By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon

We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Stories of the Wagner Opera
Author: Guerber, H. A. (Hélène Adeline), 1859-1929
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Stories of the Wagner Opera" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.

[Illustration: RICHARD WAGNER.]




Author of



_Copyright 1895_,

University Press:

Dedicated to my Friend,
M.A. McC.


These short sketches, which can be read in a few moments' time,
are intended to give the reader as clear as possible an outline
of the great dramatist-composer's work.

The author is deeply indebted to Professor G.T. Dippold, to
Messrs. Forman, Jackman, and Corder, and to the Oliver Ditson
Company, for the poetical quotations scattered throughout
the text.


  Rienzi, the Last of the Tribunes                    7
  The Flying Dutchman                                23
  Tannhäuser                                         38
  Lohengrin                                          56
  Tristan and Ysolde                                 72
  The Master-Singers of Nuremberg                    88
  The Nibelung's Ring.--Rheingold                   105
  The Walkyrie                                      120
  Siegfried                                         138
  Dusk of the Gods                                  154
  Parsifal                                          172


  Richard Wagner                           Frontispiece
  Banishment of Rienzi                                7
  Senta                                              23
  Tannhäuser and Venus                               38
  Ortrud kneeling before Elsa                        56
  Tristan's Death                                    72
  Walther crowned by Eva                             88
  The Rhine Maidens                                 105
  Brunhilde discovering Siegmund and Sieglinde      120
  Siegfried and Mime                                138
  Siegfried and the Rhine Maidens                   154
  Parsifal in the Enchanted Garden                  172




Wagner was greatly troubled in the beginning of his career about
the choice of subjects for his operas. His first famous work,
'Rienzi,' is founded upon the same historical basis as Bulwer's
novel bearing the same name, and is a tragic opera in five
acts. The composer wrote the poem and the first two acts of
the score in 1838, during his residence at Riga, and from there
carried it with him to Boulogne. There he had an interview with
Meyerbeer, after his memorable sea journey. Wagner submitted
his libretto and the score for the first acts to that famous
composer, who is reported to have said, 'Rienzi is the best
opera-book extant,' and who gave him introductions to musical
directors and publishers in Paris. In spite of this encouraging
verdict on Meyerbeer's part, Wagner soon discovered that there
was no chance of success for 'Rienzi' in France, and, after
completing the score while dwelling at Meudon, he forwarded
it in 1841 to Dresden. Here the opera found friends in the
tenor Tichatscheck and the chorus-master Fisher, and when it
was produced in 1842 it was received with great enthusiasm. The
opera, which gave ample opportunity for great scenic display,
was so long, however, that the first representation lasted
from six o'clock to midnight. But when Wagner would fain have
made excisions, the artists themselves strenuously opposed him,
and preferred to give the opera in two successive evenings. At
the third representation Wagner himself conducted with such
success that 'he was the hero of the day.' This great triumph
was reviewed with envy by the admirers of the Italian school of
music, and some critics went so far in their partisanship as to
denounce the score as 'blatant, and at times almost vulgar.'
Notwithstanding these adverse criticisms, the opera continued
to be played with much success at Dresden, and was produced at
Berlin some years later, and at Vienna in 1871.

As Wagner's subsequent efforts have greatly surpassed this first
work, 'Rienzi' is not often played, and has seldom been produced
in America, I believe owing principally to its great length.
The scene of 'Rienzi' is laid entirely in the streets and Capitol
of Rome, in the middle of the fourteenth century, when the city
was rendered unsafe by the constant dissensions and brawls among
the noble families. Foremost among these conflicting elements
were the rival houses of Colonna and Orsini, and, as in those
days each nobleman kept an armed retinue within a fortified
enclosure in town, he soon became a despot. Fearing no one,
consulting only his own pleasure and convenience, he daily
sallied forth to plunder, kidnap, and murder at his will.
Such being the state of affairs, the streets daily flowed
with blood; the merchants no longer dared open their shops and
expose their wares lest they should be summarily carried away,
and young and pretty women scarcely dared venture out of their
houses even at noonday, lest they should be seen and carried
away by noblemen.

Terrified by the lawlessness of the barons, whom he could no
longer control, the Pope left Rome and took refuge at Avignon,
leaving the ancient city a helpless prey to the various political
factions which were engaged in continual strife. This state of
affairs was so heart-rending that Rienzi, an unusually clever man
of the people and an enthusiast, resolved to try and rouse the
old patriotic spirit in the breast of the degenerate Romans,
and to induce them to rise up against their oppressors and
shake off their hated yoke.

