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Wotan


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(Wagner: Das Rheingold; Die Walküre; Siegfried). Bass‐bar. Ruler of the gods. Husband of Fricka and father of the Valkyries by the earth‐goddess Erda. He has also fathered mortal children. Before the start of the opera, he gouged out one of his eyes in his quest to acquire wisdom. His ambition to rule the world leads to the downfall of the gods.

Das Rheingold: Wotan has asked the giants, Fasolt and Fafner, to build a castle for him (Valhalla) from within which he will reign supreme. He has committed himself to giving the giants his sister‐in‐law, Freia, in payment and ignores all his wife's pleadings and rantings. He is relying on the wily Loge to come up with a bright idea to avoid paying the giants as promised. When Loge does come, it is with the news that Alberich has stolen the gold from the Rhine and has made a Ring which gives him power over the whole world. If they could obtain it, they could pay the giants with the gold in lieu of Freia. Wotan and Loge descend to Nibelheim. They watch Alberich forcing his fellow dwarfs to work for him—they must all do his bidding because he has the Ring. Wotan is determined to steal the gold, including the Ring from Alberich's finger. He and Loge capture Alberich and take the gold and the Ring. As Wotan puts the Ring on his own finger, Alberich utters a terrible curse on it—it will bring no one happiness and death to all who wear it. They return to the mountain and give the gold to the giants, but Wotan wants to keep the Ring. When all the hoard of gold is stacked in front of Freia, there is a small chink through which her eyes are visible. This must be blocked, and the only gold remaining is the Ring on Wotan's finger, with which he is understandably reluctant to part. Erda rises from the earth and warns Wotan of his folly if he keeps the Ring—it will end in his own destruction. Reluctantly he adds it to the rest of the gold and Freia is freed. The giants fight over the Ring and Fafner kills Fasolt—already the curse is working. Wotan and Fricka lead the gods across the rainbow bridge into Valhalla. Aria: Abendlich strahlt der Sonne Auge (‘The sun's eye sheds its evening beams’).

Die Walküre: Wotan has nine daughters (the Valkyries) by Erda, his favourite being Brünnhilde whom he asks to make sure his son Siegmund wins his fight with Hunding. Fricka, Wotan's wife, arrives and, as the goddess of marriage, supports Hunding against his wife Sieglinde, who has eloped with her brother Siegmund. Fricka makes Wotan swear not to help Siegmund. After she has gone, he explains to Brünnhilde what has happened. He also tells her the story of her own background, the warning he had from Erda, and his own wrong‐doings which have left him in fear of Alberich regaining the gold. He was hoping that Siegmund would help him, but now Fricka has extracted this promise from him. To his amazement and anger, Brünnhilde, who has always obeyed his every wish, refuses to listen to Fricka's command—she will not protect Hunding. Wotan knows he will have to take matters into his own hands, or risk Fricka's wrath. When Siegmund and Hunding fight, he holds his own spear in front of Hunding and Siegmund, striking out, shatters his sword on the spear. In retaliation, Wotan causes Hunding to die. Wotan storms off to find and punish his disobedient daughter. On their mountain, he finds her surrounded by her sisters. They beg him to forgive her but he is adamant—she must be punished. Brünnhilde reveals herself and tells her father she is ready for whatever punishment he wishes to bestow. Wotan declares her no longer to be his daughter, although it is clear that it costs him dearly so to treat his favourite child. She will be put to sleep on a rock and will belong to the first man who finds her and wakes her. The other Valkyries plead in vain and are dismissed. Brünnhilde asks Wotan to explain to her what her terrible sin has been, as she knows she only did what, deep in his heart, he wanted to do himself. But he is determined to carry out his threat. She begs her father at least to ensure that the man who reaches the rock on which she will sleep is a hero—will he not surround the rock with fire to make it difficult for anyone but a hero to find her? Loving her dearly as he does, Wotan agrees to her request. He embraces her lovingly and bids her farewell. He lays her on the rock, covered by her helmet and shield, and summons Loge to start the fire, which makes a circle round the sleeping Brünnhilde. He, as well as she, now knows that only a brave hero will be able to reach his beloved daughter. Arias: Als junger Liebe Lust mir verblich (‘When young love's pleasures faded in me’); Ein andres ist's: achte es wohl (‘It is something else: listen carefully’); Lebwohl, du Kühnes, herrliches Kind! (‘Farewell, you bold, wonderful child!’—Wotan's Farewell).

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Subjects: Opera.


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