Witness the doom of a universe and the dawn of a new era, and share in a pilgrimage that millions have taken, as Pittsburgh Festival Opera transports you to Valhalla for its acclaimed Pittsburgh Ring Cycle.
Before Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, there was The Ring, an epic legend of Norse mythology set to music—one of the crowning achievements of Western civilization.
Our Ring is based on the internationally acclaimed version by composer Jonathan Dove which slightly condenses the orchestration and length of the works (none last longer than three hours) while retaining the authenticity of the original. It presents the entire scope of Wagner’s great dramas, making it the perfect version for newcomers as well as Wagner lovers.
The intimacy of the venue in Shadyside makes it a personal experience, allowing ever-inventive director Jonathan Eaton to bring out details – including Wagner’s dark humor – often lost in full-scale productions.”
About the Opera
Sung in English with projected titles in English.
This production of The Valkyrie is made possible through the generous support of the Ring Leaders.
This production of The Valkyrie was originally commissioned by Birmingham Opera Company, and prepared by Jonathan Dove, John McMurray, and Graham Vick
Running time: 2 hours and 45 minutes with one intermission.
Following his encounter in Rhinegold with Erda, the all-knowing earth goddess, and hoping for her assistance in recovering the ring thus freeing the gods from its curse, Wotan undertook a visit to her. She related to him that only a man free in all respects and unknowing of the curse could avert the gods’ destruction. During their acquaintance she bore him nine Valkyrie daughters whose task it was to protect the gods and to carry to Valhalla valiant warriors who had died in battle and who might serve as Wotan’s shield. The most prominent of these daughters was Brünnhilde.
As a consequence of their discussion, Wotan fathered twins by a mortal woman—Siegmund and Sieglinde. It was Wotan’s hope that Siegmund might by his own free will recover the magic ring from Fafner the giant who now possessed it. Sadly, the twins were separated soon after their mother’s death, Siegfried to fend for himself while Sieglinde was taken by force to beHunding’s wife.
Siegmund pursued by his enemies unknowingly seeks refuge in Hunding’s forest hut where he comes upon Sieglinde. They do not recognize one another although they feel an immediate attraction.
When Hunding returns, he realizes that Siegfried is the enemy he has been pursuing, but obeying the rules of hospitality he allows Siegmund to remain in his home that night while threatening a fight to the death the following day.
Sieglinde, seeking to escape her husband, administers him a sleep potion and when he falls into a deep sleep details her unhappy circumstances to Siegmund, including a description of the day of her marriage when a one-eyed stranger appeared and thrust a sword into the ash tree supporting the roof. Then departing, he stated that only a stalwart hero would be able to extract it.
As by magic the doors of the hut burst open as Siegmund, sensing that he is the predicted hero, wrests the sword from the tree and discover at the same time that Sieglinde is his sister. In an instant they flee, realizing at the same moment they are not only brother and sister but have become lovers as well.
On a mountain top Wotan orders Brünnhilde to protect Siegfried from Hunding who is pursuing him. Fricka, Wotan’s wife and the patroness of marriage, demands that Siegmund and Sieglinde be punished for their incestuous conduct. Wotan reluctantly agrees and orders Brünnhilde to ignore his earlier order and to leave Siegmund to his fate.
Brünnhilde finds the couple far off in a mountain pass, exhausted, and, while Sieglinde sleeps, she announces to Siegfried his imminent death. Although she tries to lure him with promises of a hero’s welcome in Valhalla, he refuses to leave Sieglinde and threatens to kill her. Deeply moved by his defiance, Brünnhilde disobeys her father and promises to protect him. As Siegfried is about to defend himself against Hunding, Wotan appears and shatters Siegfried’s sword. Hunding strikes Siegfried dead, but seconds later, Wotan in a rage kills Hunding, then sets off to find Brünnhilde who has fled with Sieglinde.
The Valkyries gather, followed shortly by Brünnhilde and Sieglinde. Brünnhilde asks their help in hiding Sieglinde, since she will bear Siegmund’s child, Siegfried, who when grown, will refashion the shattered sword and, it is presumed, will retrieve the ring.
Pitying her, they hurry Sieglinde off to the forest just minutes before Wotan appears. Brünnhilde seeks to excuse herself, but Wotan in anger strips her of her divinity and condemns her to a sleep from which she will not be awakened unless by a man “who has no fear and is freer than he the god.”
Then, with infinite sadness and with a final kiss, he puts her to rest and surrounds her with a curtain of protective fire.