Naturally a scholar and a dreamer, Rienzi would probably never
have seen the necessity of such a thing, or ventured to attempt
it, had he not seen his own little brother wantonly slain
during one of the usual frays between the Orsini and Colonna
factions. The murderer, a scion of the Colonna family, considered
the matter as so trivial that he never even condescended to
excuse himself, or to offer any redress to the injured parties,
thus filling Rienzi's heart with a bitter hatred against all the
patrician race. Secretly and in silence the young enthusiast
matured his revolutionary plans, winning many adherents by his
irresistible eloquence, and patiently bided his time until a
suitable opportunity occurred to rally his partisans, openly
defy the all-powerful barons, and restore the old freedom and
prosperity to Rome.

The opera opens at nightfall, with one of the scenes so common
in those days, an attempt on the part of the Orsini to carry off
by force a beautiful girl from the presumably safe shelter of
her own home. The street is silent and deserted, the armed band
steal noiselessly along, place their scaling ladder under the
fair one's casement, and the head of the Orsini, climbing up,
seizes her and tries to carry her off in spite of her frantic
cries and entreaties.

The noise attracts the attention of Adrian, heir of the Colonna
family, and when he perceives that the would-be kidnappers wear
the arms and livery of the Orsini, his hereditary foes, he seizes
with joyful alacrity the opportunity to fight, and pounces upon
them with all his escort. A confused street skirmish ensues,
in the course of which Adrian rescues the beautiful maiden,
whom he recognises as Irene, Rienzi's only sister. Attracted by
the brawl, the people crowd around the combatants, cheering and
deriding them with discordant cries, and becoming so excited
that they refuse to disperse when the Pope's Legate appears
and timidly implores them to keep the peace.

The tumult has reached a climax when Rienzi suddenly comes
upon the scene, and authoritatively reminds his adherents that
they have sworn to respect the law and the Church, and bids
them withdraw. His words, received with enthusiastic cries
of approbation by the people, are, however, scorned by the
barons, who would fain continue the strife, but are forced
to desist. Anxious to renew hostilities as soon as possible,
and to decide the question of supremacy by the force of arms,
the irate noblemen then and there appoint a time and place
for a general encounter outside the city gates on the morrow,
when they reluctantly disperse.

The appointment has been overheard by Rienzi, who, urged by the
Legate of the Pope and by the clamours of the people to strike
a decisive blow, decides to close the gates upon the nobles on
the morrow, and to allow none to re-enter the city until they
have taken a solemn oath to keep the peace and respect the
law. In an impassioned discourse Rienzi then urges the people
to uphold him now that the decisive moment has come, and to
rally promptly around him at the sound of his trumpet, which
will peal forth on the morrow to proclaim the freedom of Rome.

When they have all gone in obedience to his command, the Tribune,
for such is the dignity which the people have conferred upon
their champion Rienzi, turns toward the girl, the innocent cause
of all the uproar, and perceives for the first time that it
is his own sister Irene. Adrian is bending anxiously over her
fainting form; but as soon as she recovers her senses she hastens
to inform her brother that he saved her from Orsini's shameful
attempt, and bespeaks his fervent thanks for her young protector.

It is then only that the Tribune realises that a Colonna,
one of his bitterest foes, and one of the most influential
among the hated barons, has overheard his instructions to his
adherents, and can defeat his most secret and long cherished
plans. Suddenly, however, he remembers that in youth he and
Adrian often played together, and, counting upon the young
nobleman's deep sense of honour, which he had frequently tested
in the past, he passionately adjures him to show himself a
true Roman and help him to save his unhappy country. Irene
fervently joins in this appeal, and such is the influence of
her beauty and distress that Adrian, who is very patriotic and
who has long wished to see the city resume its former splendour,
gladly consents to lend his aid.

This oath of allegiance received, Rienzi, whom matters of state
call elsewhere, asks Adrian to remain in his house during his
absence, to protect his sister against a renewal of the evening's
outrage. Adrian joyfully accepts this charge, and the lovers,
for they have been such from the very first glance exchanged,
remain alone together and unite in a touching duet of faith and
love, whose beautiful, peaceful strains contrast oddly with
the preceding discordant strife. In spite of his transport
at finding his affections returned, and in the very midst of
his rapturous joy at embracing his beloved, Adrian, tortured
by premonitory fears, warns Irene that her brother is far too
sanguine of success, and that his hopes will surely be deceived.
He also declares that he fears lest the proverbially fickle
people may waver in their promised allegiance, and lest Rienzi
may be the victim of the cruel barons whom he has now openly
defied. The lovers' conversation is interrupted at sunrise by
the ringing of the Capitol bell, proclaiming that the revolution
has begun, and the triumphant chorus of priests and people is
heard without, bidding all the Romans rejoice as their freedom
is now assured. Riding ahead of the procession, Rienzi slowly
passes by in the glittering armour and array of a Tribune,
and from time to time pauses to address the crowd, telling them
that the ancient city is once more free, and that he, as chief
magistrate, will severely punish any and every infringement of
the law. At the news of this welcome proclamation the enthusiasm
of the people reaches such an exalted pitch that they all loudly
swear to obey their Tribune implicitly, and loyally help him
to uphold the might and dignity of the Holy City:--

   'We swear to thee that great and free
    Our Rome shall be as once of yore;
    To protect it from tyranny
    We'll shed the last drop of our gore.
    Shame and destruction now we vow
    To all the enemies of Rome;
    A new free people are we now,
    And we'll defend our hearth and home.'

