Magic potions, blood oaths, betrayals and a flaming conclusion. What more could you ask for in grand opera? Ah, yes, a magic ring, an evil dwarf, a handsome but careless hero and a heroine who sings out her rage, her loss and, finally, submission.
You’ll get all that and more Saturday when The Met: Live in HD broadcasts its larger-than-life and longer-than-death version of the final episode in Wagner’s Ring Cycle.
“Götterdämmerung,” starring soprano Deborah Voigt as Brünnhilde and Jay Hunter Morris as Siegfried, is the final episode of the Metropolitan Opera’s huge new production of Wagner’s cycle. Epic in scope, the four-part cycle is something akin to the Bible in musical terms. If you’ve never seen even one part, don’t let that scare you away from the finale. That said, the three-act spectacle lasts six hours with two intermissions. Pack a lunch and bring a blanket.
To recap: Wagner drew his inspiration from ancient tales, myths and sagas from Scandinavia, Germany and Iceland. The prologue may remind you of Greek mythology. Three Norns, looking a lot like the Three Fates, weave the rope of destiny. One happens to mention the theft of the Rhinegold, a sacred ring stolen by the sinister Alberich, and the rope snaps. A bad omen, for sure.
The rest, as they say, is operatic history, the death of the old gods, the fall of Valhalla, etc. But for those who need a little recap, here’s an absurdly short summary of the first three operas in the cycle.
Part I, “Das Reingold,” is about origins. There’s a dwarf; some giants; Wotan, the leader of the gods; and his troubled wife, Fricka. Everyone wants the famous ring with its magical qualities, including invisibility to the one who wears it.
Part II, “Die Walküre.” Wotan’s twins, Siegmund and Sieglinde, and his warrior daughter, Brünnhilde, become entangled in a messy family quarrel. Brünnhilde must chose between her sense of justice and loyalty to her father.
Part III, “Siegfried,” tells the tale of the big, fearless and not-too-smart son of the incestuous twins from Part II. The word “Siegfried” is German for “peace through victory,” but victory, as we all know, is hard won. Siegfried has been raised in a cave by another dwarf who claims to be his father. We know better, and Wotan enters disguised as a Wanderer and challenges the dwarf to a riddle competition about a special sword. Before this busy opera ends, there’s a dragon to be slain, and Siegfried must find the beautiful Brünnhilde and discover earthly love.
Part IV, “Götterdämmerung,” completes the cycle. The magical ring ends up on Siegfried’s finger, and Brünnhilde sends him into the world to perform heroic deeds. More plot twists play with fate. Enter the magical potion, and soon there’s a significant betrayal. In a leisurely fashion, the story of the ancient Nordic gods and their destruction comes to a flaming end. Then, presumably, everything starts all over again – a new cycle.
An all-star cast will have seen opera lovers through the Met’s cycle.
Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, artist and critic. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.