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(The Rheingold)
Libretto: by Richard Wagner

Premiere: Munich,
September 22, 1869

A one-act opera, first in the tetralogy of "The
Ring of the Nibelungen," by Richard Wagner.
"Das Rheingold" serves as a Prologue and the
philosophic/mythical background for three
additional operas: "Die Walk¸re," "Siegfried,"
and " G–tterd”mmerung."



The curtain rises over the Rhine River, in which
the Rhinemaidens, sister creatures to
mermaids of the sea, gradually gather to share
their girlish games and songs. Their
lighthearted playfulness belies the solemn
nature of their primary responsibility: that of
guarding the Rhine gold.
The Maidens' joyous singing soon attracts
the attention of a hideous gnome, Alberich,
whom they tease and tantalize, and generally
make sport of until he reacts in angered
A shaft of light from the Heavens suddenly
illuminates the Rhine treasure, the priceless
hoard of gold they've been instructed to
oversee. In their own gossipy fashion, the
Maidens explain to Alberich the curse faced by
any potential thieves. The gold may be forged
into a Ring which will allow its owner to rule
the World, however, its possessor must
forswear love forever and live in emotional
After his humiliating experience with the
Rhinemaidens, Alberich is convinced he has
no need of feminine affection -- now or ever.
He curses love, plunges into the Rhine,
wrenches the treasure from its hiding place,
and disappears as the terrified Maidens
helplessly attempt to detain him. Once the gold
disappears, all grows dark.


At dawn, in the rising mist of an idyllic
mountainside, Wotan sleeps with his wife,
Fricka. She awakens to exclaim about the
appearance of an impressive edifice across
the valley. This imposing palace, the new
home of the gods at Valhalla, should be a
reason for rejoicing, but instead becomes the
subjects of a serious marital quarrel. The
builders, the giants Fafner and Fasolt, have
made a bargain with Wotan to exchange their
services for Freia, the goddess of youth and
beauty and younger sister to Fricka. Fricka
argues that Wotan has paid too much and
continues with recriminations about his
weaknesses and philandering in general.
Freia flees onto the hillside, pursued by
the giants who want their payment on the spot.
Wotan explains that he never intended to
honor the bargain; that the god of Fire, Loge,
has been searching the world for a suitable
alternative to offer the giants. Nonetheless,
Fafner and Fasolt arrive demanding their
wages. If Wotan reneges, they point out, the
world will fall into ruin. Freia calls out to
Donner, god of thunders and Froh, god of
fruitfulness, for deliverance. They appear at the
giants attempt to abduct the goddess and
Donner valiantly champions her cause.
In the midst of this hostile gathering, Loge
appears, and announces he has no substitute
payment to offer on Freia's behalf. But he has
other compelling news. Alberich has stolen the
Rhine gold and is forging a Ring which will
place him in absolute control. Everyone is
threatened, even the gods themselves. The
Rhinemaidens have asked for Wotan's help in
restoring the treasure to them. As Fricka
ruminates about the possibilities of obtaining
such a Ring and using it to assure her
husband's faithfulness, the giants hold a
conference in which they determine to take
Freia with them, pending Wotan's ability to
steal the gold and substitute that for the
goddess. They'll give him until nightfall they
conclude, and depart, dragging the terrified
and screaming Freia.
Once the goddess of youth and beauty
has disappeared the gods begin to grow pale
and lose their vitality. Their eternal youth will
desert them now, Loge explains. A plan is
hastily developed to invade Alberich's dwelling
at Nibelheim and steal the gold to ensure
Freia's return. Loge and Wotan depart down
the hillside.


Alberich has established a horrifying
dictatorship among the Nibelung dwarfs who
have become his slaves, mining ceaselessly
for gold to make him ever more wealthy and
powerful. His brother, the smithy Mime, has
created a cap of gold, a Tarnhelm, which will
make Alberich invisible. He dons the Tarnhelm
and disappears from view, continually taunting
Mime with threats and insults. Mime informs
new arrivals, Loge and Wotan, of the misery
which now rules in Nibelheim. Alberich, once
again visible, suddenly returns, driving
frightened dwarfs before him. He chases them
and Mime away and turns to his two guests to
assure them of his impending omnipotence,
even over the fate of gods. The crafty Loge
formulates a way to use Alberich's vanity to
defeat him. He demands to see a
demonstration of the Tarnhelm's power.
Obligingly, Alberich turns into a serpent, then
back to his own form.
Could he become, perhaps, a toad?, Mime
inquires. Alberich proudly complies and the
two gods seize the reptile and the Tarnhelm.
As Alberich reappears in his own form they
bind his arms and drag him away.


Under threat of death, Alberich commands that
the Nibelungs turn over all the gold to Wotan
and Loge. Wotan also twists the Ring from
Alberich's hand and slides it onto his own
finger. In retaliation, the dwarf places his own
terrifying curse upon the Ring's wearer: a
promise of misery, death, and slavery, until
such time as it is returned to Alberich's
keeping. The ominous curse foretells a bitter
legacy which will be played out over the
course of the operatic tetralogy.
The giants return now with Freia as night
falls. Loge and Wotan begin stacking the gold
which will redeem Freia's captivity, while
Fasolt and Fafner negotiate for enough
treasure to obscure her from view. Wotan
agrees, however, piling up the entire treasure,
a small crevice remains through which the
giants say they can still see Freia's eyes. They
insist upon having the Ring from Wotan's finger
as well. He adamantly refuses, until Fricka
rises from the ground and admonishes him to
relinquish the Ring and Alberich's curse along
with it.
Wotan tosses the Ring into the bargain. In
the midst of dividing the spoils, a fight ensues
between the giant-brothers. Fafner kills Fasolt
with a single blow and leaves, dragging the
treasure and the corpse of his brother. The
curse of the Ring has already materialized.
To the accompaniment of thunder and
lightning fireworks produced by Donner, the
gods enter their palace at Valhalla. However,
the potential joy and sense of security of the
occasion has been irreparably tarnished. Loge
chooses not to join his relatives but to return to
the natural world in his basic form: that of fire.
From the darkness of the Rhine waters
emanates the mournful cry of the
Rhinemaidens, pleading for the return of their
golden treasure.