The scene of the second act is laid in the Capitol, where the
barons, who had been forced to take the oath of allegiance ere
they were allowed to re-enter the city, are present, as well
as the numerous emissaries from foreign courts. Heralds and
messengers from all parts of the land crowd eagerly around
the Tribune, anxious to do him homage, and to assure him that,
thanks to his decrees, order and peace are now restored.

Amid the general silence the heralds make their reports,
declaring that the roads are safe, all brigandage suppressed,
commerce and agriculture more flourishing than ever before,
a statement which Rienzi and the people receive with every
demonstration of great joy. To the barons, however, these are
very unwelcome tidings, and, knowing that the people could
soon be cowed were they only deprived of their powerful leader,
they gather together in one corner of the hall and plot how to
put Rienzi to death.

Adrian accidentally discovers this conspiracy, and indignantly
remonstrates with the barons, threatening even to denounce
them, since they are about to break their word and resort
to such dishonourable means. But his own father, Colonna,
is one of the instigators of the conspiracy, and he dares him
to carry out his threat, which would only result in branding
him as a parricide. Then, without waiting to hear his son's
decision, the old baron, accompanied by the other conspirators,
joins Rienzi on the balcony, whence he has just addressed the
assembled people. They have been listening to his last proposal,
that the Romans should shake off the galling yoke of the German
Empire and make their city a republic once more, and now loud
and enthusiastic acclamations rend the air.

The speech ended, Adrian, stealing softly behind the Tribune,
bids him be on the watch as treachery is lurking near. He has
scarcely ended his warning and slipped away ere the conspirators
suddenly surround the Tribune, and there, in the presence of
the assembled people, they simultaneously draw their daggers,
and strike him repeatedly. This dastardly attempt at murder
utterly fails, however, as the Tribune wears a corselet of mail
beneath the robes of state, and his guards quickly disarm and
secure the conspirators while the people loudly clamour for
their execution by the axe, a burly blacksmith, Cecco, acting
as their principal spokesman.

Rienzi, who is principally incensed by their attack upon Roman
liberties, and by their utter lack of faith, is about to yield to
their demand, when Irene and Adrian suddenly fall at his feet,
imploring the pardon of the condemned, and entreating him to
show mercy rather than justice. Once more Rienzi addresses the
people, but it requires all his persuasive eloquence to induce
them, at last, to forgive the barons' attempt. Then the culprits
are summoned into the Tribune's august presence, where, instead
of being executed as they fully expect, they are pardoned and
set free, after they have once more solemnly pledged themselves
to respect the new government and its chosen representatives.
This promise is wrung from them by the force of circumstances;
they have no intention of keeping it, and they are no sooner
released than they utter dark threats of revenge, which fill
the people's hearts with ominous fear, and make them regret
the clemency they have just shown.

The next act is played on one of the public squares of Rome,
where the people are tumultuously assembled to discuss the secret
flight of the barons. They have fled from the city during the
night, and, in spite of their recently renewed oaths, are even
now preparing to re-enter the city with fire and sword, and to
resume their former supremacy. In frantic terror, the people
call upon Rienzi to deliver them, declaring that, had he only
been firm and executed the nobles, Rome would now have no need
to fear their wrath. Adrian, coming upon the spot as they march
off toward the Capitol, anxiously deliberates what course he
shall pursue, and bitterly reviles fate, which forces him either
to bear arms against his own father and kin, or to turn traitor
and slay the Tribune, the brother of his fair beloved. While he
thus soliloquises in his despair, Rienzi appears on horseback,
escorted by the Roman troops, all loudly chanting a battle song,
of which the constant refrain is the Tribune's rallying cry,
'Santo Spirito Cavaliere!' They are on their way to the city
gates, where the assembled forces of the barons await them, and
Adrian, in a last frantic attempt to prevent bloodshed, throws
himself in front of Rienzi's horse, imploring the Tribune to
allow him to try once more to conciliate the rebel nobles. But
Rienzi utterly refuses to yield again to his entreaties, and
marches calmly on, accompanied by the people chanting the last
verse of their solemn war-song.

