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Theatre / The Ring of the Nibelung

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Siegfried slaying Fafner, by Arthur Rackham, 1911.

"Rheingold! Rheingold! reines Gold!
Wie lauter und hell
leuchtest hold du uns..."

("Rhine-gold! Rhine-gold! Refinéd Gold!
How shining and clear
On us thou graciously glowed...")
The three Rhine-daughters, lamenting the theft of the Rhine-gold

Der Ring des Nibelungen ("The Ring of the Nibelung"Translation note ) is an epic cycle of four operas by Richard Wagner (hence the alternative term, the "Ring Cycle," which is sometimes applied to the whole).note  The cycle premiered at the Wagner Festival Theater in Bayreuth, August 13th-17th, 1876, though the first two sections of the work had already appeared at the Munich Court Opera in 1869 and 1870.

Der Ring des Nibelungen consists of:

  • Prologue: Das Rheingold (The Rhine-Gold)
  • Day I: Die Walküre (The Valkyrie)
  • Day II: Siegfried
  • Day III: Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods)note 

For a recap of the plot, consult our synopsis page.

The fundamental theme of Der Ring des Nibelungen is the opposition of Power to Love. Wagner's original intention in the work was suggesting that the plutocratic society of 19th century Europe could be fundamentally improved by rejecting the desire for the domination of othersnote  and embracing instead redemption through universal love. As for the means of achieving this, Wagner originally leaned towards anarchism and social revolution (Siegfried's single-handedly bringing down the rule of the gods and burning Valhalla is a barely disguised metaphor for the anarchist destruction of the feudal/capitalist establishment in Europe); however, as his philosophy developed, he came to reject love as leading to social improvement, and suggested instead that the only possible "redemption" would come through a compassionate rejection of all personal desires, including the desire for societal amelioration, to achieve a Buddhistic Nirvana — or what Wagner called the „wunsch- und wahnlos, heilig Wahlland, the desire-free, illusion-free, holy chosen Land."

As the vehicle for this symbolic drama, Wagner radically adapted the ancient legend of Siegfried the dragon-slayer, as it was preserved in ancient German and especially Scandinavian sources, such as the Nibelungenlied, the Völsunga saga, Thridiks saga of Bern, the Poetic Edda, and the Prose Edda, as well as other, lesser works. He also found much suggestive detail in the scholarly writings of antiquarians such as Simrock, Rühs, and The Brothers Grimm. Wagner composed the text in the style of ancient Germanic poetry, in the alliterative verse form called Stabreim, as, for example, in Walküre:

Waffenlos fiel' ich
in Feindes Haus!
Seiner Rache Pfand’
raste ich hier!

Defenseless, I found
my foeman’s house!
Fall’n to his revenge,
remain I here!

Wagner shows a tendency in his verse to employ an excess of superlatives ("Deepest love’s holiest need") and unusual or archaic words and constructions („neidlich”, "emulable" (?); “der Recken Zwist “of war-men the strife", and so on), which gave his text rather a stilted sound even in the over-blown literary German of his time. Dramatically, however, his text is masterly in its construction; his situations highly suggestive, and his characterization vivid and deep in psychological insight.

The staging of the work proved problematic. Wagner had the typical Teutonic and 19th century fascination with history, and instructed his scenery and costume designers to emulate as closely as possible the Ancient Germanic setting of the original legend.note  Unfortunately, that particular period was (and still is) a particularly obscure one in terms of social history, and Carl Döpler’s designs, though in accordance with the best knowledge of the time, were largely based on ceremonial costumes, in some cases extrapolated backward from much later sources.note  Hence the rather silly looking Horny Vikings costumesnote  and settings that still inform most people's mental image of the Ring. Furthermore, the spectacular scenic effects that Wagner intended, his dwarfs and dragons, gods and nixes, his bear and rams and serpent and ravens and wood-bird, even his rainbows, mists, rivers, caverns, and mountains, have afforded nightmarish problems from the very earliest presentations of the work. (Legend has it that the dragon’s neck was unavailable in the first performances, having been sent by mistake, not to Bayreuth in Bavaria, but to Beirut in Lebanon.) Nevertheless, Wagner’s dramatic technique was highly influential, to the extent that it colored the general public’s very conception of what "opera" is.

Note that it is largely Carl Emil Döpler's costume designs for the Valkyries in the 1876 Bayreuth production of Wagner's Ring that has established the popular image of the fat, horn-helmeted, breast-plated operatic soprano, though it may be noted that Döpler's Valkyries actually wear winged helmets. The common expression "The opera ain't over till the fat lady sings" may well derive from productions of Götterdämmerung in which Brünnhilde sings a lengthy monologue just before the conclusion (the actual last words are those of the villain Hagen) or from Tristan und Isolde which actually concludes with a lengthy monologue from the opera's heroine. (The lady in question is generally... junoesque, because the huge soprano voice required to sail over a Wagnerian orchestra is not often found in petite women.) In both operas, the hero has died in the previous scene, so an uninformed audience member might well have assumed the opera would be over at that point.

Most important, of course, is Wagner's music. In the Ring Wagner's Leitmotivnote  method is used in its most developed and sophisticated form. The score is by no means a simple patchwork, with (say) a "Wotan" motivenote  sounding every time Wotan appears on-stage. Rather, it is a symphonic development of fundamental musical ideas, varied, combined, split, and developed in a complicated psychological counterpoint to the symbolism of the stage action. Frequently the music reveals the unspoken thoughts or feelings of a character; equally frequently, it comments ironically on the action. For the rest, Wagner’s music is characterized by the preeminence of harmony, making rich use of chromaticism in the service of mood-setting and picture painting — hence his importance as a dramatic composer, and his influence on later composers, particularly for the cinema, which has lasted to this day.

