Siegfried (opera)

Music drama by Richard Wagner
Jean de Reszke as Siegfried - Félix Nadar (MetOpera Database).jpg
Jean de Reszke as Siegfried (c. 1896)
LibrettistRichard Wagner
Based onNordic and German legends
16 August 1876 (1876-08-16)

Siegfried (German: [/ˈziːk.fʀiːt/] (audio speaker iconlisten)), WWV 86C, is the third of the four music dramas that constitute Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung), by Richard Wagner. It premiered at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus on 16 August 1876, as part of the first complete performance of The Ring cycle.

Background and context

Structure of the Ring cycle

  1. Das Rheingold
  2. Die Walküre
  3. Siegfried
  4. Götterdämmerung

The libretto of Siegfried was drafted by Wagner in November–December 1852, based on an earlier version he had prepared in May–June 1851 and originally entitled Jung-Siegfried (Young Siegfried), later changed to Der junge Siegfried. The musical composition was commenced in 1856, but not finally completed until 1871.[1]

The libretto arose from Wagner's gradual reconception of the project he had initiated with his libretto Siegfrieds Tod (Siegfried's Death) which was eventually to be incarnated as Götterdämmerung, the final section of the Ring cycle. Having grappled with his text for Siegfrieds Tod, and indeed having undertaken some musical sketches for it during 1851, he realized that it would need a 'preface'. At this point he conceived that the prefatory opera, Der junge Siegfried, could act as a comic foil to the tragedy of Siegfrieds Tod.[2] Preliminary musical sketches for Der junge Siegfried in 1851 were however quickly abandoned, although Wagner had written to his friend Theodor Uhlig that "the musical phrases are making themselves for these stanzas and periods, without my even having to take pains for them. It's all growing out of the ground as if it were wild." Shortly afterwards he wrote to Uhlig that he was now planning to tell the Siegfried story in the form of "three dramas, plus a prologue in three acts"—a clear prefiguring of the Ring cycle.[3]

Full work was finally commenced on the music of Siegfried, as the composer henceforth referred to it, in 1856, when Wagner prepared concurrently two drafts, a complete draft in pencil and a version in ink on up to three staves in which he worked out details of instrumentation and vocal line. The composition of Acts 1 and 2 was completed by August 1857. Wagner then left off work on Siegfried to write the operas Tristan und Isolde and Die Meistersinger. He did not resume work on Siegfried until 1869, when he composed the third act. The final revision of the score was undertaken in February 1871. Performance was withheld until the first complete production of the Ring cycle, at Bayreuth in August 1876.[1]


RoleVoice typePremiere cast, 16 August 1876
(Conductor: Hans Richter)
SiegfriedtenorGeorg Unger
MimetenorMax Schlosser
Wotan (disguised as The Wanderer)bass-baritoneFranz Betz
AlberichbaritoneKarl Hill
FafnerbassFranz von Reichenberg
Waldvogel (the woodbird)soprano[1]Marie Haupt
ErdacontraltoLuise Jaide
BrünnhildesopranoAmalie Materna


Act 1

Scene 1

Leitmotif for the Nibelungs

A cave in rocks in the forest. An orchestral introduction includes references to leitmotifs including themes relating to the original hoard plundered by the Nibelung Alberich, and one in B-flat minor associated with the Nibelungs themselves.[4] As the curtain rises, Alberich's brother, the dwarf Mime, is forging a sword. Mime is plotting to obtain the ring of power originally created by his brother Alberich. He has raised the human boy Siegfried as a foster child, to kill Fafner, who obtained the ring and other treasures in the opera Das Rheingold and has since transformed himself from a giant to a dragon. Mime needs a sword for Siegfried to use, but the youth has contemptuously broken every sword Mime has made. Siegfried returns from his wanderings in the forest with a wild bear in tow, and immediately breaks the new sword. After a whining speech by Mime about ingratitude, and how Mime has brought him up from a mewling infant ("Als zullendes Kind"), Siegfried senses why he keeps coming back to Mime although he despises him: he wants to know his parentage. Mime is forced to explain that he encountered Siegfried's mother, Sieglinde, when she was in labor; she died giving birth to Siegfried. He shows Siegfried the broken pieces of the sword Nothung, which she had left in his custody. Siegfried orders him to reforge the sword; however, Mime is unable to accomplish this. Siegfried departs, leaving Mime in despair.[5]