The fourth act is played in front of the Lateran church. The
battle has taken place. The barons have been repulsed at the
cost of great slaughter. But notwithstanding their losses
and the death of their leader, the elder Colonna, the nobles
have not relinquished all hope of success. What they failed to
secure by the force of arms, they now hope to win by intrigue,
for they have artfully won not only the Pope, but the Emperor
also, to uphold their cause and side with them. The people, who
have just learned that the Pope and Emperor have recalled their
legates and ambassadors, are awed and frightened. Baroncelli and
Cecco, two demagogues, seize this occasion to poison their fickle
minds, and blame Rienzi openly for all that has occurred. Their
specious reasoning that the Tribune must be very wicked indeed,
since the spiritual and temporal authorities alike disapprove
of him, is strengthened by the sudden appearance of Adrian,
who, wild with grief at his father's death, publicly declares
he has vowed to slay the Tribune. The people--who, lacking the
strength to uphold their convictions, now hate their leader
as vehemently as they once loved and admired him--are about
to join Adrian in his passionate cry of 'Down with Rienzi!'
when the cardinal and his train suddenly appear, and march into
the church, where a grand 'Te Deum' is to be sung to celebrate
the victory over the barons.

While the Romans are wavering, and wondering whether they have
not made a mistake, and whether the Pope really disapproves
of their chief magistrate, Rienzi marches toward the church,
accompanied by Irene and his body guard. Adrian, at the sight
of his pale beloved, has no longer the courage to execute his
purpose and slay her only brother. Just as they are about to
enter the church, where they expect to hear the joyful strains
of thanksgiving, the cardinal appears at the church door,
barring their entrance, and solemnly pronounces the Church's
anathema upon the horror-struck Rienzi.

The people all start back and withdraw from him as from one
accursed, while Adrian, seizing Irene's hand, seeks to lead
her away from her brother. But the brave girl resists her
lover's offers and entreaties, and, clinging closely to the
unhappy Tribune, she declares she will never forsake him,
while he vows he will never relinquish his hope that Rome may
eventually recover her wonted freedom, and again shake off the
tyrant's yoke.

The fifth and last act is begun in the Capitol, where Rienzi,
the enthusiast, is wrapped in prayer, and forgetting himself
entirely, fervently implores Divine protection for his misguided
people and unhappy city. He has scarcely ended this beautiful
prayer when Irene joins him, and, when he once more beseeches
her to leave him, she declares she will never forsake him,
even though by clinging to him she must renounce her love,--a
passion which he has never known. At this declaration, Rienzi in
a passionate outburst tells how deeply he has loved and still
loves his mistress, Rome, fallen and degraded though she may
be. He loves her, although she has broken faith with him, has
turned to listen to the blandishments of another, and basely
deserted him at the time of his utmost need.

Irene, touched by his grief, bids him not give way to
despair, but adjures him to make a last attempt to regain
his old ascendency over the minds of the fickle people. As
he leaves her to follow her advice, Adrian enters the hall,
wildly imploring her to escape while there is yet time, for
the infuriated Romans are coming, not only to slay Rienzi,
but to burn down the Capitol which has sheltered him.

As she utterly refuses to listen to his entreaties, he vainly
seeks to drag her away. It is only when the lurid light of
the devouring flames illumines the hall, and when she sinks
unconscious to the floor, that he can bear her away from a
place fraught with so much danger for them all. Rienzi, in the
mean while, has stepped out on the balcony, whence he has made
repeated but futile attempts to address the mob. Baroncelli and
Cecco, fearing lest he should yet succeed in turning the tide by
his marvellous eloquence, drown his voice by discordant cries,
fling stones which fall all around his motionless figure like
hail, and clamour for more fuel to burn down the Capitol, which
they have sworn shall be his funeral pyre. Calmly now Rienzi
contemplates their fury and his unavoidable death, and solemnly
predicts that they will regret their precipitancy, as the Capitol
falls into ruins over the noble head of the Last of the Tribunes.

[Illustration: SENTA.]


After leaving Riga, where he had accepted the position of
Music Director, which he filled acceptably for some time,
Wagner went to Pillau, where he embarked on a sailing vessel
bound for London. He was accompanied by his wife and by a huge
Newfoundland dog, and during this journey learned to know
the sea, and became familiar with the sound of the sailors'
songs, the creaking of the rigging, the whistling of the wind,
and the roar and crash of the waves. This journey made a deep
impression upon his imagination. He had read Heine's version of
the legend of the Flying Dutchman, and questioned the sailors,
who told him many similar yarns. He himself subsequently said:
'I shall never forget that voyage; it lasted three weeks and a
half, and was rich in disasters. Three times we suffered from
the effects of heavy storms. The passage through the Narrows
made a wondrous impression on my fancy. The legend of the Flying
Dutchman was confirmed by the sailors, and the circumstances
gave it a distinct and characteristic colour in my mind.'