Tropes occurring in The Ring of the Nibelung:

  • Absurdly Sharp Blade: After reforging Nothung, Siegfried demonstrates its sharpness and power (and his own strength) by chopping the anvil used to forge the blade in half.
  • Accent Adaptation: Of Germanic (thus including Norse) mythology. Except for "Erda," Wagner adapted attested German names for the gods rather than using any of the various actual historic forms: thus Wotan (Wodan, Wuotan, Odin — possibly meaning "the stirring, the furious, the tempest, the wind"); Fricka and Freia (Frea, Fria, Frouwa, Frikka, Frigg and Freyja — "the Free Woman, the Lady" — originally doublets for each other) (Wagner also uses her alternative name "Holda," (modern German holde) — "the Gracious Woman"); Froh (Fro, Frao, Frawaz, Frey — "the Lord," originally a masculine doublet of Frigg/Freyja), which means "glad" in modern German (though the older meaning is fossilized in words like Frohnleichnam, "the Lord's Body," i.e., Corpus Christi); and Erda (Jörð) is Old High German (Modern German "Erde") — "earth."
  • Achievements in Ignorance: Siegfried succeeds in reforging Nothung, for the very reason that he knows not fear. Literally. Never mind that Mime with all manner of skill in smithery can't do it, Siegfried can somehow do it just from having complete ignorance of the concept of fear.
  • Adapted Out: In the older versions of the story Gunther and Hagen are killed fighting Attila the Hun. Attila the Hun doesn't at all appear, the latter part of the story excised save for Gunther, Gutrune and Hagen all dying.
  • Adaptational Nice Guy: Siegfried and Mime in the 2006 Copenhagen Ring are fond of each other deep down, and their quarrels are laced with Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other moments. For instance, in the first act’s finale, when Siegfried shows he has forged the sword, Mime absolutely beams with pride. Mime's wish to murder Siegfried and Siegfried killing him are a spur-of-the-moment fight gone out of control rather than the logical outcome of mutual hatred that has been sizzling for years, and Siegfried is devastated when he realises Mime is dead.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Hagen in his original appearances. He may have killed Siegfried (in the Nibelungenlied, though in the Volsung Saga he and Gunther seem equally responsible for telling their younger brother to do so), but he is ultimately loyal to Gunther. In Wagner, Hagen is acting out of desire for the Ring and ends up killing Gunther.
  • Added Alliterative Appeal: The libretto of the Ring is written in Stabreim, the ancient Germanic verse-form that was based on alliteration. Thus the opening of Rheingold:
    Weia! Waga! Woge, du Welle! Walle zur Wiege! Wagalaweia! Wallala weiala weia!"
  • Amazon Brigade: The Valkyries.
  • Ancestral Weapon: In Walküre, Brünnhilde gives the fragments of Siegmund's sword to Sieglinde; Siegfried duly forges them anew into a sword in his eponymous opera.
  • Anti-Hero: Wotan is trying to establish a world of order and laws, his actions are nearly always self-serving.
  • Artifact of Doom: The Ring of the Nibelung. Mainly because Alberich cursed all those who would have it after him, but not only due to that. The misery and hatred that it brings is implicit in the very act of making it, since the condition for doing so is the renunciation of Love (in the broader sense that includes all affections). Further, it may be assumed that any item that gives its bearer power over the whole world will end up with a pretty bloody trail behind it of those who sought it out.
  • Asshole Victim: Mime used Siegfried as a pawn to get Fafner's treasure, originally the treasure of Mime's brother Alberich, and intended to poison Siegfried once the boy had killed the dragon. Naturally, very few feel anything for evil-hearted Mime once he has been killed by noble Siegfried.
  • As You Know: Every single opera contains all the relevant exposition which makes it possible for them to be performed separately. Interestingly, this was not Wagner's intention: he was adamant that the four operas should be performed on four successive nights.
  • Attack Its Weak Point:
    • How Siegfried defeats Fafner, going straight for the heart.
    • And how Hagen kills Siegfried, after Brünnhilde told him that she didn't protect his back, knowing that Siegfried would never turn his back on a foe.
  • At the Opera Tonight: The Ring operas rank among the favorites for characters to attend, as in Nicholas Meyers' Sherlock Holmes novel, The Seven Per Cent Solution (Siegfried).
  • Avian Flute: In Siegfried, the eponymous hero realizes he can understand a bird (represented by the flute) after tasting the blood of the dragon Fafner, and they have a conversation. The interlude "Forest Murmurs" from that same opera also includes birdcalls on flutes.
  • Bad to the Bone: The Looney Tunes series is very fond particularly of the Nibelung and Giant motifs in heralding any sinister doings.
  • Baritone of Strength: Or Bass-baritone. Alberich, Wotan, Fasolt, Fafner, Donner, Hunding, Hagen — Gunther is the only weakling at the deep end of the pool.
  • Batman Gambit: Wotan tries to manipulate Siegmund into killing Fafner and getting the ring to Wotan by his own free will. Doesn't work. In fact, it backfires on all the Walküre cast except Fricka.
  • Bastard Bastard: Scheming Hagen, murderer of Siegfried and his own half-brother Gunther.
  • Battle Cry:
    • The Valkyries' "Hojotoho! Hojotoho! Heiaha! Heiaha!"
    • To a lesser extent: Hagen's "Hoiho" in Götterdämmerung.
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: How Hagen summons the vassals in Götterdämmerung
  • Bears Are Bad News: As Siegfried demonstrates by letting one loose on Mime.
  • Bed Trick: Actually occurs in Wagner's sources for the Ring, but softened by him into a temporary exchange of identities by Siegfried and Gunther; Brünnhilde's certainty that this trope has been invoked leads to the disaster that follows.
  • Beneath the Earth: Nibelheim.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: As Deryck Cooke remarks, "Those who derive amusement from making fun of The Ring will be delighted to realise that one of Wotan’s problems is 'in-law trouble.'"
  • The Blacksmith: This is the normal occupation of the Nibelungs. See also Ultimate Blacksmith, below.
  • Book Ends: Das Rheingold begins with the Rhinemaidens singing their chorus as they guard the gold at the bottom of the Rhine. Guess how Götterdämmerung ends.
  • Born Winner: Siegfried.
