other, — the thread they have been spin-
ning since time began, — they foresee the gloom which is
coming. Suddenly it snaps in their fingers, whereupon



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WAGNER 427

the dark sisters crowding closely together descend to the
depths of the earth to consult with the ancient Erda and
seek shelter near her. Meanwhile as day breaks Siegfried
and Brunnhilde emerge from the glen where they have
been reposing in mutual happiness. Brunnhilde has told
her lover the story of the gods and the secrets of the
mystic runes, but he is still unsatisfied. His mission is
not yet fulfilled. He must away to perform new deeds.
Before he leaves her he gives her the ring as his pledge of
fidelity, and they part, after exchanging mutual vows of
love and constancy.

In his search for further exploits, Siegfried arrives at
the dwelling of Gunther, a powerful Rhenish chief, head of
the Gibichungen, another race of heroes, where also re-
sides Gutrune, his fascinating sister, and the evil Hagen,
begotten by Alberich of Crimhilda, Gunther's mother, who
was the victim of his gold. Alberich's hatred of the gods
and all connected with them is shared by his son, who has
been charged by the Nibelung to recover the gold. From
this point the tragic denouement rapidly progresses. Sieg-
fried's horn is heard in the distance, and he soon crosses
Gunther's threshold, where his ruin is being plotted by the
sinister Hagen. He is hospitably received, and at Hagen's
bidding Gutrune pours out and offers him a draught so
cunningly mixed that it will efface all past remembrances.
He is completely infatuated with the girl's beauty, and
as the potion takes effect, the love for Brunnhilde dis-
appears. He demands Gutrune in marriage, and Hagen
promises her upon condition that he will bring Brunnhilde
as a bride for Gunther. Siegfried departs upon the fatal
errand, and after taking from her the ring drags her by
force to deliver her to Gunther. The Valkyrie rises to a
sublime height of anger over her betrayal, and dooms
Siegfried to death in the approaching hunt, for by death
alone she knows that she can regain his love.



428 THE STANDARD OPERAS

The last act opens in a rocky glen on the banks of the
Rhine, the ripple of whose waters is repeated in the mel-
ody of "The Rhinegold." Siegfried is separated from
his companion, and while alone, the song of the Rhine-
daughters is heard. They rise to the surface of the gleam-
ing water and demand their gold, but Siegfried refuses to
restore it. They warn him again to flee from the curse,
but he proudly exclaims that his sword is invincible and
can crush the Norns. Sadly they float away to the sound
of harps shimmering over the water. Gunther's horn is
heard among the hills, and Siegfried exultantly answers it.
The huntsmen assemble and prepare for a feast. Sieg-
fried relates his adventure with the Rhine-daughters, and
when Hagen asks him if it is true that he can understand
the language of the birds, he tells the whole story of his
life in the "Rheinfahrt" (Rhine journey), — a song built
up of all the motives which have been heard in the " Sieg-
fried " division, — the melody of the sword, the stir of the
woods, the song of the mysterious bird, Mime's entice-
ment, the love of Briinnhilde, and the flaming fire follow-
ing each other in rapid and brilliant succession through
the measures of the picturesque description. As the song
dies away, two ravens, messengers of ill omen, fly across
the stage. The curse motive sounds gloomily through the
orchestra. Hagen springs to his feet and suddenly and
treacherously plunges his spear into Siegfried's back, then
suddenly turns and disappears among the rocks. The
hero falls to the earth and dies breathing Briinnhilde's
name, for in the last supreme moment the spell of
Hagen's draught passes away. With his last breath he
breaks out in a death- song of surpassing beauty and
majesty, in which the motives are those of the Volsung
and the Valkyrie, as well as of the destiny which is to
reunite them in death. Once more he murmurs the
name of Briinnhilde, and then his companions tenderly




Jean de Reszke as Siegfried in "Die Gotterdammerung "

Copyright, Aitne Dupoiit



WAGNER



429



place him upon his shield, and lifting him upon their
shoulders carry him to the misty summits and disappear
in the cloud, to the mighty and impressive strains of a
funeral march, built up on the motives of Siegmund, the
love-duet of Siegmund and Sieglinde, the sword and Vol-
sung's motives, and Siegfried's great theme. In the inter-
weaving of these motives and their sombre coloring, in
massive fortissimo and crescendo effects, in expressive
musical delineation, and in majestic solemnity, the Sieg-
fried funeral march must take precedence of all other
dirges. In truth it is a colossal and heroic funeral poem
fit to celebrate the death of a demigod. In the last scene
Siegfried's body is borne back to the hall of the Gibichungs
amid loud lamenting. When Gutrune learns what has
occurred, she bitterly curses Hagen and throws herself
on Siegfried's corpse. Hagen and Gunther quarrel for the
possession of the ring, and Gunther is slain ; but when
Hagen tries to take the ring, the hand of the dead hero
is raised in warning. Then Brunnhilde solemnly and
proudly advances in the light of the torches and bids the
empty clamor cease, for " this is no lamenting worthy of a
hero." She orders a funeral pyre to be built, and Siegfried
is laid thereon. She contemplates the dead hero with pas-
sionate love and sadness, and then solemnly turning to
those about her, exclaims : " Those who efface the fault
of the gods are predestined to suffering and death. Let
one sacrifice end the curse. Let the Ring be purified by
fire, the waters dissolve it forever. The end of the gods
is at hand. But though I leave the world masterless, I give
it this precious treasure. In joy or in suffering, happi-
ness can alone come from love." She seizes a burning
brand, and invoking Loge, god of fire, flings it upon
the pyre. Her horse is brought to her, and she proudly
mounts it :