One year later, when in Paris, Wagner submitted detailed sketches
for this work to the Director of the Opera, to whom Meyerbeer
had introduced him. The sketches were accepted, and shortly
after the Director expressed a wish to purchase them. Wagner
utterly refused at first to give up his claim to the plot,
which he had secured from Heine; but, finding that he could
not obtain possession of the sketches, which had already been
given to Foucher for versification, he accepted the miserable
sum of £20, which was all that was offered in compensation.
The stolen opera was produced in Paris under the title of 'Le
Vaisseau Fantôme,' in 1842, but it was never very successful,
and has been entirely eclipsed by Wagner's version. Wagner
had not, however, relinquished the idea of writing an opera
upon this theme, and he finished the poem, which Spohr has
designated as 'a little masterpiece,' as quickly as possible.
The score was written at Meudon, near Paris, and completed,
with the exception of the overture, in the short space of seven
weeks. When offered in Munich and Leipsic the critics pronounced
it 'unfit for Germany,' but, upon Meyerbeer's recommendation,
it was accepted at Berlin, although no preparations were made
for its immediate representation.

'The Flying Dutchman' was first brought out at Dresden in 1843,
four years after the idea of this work had first suggested
itself to the illustrious composer, who conducted the orchestra
in person, while Madame Schröder-Devrient sang the part of
Senta. The audience did not receive it very enthusiastically,
and, while some of the hearers were deeply moved, the majority
were simply astonished. No one at first seemed to appreciate
the opera at its full value except Spohr, who in connection
with it wrote: 'Der Fliegende Holländer interests me in the
highest degree. The opera is imaginative, of noble invention,
well written for the voices, immensely difficult, rather overdone
as regards instrumentation, but full of novel effects; at the
theatre it is sure to prove clear and intelligible.... I have
come to the conclusion that among composers for the stage,
_pro tem._, Wagner is the most gifted.'

The legend upon which the whole opera is based is that a Dutch
captain once tried to double the Cape of Good Hope in the teeth
of a gale, swearing he would accomplish his purpose even if he
had to plough the main forever. This rash oath was overheard
by Satan, who condemned him to sail until the Judgment Day,
unless he could find a woman who would love him faithfully
until death. Once in every seven years only did the Devil allow
the Dutchman to land, in search of the maiden who might effect
his release.

In the first act of the opera, the seven years have just ended,
and Daland, a Norwegian captain, has been forced by a tempest
to anchor his vessel in a sheltered bay within a few miles
of his peaceful home, where Senta, his only daughter, awaits
him. All on board are sleeping, and the steersman alone keeps
watch over the anchored vessel, singing of the maiden he loves
and of the gifts he is bringing her from foreign lands. In the
midst of his song, the Flying Dutchman's black-masted vessel
with its red sails enters the cove, and casts anchor beside
the Norwegian ship, although no one seems aware of its approach.

The Dutchman, who has not noticed the vessel at anchor so near
him, springs eagerly ashore, breathing a sigh of relief at being
allowed to land once more, although he has but little hope of
finding the faithful woman who alone can release him from his
frightful doom:--

   'The term is past,
    And once again are ended the seven long years!
    The weary sea casts me upon the land.
    Ha! haughty ocean,
    A little while, and thou again wilt bear me.
    Though thou art changeful,
    Unchanging is my doom;
    Release, which on the land I seek for,
    Never shall I meet with.'

The unhappy wanderer then tells how he has braved the dangers of
every sea, sought death on every rock, challenged every pirate,
and how vain all his efforts have been to find the death which
always eludes him.

Daland, waking from his sound slumbers, suddenly perceives the
anchored vessel, and chides the drowsy steersman, who has not
warned him of its approach. He is about to signal to the ship
to ascertain its name, when he suddenly perceives the Dutchman,
whom he questions concerning his home and destination.

The Dutchman answers his questions very briefly, and, upon
hearing that Daland's home is very near, eagerly offers untold
wealth for permission to linger a few hours by his fireside,
and to taste the joys of home.

Amazed at the sight of the treasures spread out before him,
Daland not only consents to show hospitality to this strange
homeless guest, but even promises, after a little persuasion,
to allow him to woo and to win, if he can, the affections of
his only daughter, Senta:--

   'I give thee here my word.
    I mourn thy lot. As thou art bountiful,
    Thou showest me thy good and noble heart.
    My son I wish thou wert;
    And were thy wealth not half as great,
    I would not choose another.'