  • Brawn Hilda: Brünnhilde is the Trope Namer — but not In-Universe; the trope naming came from stage performances. The part is so physically demanding that generally only a robust woman of strong constitution can perform it.
  • Brother–Sister Incest:
    • At the beginning of Die Walküre, Sieglinde is married to Hunding. A mysterious stranger arrives. The mysterious stranger and Sieglinde fall in love, and Sieglinde drugs her brutish husband. At the end of the act, it is revealed that the mysterious stranger is Siegmund, and he is Sieglinde's long-lost brother. The brother and sister ecstatically declare their love at the end of the act. Their child, Siegfried, will be the hero of the eponymous next opera in the cycle.
    • And then there are multiple productions that include chemistry between Froh and Freia in Das Rheingold (for which there is a basis in Norse mythology) and/or Hagen and Gutrune in Götterdämmerung (for which there is not).
  • BSoD Song: Notably, "Als junge Liebe" in Walküre.
  • Butt-Monkey: Mime is victimized by both Alberich and Siegfried.
  • Cain and Abel:
    • In Das Rheingold, Fafner kills his brother Fasolt, and in Götterdämmerung, Hagen murders his half-brother Gunther.
    • Then there is the rivalry between Mime and Alberich.
  • The Chessmaster:
    • Wotan likes to think he is this, but actually is easily outgambitted by Fricka and even (in a way) Siegfried.
    • At least one contemporary production (the spectacular Copenhagen Ring, for this and other reasons nicknamed "the Feminist's Ring") plays it straight with Brünnhilde of all people: she not only manipulated Wotan into accepting her terms of punishment, but chose her future husband in doing so — who is not even born at this point, but has already been named by her. Talk about long-term thinking.
  • Chickification: Threatened by Wotan as a horrible fate for the Valkyries; Brünnhilde comes to embrace it.
  • The Chosen One: Siegfried is the hero destined to recover the Ring and rescue Brünnhilde from the ring of magic fire.
  • Clever Crows/Creepy Crows: A pair of these are intelligence gatherers for Wotan, and bird-watching them proves fatal to Siegfried.
  • Composite Character:
    • Wotan and his mortal guise Wälse are a combination of Odin and Volsung.
    • Freia is a combination of Freyja (the goddess of love and beauty) and Iðunn (the goddess of youth who had the magical apples).
    • Loge is a combination of Loki (god of cunning) and Logi (personification of fire), in which Wagner was following the scholarship of his time. His name further drives the point home: it is a Portmanteau of the German words Lüge (lie) and Lohe (flame), both of which are expressly used to refer to him in the drama.
    • Fasolt is a composite of Hreiðmar, the dwarf king whose son Loki killed (resulting in Loki stealing Andvari's treasure and ring to pay the weregild) and the unnamed giant who built Valhalla's walls but wanted Freyja in payment (in the myths, Loki stopped him from finishing his work, he wasn't paid, and Thor beat the crap out of him when he got mad about it).
    • Alberich, the dwarf guardian of the Nibelung hoard in the Nibelungenlied, is combined with the dwarf Andvari, the original possessor of the magic ring. (Here again, Wagner was following the scholarship of his time.)
    • Sieglinde is a combination of Signy, sister of Sigmund with whom he had incestuous relations, and Hjördis, wife of Sigmund and mother of Sigurd.
  • Conflicting Loyalty: What the Ring cycle is all about. The characters are divided and scattered between their desires and duties. Die Walküre especially tackles this well, since Brünnhilde states that she is serving Wotan's deepest desires of his heart (helping Siegmund and Sieglinde) while disobeying his commands (kill Siegmund) which he is forced to do by Fricka. Wotan is forced to punish Brünnhilde and remove her from the Valkyries, even if she is his favorite daughter.
  • The Consigliere: Hagen in Götterdämmerung pretends to be this, but he's actually The Chessmaster who suffers from Chronic Backstabbing Disorder — or, at least, makes others suffer from it.
  • Cool Helmet: As a result of Döpler's costume designs, in which helmets are adorned by various varieties of horns and wings.
  • Cool Horse: The Valkyries ride magical horses who can run across the sky.
  • Cool Sword: Nothung ("Born of Need"), Wagner's equivalent to the Nibelungenlied 's "Balmung" ("Destruction") or Volsungasaga's "Gram" ("Wrath").
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: The first act and a half of Siegfried is spent building up to what ought to be an epic battle between the fearless Siegfried and Fafner the dragon. The actual fighting only goes on for one minute before Siegfried runs Nothung through Fafner's heart and is set to rather perfunctory music.
  • Cursed Item: Alberich uses the Rhine-gold's own power to curse the ring he made out of it before surrendering it along with other treasures Loge and Wotan force him to give to Fasolt and Fafner as payment for building Walhall. The curse immediately takes effect as Fafner murders Fasolt to take the ring and riches for himself. Then, years later, Siegfried slays Fafner (who had turned himself into a dragon), takes the ring and ends up betrayed and killed himself.
  • Dark Age Europe: Though really more The Time of Myths. The "Centennial Ring" averted this by updating the setting to the Industrial Revolution. The forges and dark mines of the Nibelungs became a mine-shaft and factory setting, based on the fact that the Ring cycle was written in the 19th century Industrial Age.
  • Death by Flashback: Happens to Siegfried in Götterdämmerung.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Wotan hits his when he realizes he'll be forced to abandon Siegmund to be killed by Hunding.
  • Decomposite Character: Fasolt and Mime both take the role of Regin, the former as Fafner's brother and the latter as Siegfried's evil-hearted foster father.
  • Did Not Think This Through: Wotan promised Freia to Fasolt and Fafner as payment for constructing Valhalla. Not only did he apparently fail to ask Freia what she thought about this, he also didn't account for Freia providing the enchanted apples that give the gods their immortality. Or he was aware of all this, and was simply hoping that Loge could find some way to get him out of his agreement.
  • Dirty Coward: Mime, though some directors try to soften his character considerably in modern productions.
  • The Ditz: Freia in Das Rheingold has her ditzy moments. When she is redeemed from the giants, she is touched and says, "May I hope for it? Do you think Holda really worth all the ransom?" Evidently she doesn't realize that Wotan mostly just wants to keep her for her magical apples, and she also missed Erda's long speech about how Wotan should give up the Ring.