430 THE STANDARD OPERAS

" Grane, my horse,
Hail to thee here !
Knowest thou, friend,
How far I shall need thee ?
Heiaho ! Grane !
Greeting to him.
Siegfried! See, Briinnhilde
Joyously hails thee, thy bride."

She swings herself upon her steed and dashes into the
furious flames. At last they die away, and the Rhine rushes
forward from its banks and covers the pyre. The exultant
Rhine-daughters are swimming in the flood, for Briinnhilde
has thrown them the ring. Hagen makes a last desperate
effort to clutch it, but Woglinde and Wellgunde wind their
arms about him, and as they drag him into the depths
Flosshilde holds the ring above the waters, and the exult-
ant song of the Rhine-daughters is heard above the swell-
ing tide, while far in the distance a red flame spreads
among the clouds. Walhalla is blazing in the sky. The
dusk of the gods has come. Reparation has been made.
The hero without fear is victorious. Free will, independ-
ent of the gods, will rule the world, and the gods them-
selves are lost in the human creation. Love is given to
men, and conquers death.

Parsifal

"Parsifal," a" Buhnenweihfestspiel " (festival acting-
drama), words by Wagner, was concluded in 1879, and
first produced at Baireuth, July 22, 1882, only about seven
months before the distinguished composer's death, with
Mine. Friedrich-Materna as Kundry, Herr Winckelmann
as Parsifal, and Herr Scaria as Gurnemanz.

The theme of the opera is taken from the cycle of Holy
Grail myths to which " Lohengrin " also belongs. The
reader will remember that Lohengrin in his final address
declares himself son of Parsifal, the King of the Grail ; and
it is with this Parsifal that Wagner's last work is concerned.



WAGNER 431

Parsifal, like Siegfried, represents free human nature in its
spontaneous, impulsive action. He is styled in the text,
" Der reine Thor " (the guileless fool), who, in consonance
with the old mythological idea, overcomes the evil prin-
ciple and gains the crown by dint of pure natural im-
pulse. The opera differs widely from " The Nibelung
Ring." The composer has used the free instead of the
alliterative form of verse, which he then contended was
best adapted to musical setting. In "The Ring" the
chorus is not introduced at all until the last division is
reached, while in " Parsifal " it plays an important part in
every act, in the second scene of the first act there being
three choirs on the stage at a time. Still there is no trace
of the aria, the duet, or the recitative in the Italian style,
though there is plenty of concerted music, which grows
out of the dramatic necessities of the situations. When
these necessities are not urgent the music flows on in
dialogue form, as in "The Ring."

The vorspiel is based upon three motives connected
with the mystery of the Grail, which forms the keynote
of the opera, though in a different aspect from that which
the Grail assumes in " Lohengrin," where it can only be
visible to the eye of faith, while in " Parsifal " it distinctly
performs its wonders. Let it be remembered that the
Grail is the chalice from which Christ drank with his dis-
ciples at the Last Supper, and in which his blood was
received at the cross. The first of these motives is of
the same general character as the Grail motive in the
" Lohengrin " vorspiel ; the second is an impressive phrase
for trunlpets and trombones, which will be heard again
when the Knights of the Grail are summoned to their
duties ; and the third is a broad, dignified melody in the
chorale form.

The action of the drama occurs in the north of Spain,
and in the Vicinity of Monsalvat, the Castle of the Holy



432 THE STANDARD OPERAS

Grail, where this chalice was brought by angels when
Christianity was in danger. The curtain rises upon a
lovely forest glade on the borders of a lake, at daybreak,
and discovers the Grail Knight, Gurnemanz, and two
young shield-bearers, guardians of the castle, sleeping at
the foot of a tree. Trumpet-calls, repeating the motive
first heard in the prelude, arouse them from their sleep ;
and as they offer up their morning prayer the chorale
is heard again. As they wend their way to the castle,



Online LibraryGeorge P. (George Putnam) UptonThe standard operas: their plots, their music, and their composers → online text (page 31 of 37)