Transported with joy at the mere prospect of winning the love
which may compass his salvation, the Flying Dutchman proclaims
in song his mingled rapture and relief, and while he sings the
storm clouds break, and the sun again shines forth over the
mysteriously calmed sea. The opportunity is immediately seized
by the Norwegian captain, who, bidding the Dutchman follow him
closely, bids the sailors raise the anchor, and sails out of the
little harbour to the merry accompaniment of a nautical chorus:--

   'Through thunder and storm from distant seas,
    My maiden, come I near;
    Over towering waves, with southern breeze,
    My maiden, am I here.
    My maiden, were there no south wind,
    I never could come to thee:
    O fair south wind, to me be kind!
    My maiden, she longs for me.
          Hoho! Halloho!'

The next scene represents a room in Daland's house. The rough
walls are covered with maps and charts, and on the farther
partition there is a striking portrait of a pale, melancholy
looking man, who wears a dark beard and a foreign dress.

The air is resonant with the continual hum of the whirling
spinning-wheels, for the maidens are all working diligently
under the direction of Maria, the housekeeper, and soon begin
their usual spinning chorus. Their hands and feet work busily
while two verses of the song are sung, and all are remarkably
diligent except Senta, who sits with her hands in her lap,
gazing in rapt attention at the portrait of the Flying Dutchman,
whose mournful fate has touched her tender heart, and whose
haunting eyes have made her indulge in many a long day-dream.
Roused from her abstraction by the chiding voice of Mary, and by
her companions, who twit her with having fallen in love with a
shadow instead of thinking only of her lover Erik, the hunter,
Senta resumes her work, and to still their chatter sings them
the ballad of the Flying Dutchman. When she has described his
aimless wanderings and his mournful doom, which naught can change
until he finds a maiden who will pledge him her entire faith, the
girls mockingly interrupt her to inquire whether she would have
the courage to love an outcast and to follow a spectral wooer.
But when Senta passionately declares she would do it gladly, and
ends by fervently praying that he may soon appear to put her love
and faith to the test, they are almost as much alarmed as Erik,
who enters the room in time to hear this enthusiastic outburst.

Turning to Mary, the housekeeper, he informs her that Daland's
ship has just sailed into the harbour in company with another
vessel, whose captain and crew he doubtless means to entertain.
At these tidings the wheels are all set aside, and the maidens
hasten to help prepare the food for the customary feast. Senta
alone remains seated by her wheel, and Erik, placing himself
beside her, implores her not to leave him for another, but to
put an end to his sorrows by promising to become his wife. His
eloquent pleading has no effect upon her, however, and when
he tries to deride her fancy for the pictured face, and to
awaken her pity for him by describing his own sufferings,
she scornfully compares them to the Dutchman's unhappy fate:--

   'Oh, vaunt it not!
    What can thy sorrow be?
    Know'st thou the fate of that unhappy man?
    Look, canst thou feel the pain, the grief,
    With which his gaze on me he bends?
    Ah! when I think he has ne'er found relief,
    How sharp a pang my bosom rends!'

Erik, beside himself with jealousy, finally tells her that
he has had an ominous dream, in which he saw her greet the
dark stranger, embrace him tenderly, and even follow him out
to sea, where she was lost. But all this pleading only makes
Senta more obstinate in her refusal of his attentions, and
more eager to behold the object of her romantic attachment,
who at that very moment enters the house, following her father,
who greets her tenderly. The sudden apparition of the stranger,
whose resemblance to the portrait is very striking, robs Senta
of all composure, and it is only when her father has gently
reproved her for her cold behaviour that she bids him welcome.

Daland then explains to his daughter that his guest is a wanderer
and an exile, although well provided with this world's goods, and
asks her whether she would be willing to listen to his wooing,
and would consent to ratify his conditional promise by giving
the stranger her hand:--

   'Wilt thou, my child, accord our guest a friendly welcome,
    And wilt thou also let him share thy kindly heart?
    Give him thy hand, for bridegroom it is thine to call him,
    If thou but give consent, to-morrow his thou art.'

Wholly uninfluenced by the description of the stranger's
wealth which her father gives her, but entirely won by the
Flying Dutchman's timidly expressed hope that she will not
refuse him the blessing he has so long and so vainly sought,
Senta hesitates no longer, but generously promises to become
his wife, whatever fate may await her:--

   'Whoe'er thou art, where'er thy curse may lead thee,
    And me, when I thy lot mine own have made,--
    Whate'er the fate which I with thee may share in,
    My father's will by me shall be obeyed.'

