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Theatre / The Ring of the Nibelung

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

("Rhine's gold! Rhine's gold! Purest gold!
How bright and clear
you used to shine to us...")
The three Rhine's daughters, lamenting the theft of the Rhine's gold

Der Ring des Nibelungen ("The Ring of the Nibelung"Translation note ) is a 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 single-handedly bringing down the rule of the gods and burning Walhalla 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 being fat 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:

  • Accent Adaptation: Of Germanic (thus including Norse Mythology). Wagner uses the attested German names for the Gods, thus Wotan (Odin) and Fria (Freyja). The other names such as Donner (Thor) is German for thunder which is realted to the old German name Donar. All these words mean thunder in their respective language. Erda (Jord) is Old High German and means earth much like Jord. Froh (Freyr) means glad but originates in the Proto-Germanic word frawaz and is also related to the word Frö which means lord. Froh is thus actually a misstranslation from Wagner's part that should be Frao since Freyr is the masculine form of Freyja and means lord.
  • 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, in the Volsung Saga he and Gunther seem equally responsible in telling their younger brother to do so) but he is ultimately loyal to Gunther. Here 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). Plus, pretty much 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 Fafnir's treasure, originally the treasure of Mime's brother Alberich, and intended to poison Sigefried 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.
  • 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 titular hero realizes he can understand a bird (represented by the flute) after tasting the blood of the dragon Fafnir, and they have a conversation. The interlude "Forest Murmurs" from that same opera also includes birdcalls on flutes.
  • Badass Baritone: Or Bass-baritone. Alberich, Wotan, Fasolt, Fafner, Donner, Hunding, Hagen — Gunther is the only weakling at the deep end of the pool.
  • Bad to the Bone: The Looney Tunes series is very fond particularly of the Nibelung and Giant motifs in heralding any sinister doings.
  • 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.
  • Best Known for the Fanservice: Following the Venusberg scene in Tannhäuser, Wagner was no stranger to this:
    • Das Rheingold opens with the Rhine Maidens frolicking underwater in a scene that scandalized many in the 1870s. One critic referred to it as das Hurenaquarium ("the whores' aquarium"), which angered the husband of one of the singers who had been in that scene so much that he took the critic to court. In one more recent Bayreuth production the singers were required to perform in the nude and sing while swimming in real water.
    • Act 1 of Die Walküre closes with long-separated twins Siegmund and Sieglinde about to have sex, just when (in the words of Wagner's stage instructions) "the curtain falls quickly". Compared to that, even the much-loved "Wotan's farewell and fire magic" at the end of act three faces tough competition.
  • 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: Brunhilde 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 and/or Hagen and Gutrune in Götterdämmerung.
  • 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. However, 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:
    • Odin and Volsung are combined with the latter being a mortal guise of the former.
    • 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 (god of fire). His name further drives the point home: it is a Portmanteau of the German words lühe (lie) and lohe (flame).
    • The dwarf in the original myth was named Andvari, Alberich is the name of a completely different dwarf.
    • Sieglinde is a combination of Signy, sister of Sigmund with whom he had incestuous relations, and Hjordis, wife of Sigmund and mother of Sigurd.
  • Concept Album: The Ring
  • Conflicting Loyalty: What the Ring cycle is all about. The characters are divided and scattered between their desires and duties. Die Walkure especially tackles this well, since Brunnhilde 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 Brunnhilde and remove her from the Valkyrie 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 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.
  • Dark Age Europe: Though really more The Time of Myths. The Jahrhundertring averted this by updating the setting to the Industrial Revolution. The forges and dark mines of the Nibelungen becomes a mine-shaft and factory setting. This was based on the fact that the Ring cycle was contemporary to this era.
  • Death by Flashback: Happens to Siegfried in Götterdämmerung.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Wotan hits his when he realizes he'll be forced to abandon Sigmund to be killed by Hunding.
  • Decomposite Character: Fasolt and Mime both take the role of Regin, the former as Fafnir's brother and the latter as Siegfried's evil-hearted foster father.
  • 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 bought free, she is touched and says: "Do you really think I am worth all that gold?" Evidently she doesn't realize that Wotan mostly just want 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.
  • 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.
  • Easy Amnesia: Brünn-who-lde?
  • End of an Age: Or you could even call it a Götterdämmerung.
  • The Epic: Der Ring des Nibelungen. Performances range between 13 1/2 (Böhm & Boulez) to 17 hours (Goodall).
  • 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 Rhinegold 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 vs. 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.)
  • Flames of Love: Siegfried and Brünnhilde meet and fall in love against a backdrop of fire (the Ring of Fire that she was imprisoned in) 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.
  • Götterdämmerung: Trope Namer.
  • 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 deviced a way to make his operas a seamless and endless flow of music, where 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 6th 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 Brunnhilde 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 knife in the drawer.
  • Ignored Confession: In the final act of Götterdämmerung, Gutrune confesses that she created the Love Potion that made Siegfried forget Brunnhilde. However, Brunnhilde 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.
  • Incest Is Relative: Apart from Siegfried's parents, Siegfried has a relationship with his aunt Brünnhilde, as Wotan is her father.
  • 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.
  • 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...)
  • 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 Nibelungen 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.
  • Kill 'Em All: Götterdämmerung culminates with Siegfried's death, prompting Brünnhilde to make a Heroic Sacrifice that burns down Walhall with all the gods and heroes inside.
  • 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.
  • 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").
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: through the 16 hours that last the 4-part opera series, we get the names of 3 Rhine Daughters, 3 Nornes, 7 Gods, 8 Valkyries...
  • 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.
  • The Low Middle Ages
  • 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.
  • Music of Note: The "Ride of the Valkyries" is the Standard Snippet.
  • Named Weapons: The principal sword in the Ring is named Nothung.
  • 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 Hat: Those winged (and horned) helmets.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: The Rheinmaidens 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: It has been asserted that when composing the Ring, Wagner at one point intended for the operas to be performed three times in a purpose-built opera house. Afterward, all copies of the score and all the props were to be burned, along with the entire opera house. Obviously this did not happen.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Wotan starts out full of passionate hunger for power but gradually moves more and more into this trope later in the cycle.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 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.
  • Self-Immolation: Brünnhilde.
  • Serial Escalation: Where Wagner took opera — I mean, Bühnenfestspiel.
  • Shock and Awe: Donner.
  • 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 Rhinegold, but is robbed of it soon afterwards by Loge and Wotan. Wotan is eager to get the Rhinegold 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.
  • Surprise Incest: Subverted, Siegfried and Sieglinde realises they are siblings but go ahead.
  • 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.
  • The Time of Myths: The setting for the Ring Cycle.
  • Trash the Set: If everything goes according to Wagner's plans, the cycle is meant to be staged in a temporary wooden building that is 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.
  • 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 Gotterdämmerung, 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 Gotterdämmerung, 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.