Scene 2

An old man (Wotan in disguise) arrives at the door and introduces himself as the Wanderer. In return for the hospitality due a guest, he wagers his head on answering any three questions Mime may ask. The dwarf asks the Wanderer to name the races that live beneath the ground, on the earth, and in the skies. These are the Nibelungs, the Giants, and the Gods, as the Wanderer answers correctly. When Mime still refuses hospitality, the Wanderer reverses the wager. He asks: the race most beloved of Wotan, but most harshly treated; the name of the sword that can destroy Fafner; and the person who can repair the sword. Mime can answer only the first two questions: the Wälsungs (Siegmund and Sieglinde whose tale is told in the opera Die Walküre) and the sword Nothung. Wotan tells him that only "he who does not know fear" can reforge Nothung, and leaves Mime's head forfeit to that person.[6]

Scene 3

Mime despairs as he imagines the ferocity of the dragon Fafner, while "the orchestra paints a dazzling picture of flickering lights and roaring flames".[1] Siegfried returns and is annoyed by Mime's lack of progress. Mime realizes that Siegfried is "the one who does not know fear" and that unless he can instill fear in him, Siegfried will kill him as the Wanderer foretold. He tells Siegfried that fear is an essential craft; Siegfried is eager to learn it, and Mime promises to teach him by taking him to Fafner. Since Mime was unable to forge Nothung, Siegfried decides to do it himself. He succeeds by shredding the metal, melting it, and casting it anew. In the meantime, Mime brews a poisoned drink to offer Siegfried after the youth has defeated the dragon. After he finishes forging the sword, Siegfried demonstrates its strength by chopping the anvil in half with it.[7]

Act 2

Scene 1

Horncall from Act II of 'Siegfried' (Siegfried's leitmotif)
Siegfried tastes the dragon's blood (Rackham)

Deep in the forest. The Wanderer arrives at the entrance to Fafner's cave, where Alberich is keeping vigil. The two enemies recognize each other. Alberich boasts of his plans to regain the ring and rule the world. Wotan states that he does not intend to interfere, only to observe. He even offers to awaken the dragon so that Alberich can bargain with him. Alberich warns the dragon that a hero is coming to kill him, and offers to prevent the fight in exchange for the ring. Fafner dismisses the threat, declines Alberich's offer, and returns to sleep. Wotan leaves and Alberich withdraws, muttering threats.[8]

Scene 2

At daybreak, Siegfried and Mime arrive. After assuring Siegfried that the dragon will teach him what fear is, Mime withdraws. As Siegfried waits for the dragon to appear, he hears a woodbird singing. He attempts to mimic the bird's song using a reed pipe, but is unsuccessful. He then plays a tune on his horn, which brings Fafner out of his cave. After a short exchange, they fight; Siegfried stabs Fafner in the heart with Nothung. In his last moments, Fafner learns Siegfried's name, and tells him to beware of treachery. When Siegfried withdraws his sword from Fafner's body, his hands are burned by the dragon's blood and he puts his finger in his mouth. On tasting the blood, he finds that he can understand the woodbird's song. Following its instructions, he takes the ring and the magic helmet Tarnhelm from Fafner's hoard.[9]

Scene 3

Outside the cave, Alberich and Mime quarrel over the treasure. Alberich hides as Siegfried comes out of the cave. Siegfried complains to Mime that he has still not learned the meaning of fear. Mime offers him the poisoned drink; however, the magic power of the dragon's blood allows Siegfried to read Mime's treacherous thoughts, and he stabs him to death. He throws Mime's body into the treasure cave and places Fafner's body in the cave entrance to block it. The woodbird now sings of a woman sleeping on a rock surrounded by magic fire. Siegfried, wondering if he can learn fear from this woman, follows the bird towards the rock.[10]

Act 3

Siegfried awakens Brünnhilde - Otto von Richter, (1892)

Scene 1

At the foot of Brünnhilde's rock. The Wanderer summons Erda, the earth goddess. Erda, appearing confused, is unable to offer any advice. Wotan informs her that he no longer fears the end of the gods; indeed, it is his desire. His heritage will be left to Siegfried the Wälsung, and Brünnhilde (Erda's and Wotan's child), who will "work the deed that redeems the World." Dismissed, Erda sinks back into the earth.[11]