  • Divine Date: Siegfried and Brünnhilde, since the latter is a daughter of Wotan.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Wagner's Nibelung dwarves (particularly Mime) have been claimed as Fantasy Counterpart Cultures of the Jews. While this is not entirely far-fetched (Gustav Mahler, both a Jew and an admirer of Wagner, accepted Mime, at least, as a Semitic caricature), it is a theory that can be pressed too far.
    • Others have pointed to the noticeable physical resemblance between Mime and Richard Wagner himself.
    • Ironically, in the Decca Ring (the first complete recording of the cycle), Gerhard Stolze's snarling delivery of some of Mime's verses sometimes sounds as if Adolf Hitler were singing.
  • Dragon Hoard: Fafner kills his hitherto-bro Fasolt for the Rhine-Gold and is later found transformed into a dragon lying on the gold, until Siegfried kills him and takes the treasure.
  • Drop the Hammer: In line with his other depictions, Donner is depicted with an enchanted hammer, though the main use is opening the gates to Valhalla.
  • Easy Amnesia: Brünn-who-lde?
  • End of an Age: Or you could even call it a Götterdämmerung.
  • Entitled to Have You: Siegfried shows flashes of this attitude when he first meets Brünnhilde; when the latter is upset about having her breastplate and helmet removed (which deprives her of her Valkyrie powers and leaves her as defenseless as a mortal), Siegfried pays her distress no mind, repeatedly attempting to embrace her (which she rebuffs) and demanding that she "sei mir ein Weib" ("be my woman"), stating "Durch brennendes Feuer fuhr ich zu dir!" ("Through blazing fire I forced my way to you!")
  • The Epic: Der Ring des Nibelungen. Performances range between 13 1/2 (Böhm & Boulez) to 17 hours (Goodall).
  • "Everybody Dies" Ending: Götterdämmerung culminates with Siegfried's death, prompting Brünnhilde to make a Heroic Sacrifice that burns down Walhall with all the gods and heroes inside.
  • Evil Counterpart:
    • In the end, Wotan and Alberich aren't too different. Wotan even refers to himself and Alberich as "Light Alberich" and "Black Alberich" at points.
    • Siegfried and Hagen are both illegitimate and both being used to recover the ring, Siegfried by his grandfather Wotan and Hagen by his father Alberich.
  • Evil Laugh: Alberich gets one when he steals the Rhine-gold from the maidens.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: As with Alberich, Hunding, and Hagen. On the other hand, the well-intentioned, if weak, Gunther is a baritone, and on the other other hand, Mime is a squeaky tenor.
  • Evil Versus Evil: Alberich and Mime. However, Mime can easily come across as too pathetic to be evil.
  • Eyepatch of Power: Wotan.
  • Face–Heel Turn: Alberich does a decidedly abrupt one of these, starting as a inept lover but quickly transforming into an Evil Overlord and staying that way for the rest of the cycle. This also sets the entire rest of the plot in motion.
  • Faint in Shock: Sieglinde; first in guilt and fear over her Twincest with her brother Siegmund, and again after Siegmund is killed.
  • Fanfare: Several of Wagner's Leitmotive (e.g., Siegfried's horncall) have the character of fanfares. At Bayreuth, certain motifs are played as fanfares from the balcony of the Festspielhaus to announce the beginning of an act.
  • Fearless Fool: Siegfried has never learned what fear is until he meets Brünnhilde. (No, you're not supposed to laugh.)
  • Fire/Water Juxtaposition: In the finale of Götterdammerung, Siegfried's body is burned and Brunnhilde commits suicide by jumping into the funeral pyre (which eventually destroys both the Palace of the Gibichungs and Valhalla), while Hagen dies by drowning as he tries to get the ring back from the Rhinemaidens in the flooding river.
  • Flames of Love: Siegfried and Brünnhilde meet and fall in love against a backdrop of fire (the Ring of Fire in which she had been enclosed) and their story also ends in fire, with them being reunited in death on a funeral pyre.
  • Forged by the Gods: The magic sword Nothung, created by Wotan note  and wielded first by Siegmund and then Siegfried.
  • Forging Scene: In Siegfried, the eponymous hero reforges his father's shattered sword Nothung, while singing an address to the weapon, „Nothung! Nothung! Neidliches Schwert!"
  • For Want of a Nail: Wotan spends the whole saga trying to keep the ring from falling back into Alberich's hands — except that all he had to do was return the ring to the Rhinemaidens, which he couldn't do, because he had to pay Fasolt and Fafner for building Valhalla by giving them the ring; and the main reason he built Valhalla was because Fricka hounded him into it; and the only reason she did that was to keep him home and hopefully stop him from running around cheating on her — so, in the final analysis, the whole mess could have been avoided if Wotan had just kept his dick in his pants.
  • From Bad to Worse: Combined with Nice Job Breaking It, Hero. Siegmund tries to help a girl who's forced into marriage. In doing so, he kills her brothers, breaking her heart, and then the girl, still weeping over the bodies, is in turn killed by vengeful clansmen.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Alberich is just a lovesick dwarf until he gets hold of the Rheingold and makes a ring which makes him a threat to the gods themselves.
  • Full-Potential Upgrade: Siegfried has a habit of contemptuously snapping Mime's swords in two until Siegfried finally reforges the invincible Nothung.
  • Gambit Roulette: In Götterdämmerung, it is unclear to what extent Hagen has a masterplan and to what extent he is winging it. If we are meant to understand that he has masterminded the whole affair, then it is definitely this trope.
  • Giggling Villain: Mime is often played this way in Siegfried.
  • God's Hands Are Tied: Why Wotan cannot just kill the giants and take the Ring for himself. It is often thought this is a deconstruction of the idea of divine laws.
  • Give Me a Sword: The weaponless Siegmund voices this sentiment when he sings his aria „Ein Schwert verhieß mir der Vater". At the end of the act he pulls Nothung, which had been planted there by Wotan, out of the ash tree that supports Hunding's roof.
  • Greek Chorus:
    • The leitmotives work as the equivalent of the Greek chorus of old. Advances in composition and music during the Romanticism era lead Richard Wagner to develop this musical technique. Wagner was a Fan Boy of old Greek dramas, especially those of Aeschylus. Thus, he devized a way to make his operas a seamless and endless flow of music, in which commentary about the events happening on stage (much like in the Greek chorus of old) was done by recurring musical phrases: the leitmotives.
    • In a more literal way, the Norns at the prologue of the final opera (Götterdämmerung) work as a traditional Greek chorus: they mention events that so far have happened in the Ring cycle, and they don't interact with any other character in the operas.
  • Hat of Power: The Tarnhelm, which grants the wearer invisibility, shape-shifting, and teleportation.
  • Heavy Mithril: It may be classical music and Older Than Radio, but it's still a textbook example.
  • Henpecked Husband: Wotan feels this way with his wife Fricka. Their introductory scene is Fricka waking him up while he's fast asleep. This aspect is closer to Greek Myth (Zeus and Hera) than Norse myth.
  • Heroic Bastard: Siegfried, presumably; his father Siegmund however refers to Sieglinde as his "wife", though Fricka, Goddess of Marriage, refuses to recognize it.
  • Historical Domain Character: Oddly enough, Gunther, who is based on an actual 5th century Burgundian ruler, Gunthahari.
  • Hope Spot: Occurs notably in Walküre, when Siegmund sees the gleam of the sword that his father has promised him. The hope proves delusive, of course.
  • Hot-Blooded: Siegfried is rather... excitable.
  • Hunting "Accident": Hagen claims that Siegfried has been slain by a wild boar. It lasts about five seconds before Gutrune unmasks him.
  • "I Am Becoming" Song: Siegfried's song while reforging anew Nothung, the shattered sword of his dead father, is a climactic piece in the whole cycle and taken as his rite of passage from boy to man.
  • Iconic Outfit: Brunnhilde's look from the original production— a large woman in Viking-like armor with a helmet, a round shield, and a spear— has become visual shorthand for the entire genre of Opera, especially in a Shallow Parody.
  • Idiot Hero: Siegfried ain't the sharpest sword in the armory.
  • Ignored Confession: In the final act of Götterdämmerung, Gutrune confesses that she created the Love Potion that made Siegfried forget Brünnhilde. However, Brünnhilde doesn't seem to hear this (or be able to register it) and continues wondering why Siegfried had betrayed her.
  • Illegal Guardian: Mime serves as this to Siegfried, in the hope that the boy will kill Fafner for him.
  • Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain: When Mime is first seen his brother Alberich is tormenting him. Then Mime raises Siegfried to kill Fafner so he can get the ring; however, Siegfried is such a jerk to him you can easily feel sorry to him. Mime does try to kill Siegfried, but this certainly seems understandable.
  • In the Back: Hagen kills Siegfried by spearing him in the back.
  • Invisible Jerkass: Alberich uses the magic of the Tarnhelm to turn invisble, and the first thing he does is start beating Mime.
  • It May Help You on Your Quest: In Siegfried, after the eponymous hero kills Fafner, he can understand the forest bird's song telling him to take the ring and helm. He doesn't know what they really are, but it keeps them out of the hands of Alberich and Mime. (Too bad that the ring is an Artifact of Doom...)
  • Jealous Romantic Witness:
    • In some stagings of Das Rheingold, such as the 2006 Copenhagen production, Wotan openly flirts with Erda and kisses her in front of his long-suffering wife Fricka. In the Copenhagen production, Fricka breaks down crying at the sight, and even the return of her sister from captivity (which was arranged thanks to Erda's prompting) can't console her at first.
    • In Twilight of the Gods, Brünnhilde is dumbfounded when she sees her adored husband Siegfried happily preparing to marry Gutrune. Siegfried has been brainwashed, but she doesn't know that at the moment.
  • Jewish Mother: Mime actually tries some of the guilt-tripping this trope is associated with on Siegfried ("And for my worry is this all my wage,/that the passionate boy only hates me/and scolds?"), though it doesn't work. This may be the most benevolent Jewish stereotype Wagner invokes.
  • Karma Houdini: The Rhinemaidens, who are generally treated by the story as good guys and innocent victims even though it was their cruel taunting of Alberich that drove him evil.
  • Kiai: The Valkyries use the well-known cry „Hojotoho! Hojotoho! Heiaha! Heiaha!"Naturally, their cry is a significant musical Leitmotif.
  • Kick the Dog:
    • Alberich's cruel mistreatment of the enslaved Nibelungs in Das Rheingold is probably there to convince the viewer that Alberich is evil, so we don't feel sorry for him when the gods steal his ring.
    • Hagen's mockery of Gutrune after Siegfried's death (in Götterdämmerung) seems pretty uncalled for.
  • Lady of War: The Valkyries, particularly Brünnhilde.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: In Götterdämmerung, Siegfried is drugged to forget that he ever met Brünnhilde, but remembers killing Fafner and all his other early deeds. Later, he steals the Ring from Brünnhilde, but promptly forgets this.
  • Laser-Guided Tyke-Bomb: Mime raised up Siegfried to be his champion, to kill Fafner and win for him Fafner's treasure.
  • Last Kiss: Wotan memorably gives this to Brünnhilde in Walküre.
  • Leitmotif: The Leitmotif technique, if not invented by Wagner, was certainly perfected by him. In his operas, not only would every character have his/her own motif, but also objects, places, and even abstract ideas, all of which would be woven into a complex symphonic whole, in which the variations of the motifs have a psychological effect far more significant than a mere announcement of a character's presence.
  • Light Is Not Good: Done rather subtly in the Ring, in which often the only difference between Wotan and Alberich is that Wotan somewhat regrets his actions — but does them anyway. Wotan actually refers to himself as „Licht-Alberich" ("Light-Alberich") and to the dwarf as „Schwarz-Alberich" ("Black-Alberich").
  • Love at First Sight: Plenty of examples in the Ring:
    • Long lost siblings Siegmund and Sieglinde quickly fall in love in Act I of Die Walküre.
    • Siegfried instantly falls in love with Brünnhilde after he braves the magic fire and awakens her with a kiss.
  • Love Potion: Where it also induces Easy Amnesia in Siegfried.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: After tasting Fafner's blood grants Siegfried the ability to see through Mime's lies, he (and the audience) hear Mime describe his plans to murder Siegfried, sung in a friendly manner.