This promise at first fills the heart of the Flying Dutchman
with the utmost rapture, for he is thinking only of himself,
and of his release from the curse, but soon he begins to love
the innocent maiden through whom alone he can find rest. Then he
also remembers that, if she fail, she too will be accursed, and,
instead of urging her as before, he now tries to dissuade her
from becoming his wife by depicting life at his side in the most
unenticing colours, and by warning her that she must die if her
faith should waver. Senta, undeterred by all these statements,
and eager if necessary to sacrifice herself for her beloved,
again offers to follow him, and once more a rapturous thrill
passes through his heart:--


    Here is my hand! I will not rue,
    But e'en to death will I be true.


    She gives her hand! I conquer you,
    Dread powers of Hell, while she is true.'

Daland returns into the room in time to see that they have
agreed to marry, and proposes that their wedding should take
place immediately, and be celebrated at the same time as the
feast which he generally gives all his sailors at the end of
a happy journey.

The third act of this opera represents both ships riding at
anchor in a rocky bay, near which rises Daland's picturesque
Norwegian cottage. All is life and animation on board the
Norwegian vessel, where the sailors are dancing and singing in
chorus, but the black-masted ship appears deserted, and is as
quiet as the tomb.

When the sailors have ended their chorus, the pretty peasant
girls come trooping down to the shore, bringing food and drink
for both crews, which they hail from the shore. The Norwegian
sailors promptly respond to their call, and, hastening ashore,
they receive their share of the feast; but the phantom vessel
remains as lifeless as before. In vain the girls offer the
provisions they have brought, in vain the other crew taunt
the sleepers, there is no answer given. The provisions are
then all bestowed upon the Norwegians, who eat and drink
most heartily ere they resume their merry chorus. Suddenly,
however, the Dutch sailors rouse themselves, appear on deck,
and prepare to depart, while singing about their captain, who
has once more gone ashore in search of the faithful wife who
alone can save him. Blue flames hover over the phantom ship,
and the sound of a coming storm is borne upon the breeze. The
Norwegian sailors sing louder than ever to drown this ominous
sound, but they are soon too alarmed to sing, and hasten into
their cabins making the sign of the cross, which evokes a burst
of demoniac laughter from the phantom crew.

The storm and lights subside as quickly and mysteriously as
they appeared, and all is quiet once more as Senta comes down
to the shore. Erik, meeting her, implores her to listen to his
wooing, which once found favour, and to forget the stranger whom
her father has induced her to accept on such short notice. Senta
listens patiently to his plea, which does not in the least shake
her faith in her new lover, or change her resolution to live
and die for him alone. But the Dutchman, appearing suddenly,
mistakes her patience for regret, and, almost frantic with love
and despair, he bids her a passionate farewell and rushes off
toward his ship.

   'To sea! To sea till time is ended!
    Thy sacred promise be forgot,
    Thy sacred promise and my fate!
    Farewell! I wish not to destroy thee!'

But Senta has not ceased to love him. She runs after him,
imploring him to remain with her, protesting her fidelity
and renewing her vows in spite of Erik's passionate efforts
to prevent her from doing so. The Flying Dutchman at first
refuses to listen to her words, and rapidly gives his orders
for departure. She is about to embark, when he suddenly turns
toward her and declares that he is accursed, and that she has
saved herself, by timely withdrawal, from the doom which awaits
all those who fail to keep their troth:--

   'Now hear, and learn the fate from which thou wilt be saved:
    Condemned am I to bear a frightful fortune,--
    Ten times would death appear a brighter lot.
    A woman's hand alone the curse can lighten,
    If she will love me, and till death be true.
    Still to be faithful thou hast vowed,
    Yet has not God thy promise?
    This rescues thee; for know, unhappy, what a fate is theirs
    Who break the troth which they to me have plighted:
    Endless damnation is their doom!
    Victims untold have fallen 'neath this curse through me.
    Yet, Senta, thou shalt escape.
    Farewell! All hope is fled forevermore.'

But Senta has known from the very beginning who this dark wooer
was, and is so intent upon saving him from his fate that she
fears no danger for herself. Passionately she clings to him,
protesting her affection, and when he looses her, and Erik
would fain detain her by force, she struggles frantically to
follow him.

Erik's cry brings Daland, Mary, and the Chorus to the rescue, and
they too strive to restrain Senta, when they hear the stranger
proclaim from the deck of his phantom ship that he is the Scourge
of the Sea,--the Flying Dutchman. The vessel sails away from
the harbour. Senta escapes from her friends, and rushes to a
projecting cliff, whence she casts herself recklessly into the
seething waves, intent only upon showing her love and saving him,
and thereby proving herself faithful unto death:--

   'Praise thou thine angel for what he saith;
    Here stand I, faithful, yea, till death!'

As Senta sinks beneath the waves the phantom vessel vanishes
also, and as the storm abates and the rosy evening clouds
appear in the west the transfigured forms of Senta and the
Flying Dutchman hover for a moment over the wreck, and, rising
slowly, float upward and out of sight, embracing each other,
for her faithful love has indeed accomplished his salvation,
and his spirit, may now be at rest.