Only in The Valkyrie does Wagner begin his refashioning of the Niebelung saga. As was the case with Rhinegold, The Valkyrie was first presented by royal mandate at the Munich Court Theatre on 26 June 1870. The reception was mixed. Inter alios Eduard Hanslick—never a champion of Wagner’s “new music”—was repulsed by Wagner’s depiction of incest as a felicitous state. The opera enjoyed its “official” debut in Bayreuth on 18 August 1876 as part of the first presentation of the Ring in its entirety.
The events depicted in The Valkyrie were first detailed in a lengthy monologue sung by Brünnhilde in Siegfried. Wagner removed the monologue from Siegfried realizing its dramatic potential as an opera that would stand on its own and created from it The Valkyrie.
The Valkyrie is the Ring’s most popular opera. The music is sumptuous and the drama one of human emotions expressed both by gods and men. Wotan is no longer a power hungry god but rather a loving, anguished and angered father. At his side stands Brünnhilde, a warrior maiden. She with her eight sisters protects him and helps them to transport fallen heroes to Valhalla.
In the second act, Wotan sunk in personal reflection explains to Brünnhilde how he seeks to resolve the dilemma in which he finds himself. He recalls that he was pledged by an oath to pay the giants Fasholt and Fafner for construction of Valhalla. He did so by giving them the Rhine treasure including a magic ring which promised its owner mastery of the world. He had taken it by force from the dwarf Alberich. In reprisal Alberich laid a curse on anyone who possessed the ring. For Wotan to take it back by force would endanger him and all the gods.
Wotan, seeking a way “legally” to recover the ring, sired the nine Valkuries by Erda, the all-knowing goddess of the earth. In return for his attentions, she informed him that the ring could be safely returned by the actions of someone innocent of its power.
To this end Wotan engendered Siegmund and Sieglinde, a brother and sister by a mortal woman, hoping that Siegmund would be that agent who in ignorance of the ring’s power would retrieve it from Fafner and so would give him control of his destiny.
The tragedy of the situation is that this is not a solution. He has already possessed the ring and will in the end suffer its curse. The irony is that the redeemer Wotan is seeking is Brünnhilde. It is she who will receive the ring as a token of love and impelled by love will return it to the Rhine, enabling, it is hoped, a new and more humane world.
It is clear--whether dealing with gods or men--human emotions have now come into play and that the most redemptive of these is love in all its manifestations. At the end of The Ring, love will offer renewal to mankind, although some producers in the late twentieth and twenty-first century have interpreted the Ring differently--to suit their philosophical and political points of view.
As a footnote, it is ironic that Brünnhilde, Wagner’s most heroic and endearing operatic creation, has been immortalized for later generation by appearing as a guest of Bugs Bunny in the animated cartoon, What’s Opera, Doc? Still, there is some consolation in the fact that in 1994 one thousand members of the animation industry voted What’s Opera, Doc? first in a list of the fifty greatest cartoons of all times.
Meet the Composer
Richard Wagner [22 May 1813–13 February 1883] was a German composer, theatre director, polemicist, and conductor who is chiefly known for his operas (or, as some of his later works were later known, "music dramas"). Unlike most opera composers, Wagner wrote both the libretto and the music for each of his stage works. Initially establishing his reputation as a composer of works in the romantic vein of Carl Maria von Weber and Giacomo Meyerbeer, Wagner revolutionised opera through his concept of the Gesamtkunstwerk ("total work of art"), by which he sought to synthesise the poetic, visual, musical, and dramatic arts, with music subsidiary to drama. He described this vision in a series of essays published between 1849 and 1852. Wagner realised these ideas most fully in the first half of the four-opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung).
His compositions, particularly those of his later period, are notable for their complex textures, rich harmonies and orchestration, and the elaborate use of leitmotifs—musical phrases associated with individual characters, places, ideas, or plot elements. His advances in musical language, such as extreme chromaticism and quickly shifting tonal centres, greatly influenced the development of classical music. His Tristan und Isolde is sometimes described as marking the start of modern music.
Wagner had his own opera house built, the Bayreuth Festspielhaus, which embodied many novel design features. The Ring and Parsifal were premiered here and his most important stage works continue to be performed at the annual Bayreuth Festival, run by his descendants. His thoughts on the relative contributions of music and drama in opera were to change again, and he reintroduced some traditional forms into his last few stage works, including Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (The Mastersingers of Nuremberg).
Until his final years, Wagner's life was characterized by political exile, turbulent love affairs, poverty and repeated flight from his creditors. His controversial writings on music, drama and politics have attracted extensive comment, notably, since the late 20th century, where they express antisemitic sentiments. The effect of his ideas can be traced in many of the arts throughout the 20th century; his influence spread beyond composition into conducting, philosophy, literature, the visual arts, and theatre.