  • MacGuffin: The Ring itself (based on the mythological Andvaranaut, which merely had the power to find gold), which has vast but vaguely-defined powers, and to make which one must renounce love. Unfortunately, its wearers tend to have it stolen from them for various reasons before they can do much with it, and Alberich makes things worse by cursing it, so that disaster comes to any who own it.
  • Meaningful Name: As when Siegmund ("Victorious Protection") calls himself „Wehwalt der Wölfing — ("Sorrow-ruled, son of Wolfe").
  • Mood Motif: One of the basic functions of the Leitmotive.
  • My Horse Is a Motorbike: In a Detroit Opera production, Brünnhilde's horse Grane was played by a Ford Mustang.
  • Named Weapons: The principal sword in the Ring is named Nothung, meaning 'Born of Need'.
  • Never My Fault: After Fricka criticizes Wotan for his bargain, to give Freia to Fasolt and Fafner in exchange for building Walhall note  Wotan criticizes Loge for giving him bad advice, even though the bargain was entirely Wotan's idea, and Loge is only there to get him out of it.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: The Rhinemaidens explain to Alberich that the power of the Rheingold may only be won by renouncing love, and then mercilessly tease him. Yeah, thanks a lot.
  • No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup: Early in the composition of Siegfried's Todt, which eventually became Götterdämmerung, Wagner intended for the opera to be performed three times in a temporary wooden theatre. Then, all the music and the theatre would be burned. Thankfully, this didn't happen.
  • Only Sane Demigod: Loge stands out as the only character in Rheingold who doesn't immediately pick up the Idiot- and/or Villain Ball upon coming into proximity of the ring, instead trying to convince his master to return it to the Rhinemaidens and break the curse.
  • Only the Chosen May Wield: The sword in the ash tree, which can be only pulled out by Siegmund, as he does in Die Walküre Act I.
  • Orchestral Bombing: The Walkürenritt.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: As a matter of fact, the dragon (Fafner) is a transformed giant, possibly through use of the magical Tarnhelm. Alberich briefly becomes a dragon using the Tarnhelm, too.
  • Our Dwarves Are All the Same: Except for Alberich and Mime, the Nibelung dwarfs are pretty much Punch-Clock Mooks.
  • Playing with Fire: Loge is the God of Fire (and Trickery) and Wotan summons him to create the enchanted flames to surround Brünnhilde.
  • Pop-Cultural Osmosis: An astonishing number of Wagnerians have been attracted to his music via Apocalypse Now and Looney Tunes cartoons.
  • The Power of Love: In the Ring, though Sieglinde is rescued from Hunding, and Brünnhilde from the Ring of Fire, Sieglinde's love does not save Siegmund, and Brünnhilde's actually leads to Siegfried's death, and both the ladies (like everyone except the Rhine-daughters, and possibly the Nibelungs) die under rather unpleasant circumstances. (A monologue in an early version of the text, in which Brünnhilde specifically invoked The Power of Love before burning herself to death, was deliberately cut by the composer because it no longer represented his philosophical ideas.)
  • Public Domain Artifact: Averted; the Ring (or rather, any of its prototypes) was not a well-known artifact before Wagner.
  • The Punishment: Alberich, in the Ring, must renounce all love in order to steal the magical Rhine-Gold that will make him ruler of the world.
  • Rapid Aging: Freia tends the orchard that grows the Golden Apples, which give the gods their immortality. When she is dragged off by Fasolt and Fafner, the remaining gods grow visibly older (except for the demi-god Loge, who comments on what is happening).
  • Reforged Blade: Nothung, in Siegfried.
  • Reluctant Gift: Wotan is hesitant to give away Alberich's Ring as payment to the giants for the building of Valhalla. Erda has to convince him to do this.
  • "Ride of the Valkyries": The Trope Namer comes from Die Walküre.
  • Ring of Fire: Brünnhilde is imprisoned in one at the climax of Die Walküre.
  • Ring of Power: The central symbol of Der Ring des Nibelungen is an inevitably corrupting, incorrigibly evil ring inscribed with flaming runes.
  • Royal Bastard: Hagen is the illegitimate son of Alberich and queen Grimhild, the mother of king Gunther.
  • Sacred Hospitality: Invoked by Hunding in Walküre with the words „Heilig ist mein Herd — heilig sei dir mein Haus!" ("Sacred is my hearth — sacred to thee be my house!") Despite realising Siegmund is the man who was hunting for killing members of his clan he says he will let him stay the night. Then Siegmund elopes with Hunding's Wife.
  • Sadly Mythtaken: Or sometimes Willfully Mythtaken. Wagner has enraged folklorists from his own time to the present for adapting ancient myths and legends with abandon, and in the process, ousting the originals from the minds of most of the public.
    • The greatest example is how the cycle is a composite of three entirely unrelated myths — the building of Valhalla's walls (with Fafner and Fasolt being composites of Fafnir and Hreiðmar, the original recipients of the Ring, with the unnamed giant who built the walls and didn't get paid in the original story), the story of the Andvaranaut (which originally only had the power to help the wearer find gold, and was stolen by Loki as reparations for accidentally killing Hreiðmar's son in the form of an otter), a part of the Volsunga Saga, and Ragnarök (the Norse apocalypse, which was not caused by Siegfried's death or Odin's carving a spear off the World Tree).
  • Screw Destiny: The plot of Walküre is based around an attempt to do so by first Wotan and then Brünnhilde which ultimately fails due to the characters' fundamental dysfunction and the toxic influence of the Ring.
  • Self-Immolation: Brünnhilde.
  • Serial Escalation: Where Wagner took opera — I mean, Bühnenfestspiel.
  • Shock and Awe: Donner, god of Thunder and Lighting.
  • Small Reference Pools: The "Ride of the Valkyries" is one of a select group of classical pieces known to practically everyone who knows classical music only from POP Culture references. Likewise, the Ring of the Nibelung itself appears whenever opera is mentioned, but only if "Viking" helmets are involved, and usually without any of the Master's music.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: Freia, for all her literally vital importance in Das Rheingold, only has six lines (most of them cries for help). However, since the part isn't that demanding vocally, this allows Freia to be sung by young, slender and beautiful women as demanded by the libretto.