Scene 2

Siegfried arrives, and the Wanderer questions the youth. Siegfried, who does not recognize his grandfather, answers insolently and starts down the path toward Brünnhilde's rock. The Wanderer blocks his path, but Siegfried mocks him, laughing at his floppy hat and his missing eye, and breaks his spear (the symbol of Wotan's authority) with a blow from Nothung. Wotan calmly gathers up the pieces and vanishes.[12]

Scene 3

Siegfried passes through the ring of fire, emerging on Brünnhilde's rock. At first, he thinks the sleeping armored figure is a man. However, when he removes the armor, he finds a woman beneath. At the sight of the first woman he has ever seen, Siegfried at last experiences fear. In desperation, he kisses Brünnhilde, waking her from her magic sleep. Hesitant at first, Brünnhilde is won over by Siegfried's love, and renounces the world of the gods. Together, they hail "light-bringing love, and laughing death."[13]


Elements of the plot of Siegfried come from a variety of sources.

In a letter to Uhlig, Wagner recounted The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was, based on a fairy-tale of the Brothers Grimm. It concerns a boy so stupid he had never learned to be afraid. Wagner wrote that the boy and Siegfried are the same character. The boy is taught to fear by his wife, and Siegfried learns it when he discovers the sleeping Brünnhilde.[14]

Siegfried's ability in Act Two to see through Mime's deceitful words seems to have been derived from a 19th-century street theatre version of the story of Faust.[1]

Some elements of the story are derived from legends of Sigurd, notably the Völsunga saga and the Thidrekssaga. Scene 1 of Act 3 (between The Wanderer and Erda) has a parallel in the Eddic poem Baldrs draumar, in which Odin questions a völva about the future of the gods.[15]



  1. ^ a b c d e Millington, (n.d.)
  2. ^ Bailey (1977), 49
  3. ^ Bailey (1977), 49–50
  4. ^ Wagner (n.d.), 1–2
  5. ^ Wagner (n.d.), 4–32
  6. ^ Wagner (n.d.), 34–51
  7. ^ Wagner (n.d.), 51–86
  8. ^ Wagner (n.d.), 87–105
  9. ^ Wagner (n.d.), 106–131
  10. ^ Wagner (n.d.), 132–157
  11. ^ Wagner (n.d.), 158–175
  12. ^ Wagner (n.d.), 175–193
  13. ^ Wagner (n.d.), 193–237
  14. ^ Tatar (2003) p. 104
  15. ^ Malm (2000), 277
  • Bailey, Robert (1977). "The Structure of the "Ring" and Its Evolution", in 19th-Century Music, vol.1 no. 1, pp. 48–61.
  • Malm, Mats (2000). "Baldrs draumar: literally and literarily", in Old Norse Myths, Literature and Society: Proceedings of the 11th International Saga Conference 2–7 July 2000, University of Sydney, ed. Geraldine Barnes and Margaret Clunies Ross, pp. 277–289. Sydney: Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Sydney.ISBN 1-86487-3167
  • Millington, Barry (n.d.). "Siegfried" in Grove Music Online (subscription required), accessed 2 September 2015.
  • Tatar, Maria (2003). The Hard Facts of the Grimms' Fairy Tales. Princeton: Princeton University Press. p. 104,ISBN 978-0691114699
  • Wagner, Richard (arr. Richard Kleinmichel) (n.d.). Siegfried (piano score) on IMSLP website, accessed 2 September 2015.

External links

Media files used on this page

CD icon.svg
Author/Creator: Everaldo Coelho (YellowIcon);, Licence: LGPL
An icon from icon theme Crystal;
Author/Creator: Jeuwre, Licence: CC BY-SA 4.0
Pronunciation recording of German noun "Siegfried", IPA: /ˈziːkfʁiːt/. Male voice, recorded by native German speaker from Berlin, Germany.
Nibelung letimotiv.JPG
Leitmotiv for the Nibelungs from introduction to Wagner's opera 'Siegfried'
Horncall from Act II of 'Siegfried'
Having slain Fafner, Siegfried tastes his blood and comes to understand the speech of birds.
Siegfried awakens Brunhild.jpg
Siegfried (Sigurðr) awakens Brunhild (Brynhildr), a scene from Wagner's Ring and Norse mythology