Premiered June 26, 1870 at the Court Theatre in Munich
Music composed by Richard Wagner
During the first opera of the four-part Ring cycle known as Der ring des Nibelungen, Wotan, ruler of the gods, stole from Alberich the magical ring, which was forged with the Rhinedaughters’ gold. Wotan used the ring to pay the giants to build Valhalla rather than returning it to the Rhinedaughters to whom it belonged. To protect himself from Alberich should he recover the ring, Wotan fathered the Valkyrie Brünnhilde, a warrior maiden, with Erda, the earth goddess. Wotan also fathered the mortal twins Siegmund and Sieglinde. Wotan hopes Siegmund, a free being, will be able to reclaim the ring.
During a storm, an unarmed man, pursued by enemies, retreats to a house whose owner he does not know. Sieglinde, the wife of the owner of the house, greets him and gives him water and mead. As he prepares to leave, he says he is dogged by misfortune. Sieglinde begs him to stay.
Hunding, the owner of the house, returns. The stranger, calling himself Woeful, tells Hunding that he and his father one day found their home burnt down and his twin sister abducted. Later, while they were on the run, his father disappeared. Adding to the misfortune, the stranger says his weapons were lost defending a girl who was being forced into marriage by her kin. He killed her brothers.
Realizing the girl's brothers were were his kinsmen, Hunding challenges the stranger to a fight for the next morning. However, he allows the stranger to stay in his house for the night. While alone, the stranger recalls that, according to his father, he would find a sword when he needs it the most.
Sieglinde returns after having drugged Hunding. She explains that at her forced wedding a stranger came and thrust a sword into the tree trunk. No one has since been able to pull it out.
The stranger vows to free her from her loveless marriage. They pledge their love for one another. Discovering his father's name was Wälse, Sieglinde believes the stranger is her twin. She renames him Siegmund. He pulls the sword from the tree and runs away with Sieglinde, now his bride and sister.
At Valhalla, Wotan tells Brünnhilde, his beloved Valkyrie, to protect Siegmund from Hunding. Fricka, Wotan's wife, arrives and demands that Wotan punish Siegmund and Sieglinde for adultery. Wanting to believe his children are innocent, Wotan says that he needs Siegmund, a free being, to do what they cannot.
Fricka exposes the folly of Wotan’s thinking. She says that Siegmund owes his sword and his life to Wotan. If Siegmund were truly free, he would not need Wotan’s protection. Realizing his defeat, Wotan agrees to his wife's demands.
Later, Wotan tells Brünnhilde that he stole the ring from Alberich, that Erda is her mother and that the sole purpose of the Valkyries is to gather fallen heroes to defend him. Wotan says he needs someone with free will to seize the ring from the giant Fafner. Wotan cannot do it himself, nor can Siegmund. He orders Brünnhilde not to protect Siegmund.
Siegmund and Sieglinde are running from Hunding. Brünnhilde appears to Siegmund and says that he will die and go to Valhalla. When Siegmund finds out that Sieglinde cannot go with him, he refuses death.
Moved by compassion, Brünnhilde tries to protect Siegmund, but Wotan shatters Siegmund's sword. Siegmund is then struck dead. Brünnhilde grabs Sieglinde and the pieces of the sword and flees. Wotan kills Hunding.
When Brünnhilde arrives at Valhalla, the Valkyries are shocked to see a mortal woman with her. Brünnhilde begs them to protect her from Wotan, but they fear Wotan’s wrath.
Sieglinde wants to die. When Brünnhilde tells her that she is carrying Siegmund’s child, she gathers the strength to survive. Sieglinde then flees taking the pieces of Siegmund's sword to the forest near Fafner.
Wotan arrives and the Valkyries try, unsuccessfully, to hide Brünnhilde. Wotan decides that Brünnhilde's punishment will be to become mortal and sleep until a man awakens her. She will then become his wife and servant.
Brünnhilde, begging for mercy, explains that she felt compassion for Siegmund and Sieglinde. She believed her action was Wotan’s true desire. She also tells him that Sieglinde will bear a Wälsung hero.
Brünnhilde asks that her sleeping place be surrounded by fire so that only the bravest man will find her. Wotan agrees and encircles her with flames.