  • Space Jews: The Nibelungs have been claimed by some to be stand-ins for the Jews. See Does This Remind You of Anything? above.
  • Speaks Fluent Animal: Siegfried can do this after tasting the dragon's blood.
  • Spirit Advisor: Alberich seems to fulfill this function for Hagen in Götterdämmerung.
  • Standard Snippet: The "Ride of the Valkyries". "Siegfried's Funeral March" from Götterdämmerung has also been used for funerals in the real world.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Falling in love is generally not a good idea in a Wagner opera:
    • Siegmund is killed by Hunding (after Wotan shatters Siegmund's sword), Sieglinde dies in child-birth.
    • Siegfried is speared in the back, Brünnhilde burns herself to death on his funeral-pyre.
    • Gutrune apparently dies of grief.
  • The Starscream: Mime, in his relationship with Alberich.
  • Stealing from Thieves: Alberich steals the Rhine-gold, but is robbed of it soon afterwards by Loge and Wotan. Wotan is eager to get the Rhine-gold but wouldn't want to renounce love (which is the necessary condition for stealing the gold from its original place in the Rhine).
    Loge: What a thief stole, steal thou from the thief: couldst better gain aught for thine own?
  • Stockholm Syndrome: In some versions of Das Rheingold, Freia is shown to develop sympathy for the love-stricken Fasolt.
  • Tenor Boy: Invoked with Siegmund and Siegfried — the more "boyish" Wagnerian rôles, though perhaps subverted by Mime.
  • Theme Song Reveal: One of the basic uses of the Leitmotif, as for instance when the Walhall motif plays when Sieglinde describes the old man who thrust the sword into Hunding's roof-tree.
  • Threads of Fate: Götterdämmerung opens with the Three Norns, the Nordic equivalent of the Fates weaving and braiding their rope atop a mountain. The rope frays and snaps, and they proclaim it a sign of impending disaster.
  • The Time of Myths: The setting for the Ring Cycle.
  • Trash the Set: If everything went according to one of Wagner's original plans, before the single opera expanded into a four-part cycle, it was meant to be staged in a temporary wooden building that was to be set ablaze at the story's end.
  • Tricking the Shapeshifter: Loge captures Alberich by daring him to transform into something small, whereupon Alberich becomes a toad.
  • Twincest: Siegmund and Sieglinde in Die Walküre.
  • Ultimate Blacksmith: Alberich, Mime, and Siegfried all have claims on the part.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: The Rheinmadens not only let slip to Alberich that the power of the Rheingold can be unlocked by swearing a curse against love, they then tease and mock him until he is so distraught and angry that he does exactly that.
  • Valkyries: It is Wagner's version that most people think of when imagining these mythological "Gatherers of the Slain" — however, it is worth noting that unlike the popular conception, Wagner's original Valkyries did not wear horned helmets, but winged ones; did not ride winged horses, though they were aerial ones; and, though intended to be rather manly, ungentle women, were intended to be statuesque in the 19th century manner, rather than just plain fat.
  • Verbal Backpedaling: In Siegfried, the dragon's blood acts as a reverse Truth Serum, allowing Siegfried (and the audience) to hear through Mime's lies. Several times, Mime lets his malicious intent slip; Siegfried questions him; he objects that he didn't say anything untoward, then continues in a soothing tone telling Siegfried He Has Outlived His Usefulness.
  • Voice of the Legion: Fafner, after he becomes a dragon, is subject to various kinds of technological vocal amplification — originally just a speaking trumpet, but using higher and higher tech ever since.
  • We Are Not Going Through That Again: Hagen survives the fire and flood in the final act of 'Gotterdämmerung''— and when he tries to get the Ring the Rhinemaidens drown him.
  • We Can Rule Together: Hagen asks his father Alberich who will inherit the "eternal power" (ewige Macht) of the Ring if he gets it back from Siegfried. Alberich says: "I... and you!" He can't fool his son though.
  • The Weird Sisters:
    • In The Rhine-Gold, the Rhine-Maidens are three water-women who guard the magical Rhine-Gold, but lose it to Alberich who forges it into a magical ring. In Act 3 of Götterdämmerung, Siegfried, the present owner of Alberich's ring, accidentally encounters the Rhine-Maidens who warn him about the curse of the ring and urge him to return it to the river. When Siegfried dismisses the warning, they predict Siegfried's death, which comes to pass.
    • In the beginning of Götterdämmerung, the three Norns are seen weaving the thread of Destiny, and sing a song which predicts the burning of Valhalla and the end of the gods. The thread snaps suddenly, foreshadowing that their prophecy will come true by the end of the opera.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: At the end Alberich is still around; however, this is appropriate as only he and the Rhinemaidens survive and the Ring Cycle started with them. Some versions don't make it clear what happened to Gutrune, though she is supposed to face Death by Despair.
  • Woman Scorned: For Brünnhilde, it is not enough that her husband, Siegfried, completely forgot her due to a love potion and married Gutrune, he also kidnapped her in the form of Gunther, and took her wedding Ring.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: The first step in bringing forth the fall of gods and man? Three beautiful women scorning poor, ugly Alberich until he is so bitter that he renounces love.
  • World of Ham: "Wagnerian" has become practically a synonym for this.
  • The World Tree: The ash tree trunk in Hunding's house (which older sources call an oak or apple tree) may be an attempt to invoke a connection to Yggdrasil.
  • Wrecked Weapon: Happens twice, once when Wotan shatters Siegmund's sword Nothung with his spear, and again when Siegfried symmetrically shatters Wotan's spear with the reforged Nothung.
  • You Are Worth Hell: Siegmund rejects eternal glory in Valhalla rather than be separated from wife/sister Sieglinde. See above trope, Twincest.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Mime raised Siegfried for the purpose of defeating Fafner and gaining him the treasure. After Siegfried's success, Mime plans to kill him.