Works which adapt or cite The Ring of the Nibelung:

    open/close all folders 

    Animated Film 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Giant Robo
  • The Legend of Koizumi features a reincarnated cyborg Wagner as one of Those Wacky Nazis whom our heroes battle, complete with attacks based on his operas.
  • The Yu-Gi-Oh! character, Siegfried von Schroider, is derived from the Wagnerian character, and one of his cards is even called "Nibelung's Ring." Moreover, he has a Valkyrie deck, which is a reference to Walküre.
  • The foundation for The World in the .hack series is based off of this and Norse mythology in general. Several characters also are references.
  • Trinity Blood: Melchior von Neumann's favourite Auto-Doll is named Sieglinde.
  • Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea also references the Ring. Ponyo's original name is Brunhilde, and like the character of the same name from the opera, she's a supernatural being who defies her father and falls in love with a human. In case someone thought all this is coincidental, the connection is further emphasized when her leitmotif is orchestrated as a pastiche of the "Ride of the Valkyries" during the climactic tsunami scene.
  • 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 Siegfriend 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 Rheingold" and "Gotterdamerung" 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 age sixteen and up.


  • In James Herriot's "All Creatures Great and Small" books, Siegfried Farnon got that name because his father was a fan of Wagner.
  • In George C. Chesbro's The Beasts of Valhalla, Evilutionary Biologist Siegmund Loge (ha ha) is a fanatical Wagner fan.
  • The main character of Robert A. Heinlein's The Cat Who Walks Through Walls also admits to cribbing the plot for one of his books from Der Ring des Nibelungen.
  • In John C. Wright's The Chronicles of Chaos, there is banter mangling together The Lord of the Rings and Der Ring des Nibelungen.
  • Stephen R. Donaldson's The Gap series is literally a Space Opera, being an adaptation of the Ring IN SPACE!.
  • George Bernard Shaw’s The Perfect Wagnerite is an analysis of the Ring from a Socialist point of view. It was a big influence on Patrice Chéreau's Jahrhundertring, the production for the centennial of the Bayreuth festival in 1979.
  • In Nicholas Meyer's Sherlock Holmes Pastiche The Seven Per Cent Solution, Holmes (who adores Wagner), Dr. Watson, and Sigmund Freud all attend a performance of Siegfried; Watson and Freud fall asleep.
  • In James Joyce's Ulysses, Stephen Dedalus yells "Nothung!" as he destroys a lamp with his staff.
  • In The Sleeping Beauty, the little bird warns Siegfried not to take the ring or mess with Bruunhilde, saying it will be his "DOOM!" After a book's length of other adventures, Bruunhilde is awakened by a completely different prince, tells Wotan exactly what she thinks of him and the entire story, and informs him that she took the Ring back to the river maidens herself and put an end to the whole silly misunderstanding.
  • Tom Holt's comic fantasy novel, Expecting Someone Taller, is, very loosely, a sequel, set in modern times.
  • The novella Wälsungenblut ("Wälsung Blood", written in 1906) by Thomas Mann invokes Die Walküre: Decadent Jewish twins Siegmund and Sieglind Aarenhold decide to emulate the example of their namesakes after attending a performance of the opera.
  • In Soul Music Susan, while doing her grandfather's Duty, has to visit a battlefield, where she meets a group of Valkyries in a scene that parodies the beginning of act 3 of Die Walküre.

    Live Action TV 
  • On Kingdom during a Chase Scene involving Peter Kingdom's Cool Car and a guy on a bike. Lyle puts on the "Ride of the Valkyries."
  • In the Münster Tatort Professor Karl-Friedrich Boerne is a great admirer of Richard Wagner, which led him to give his diminutive assistant Silke Haller the nickname Alberich. In the course of later episodes she acquired a dog called Wotan, which belonged to a murder victim who turned out to be Boerne's near-identical half-brother, and it was revealed that she lives in Rheingoldweg ("Rhine Gold Way").


  • In the aftermath of the Enron disaster, the Firesign Theater compared the Enron story to "The Ring cycle," with hilarious results. A video of that show can be found on the DVD of Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room.


    Video Games 

    Western Animation 

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


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