Works that adapt The Ring of the Nibelung:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Leiji Matsumoto wrote a manga titled Harlock Saga: The Ring of the Nibelung that retells the story using characters from Captain Harlock and his other works.

    Comic Books 
  • In The Mighty Thor #294-299 (1980) Roy Thomas and Keith Pollard adapt the Ring as an event that happened in the past with Thor as both Siegmund and Siegfried in addition to himself and Valkyrie and Brunhilda. It is the only adaptation in this folder that is rated for everyone. Each opera was told over the course of two issues, sometimes ending in the middle of an issue where the next one would then begin.
  • Roy Thomas and Gil Kane produced a direct comic adaptation of the tetralogy, the four-part graphic novel The Ring of the Nibelung (DC, 1990). Each opera got one issue to tell the story resulting in this being a Compressed Adaptation. Due to nudity and violence this is for mature readers.
  • A sumptuous complete adaptation based on the translation by Patrick Mason, The Ring of the Nibelung, was produced by P. Craig Russell (Dark Horse Press, 2000-2001). "The Rhine-gold" and "Twilight of the Gods" were told over the course of four issues while "The Valkyrie" and "Siegfried" were told over the course of three. This adaptation is for readers aged sixteen and up.



    Video Games 
  • There exists two Point and Click Adventure Game adaptations of the opera, both of which are Abandonware. The first game, Ring: The Legend of the Nibelungen, covers the first half of the opera and was released in 1998 while its sequel, Ring II: Twilight of the Gods, covered the second half and was released in 2003. While there are many differences between the games and the opera, the main difference from the opera is that these adaptations are set in a Science Fiction setting.

    Western Animation 
  • The third episode of Operavox is an adaptation of "Das Rheingold". Due to a thirty-minute run time, Donner, Froh, Mime, and Erda were all omitted.

Alternative Title(s): The Ring Cycle, Ring Of The Nibelung, Der Ring Des Nibelungen, Ring Cycle, Die Walkuere, Siegfried, Goetterdaemmerung, The Valkyrie