In 1829, when Wagner was only sixteen years of age, he first
became acquainted, through Hoffmann's novels, with the story of
the mastersingers of Nürnberg, and with the mediæval legend of
Tannhäuser, as versified by Ludwig Tieck. The 'mystical coquetry
and frivolous catholicism' of this modern poem repelled him,
and it was not until twelve years later, when he chanced upon
a popular version of the same story, that he was struck by its
dramatic possibilities. A chance mention of the Sängerkrieg of
the Wartburg in this version made him trace the legend as far
back as possible, and in doing so he came across an old poem
of Lohengrin, and read Eschenbach's 'Titurel' and 'Parzival,'
which were to serve as basis for two other great operas. The
sketch of the opera of 'Tannhäuser' was completed in 1842, at
Teplitz, during an excursion in the Bohemian mountains; but the
whole score was not finished until three years later. Wagner
had gone over it all so carefully that it was printed without
much revision, and he had even written the piano score, which
was sent to Berlin in 1845 and appeared in the same year that
the opera was produced at Dresden.

Madame Schröder-Devrient, whom Wagner had in his mind in writing
the part of Venus, sang that rôle, but, in spite of all her
talent, the first performance was not a success. She wrote
to Wagner concerning it, and said, 'You are a man of genius,
but you write such eccentric stuff it is hardly possible to sing
it.' The public in general, accustomed to light operas with happy
endings, was dismayed at the sad and tragical termination, and,
while some of the best musical authorities of the day applauded,
others criticised the work unsparingly. Schumann alone seems
to have realised the force of the author's new style, for he
wrote, 'On the whole, Wagner may become of great importance and
significance to the stage,'--a doubtful prediction which was
only triumphantly verified many years afterward. Like many of
the mediæval legends, the story of Tannhäuser is connected with
the ancient Teutonic religion, which declared that Holda, the
Northern Venus, had set up her enchanted abode in the hollow
mountain known as the Hörselberg, where she entertained her
devotees with all the pleasures of love. When the missionaries
came preaching Christianity, they diligently taught the people
that all these heathen divinities were demons, and although
Holda and her court were not forgotten, she became a type of
sensual love. Tannhäuser, a minstrel of note, who has won many
prizes for his songs, hearing of the wondrous underground palace
and of its manifold charm, voluntarily enters the mountain, and
abandons himself to the fair goddess's wiles. Here he spends
a whole year in her company, surrounded by her train of loves
and nymphs, yielding to all her enchantments, which at first
intoxicate his poetic and beauty loving soul.

But at last the sensual pleasures in which he has been steeped
begin to pall upon his jaded senses. He longs to tear himself
away from the enchantress, and to return to the mingled pleasure
and pain of earth.

The first scene of the opera represents the charmed grotto where
Venus gently seeks to beguile the discontented knight, while
nymphs, loves, bacchantes, and lovers whirl about in the graceful
mazes of the dance, or pose in charming attitudes. Seeing
Tannhäuser's abstraction and evident sadness, Venus artfully
questions him, and when he confesses his homesickness, and his
intense longing to revisit the earth, she again tries to dazzle
him, and cast a glamour over all his senses, so as to make him
utterly oblivious of all but her.

Temporarily intoxicated by her charms, Tannhäuser, when called
upon to tune his lyre, bursts forth into a song extolling her
beauty and fascination; but even before the lay is ended the
longing to depart again seizes him, and he passionately entreats
her to release him from her thrall:--

   ''Tis freedom I must win or die,--
    For freedom I can all defy;
    To strife or glory forth I go,
    Come life or death, come joy or woe,
    No more in bondage will I sigh!
    O queen, beloved goddess, let me fly!'

Thus adjured, and seeing her power is temporarily ended, Venus
haughtily dismisses her slave, warning him that he returns to
earth in vain, as he has forfeited all chance of salvation by
lingering with her, and bidding him return without fear when
the intolerance of man has made him weary of life upon earth.

A sudden change of scene occurs. At a sign from Venus, the
grotto and its voluptuous figures disappear; the roseate light
makes way for the glaring sunshine, and Tannhäuser, who has
not moved, suddenly finds himself upon the hillside, near the
highroad and the shrine of the Virgin, and within sight of
the Wartburg castle, where he formerly dwelt and won many a
prize for his beautiful songs. The summer silence is at first
broken only by the soft notes of a shepherd singing a popular
ballad about Holda, the Northern Venus, who issues yearly from
the mountain to herald the spring, but as he ceases a band of
pilgrims slowly comes into view. These holy wanderers are all
clad in penitential robes, and, as they slowly wend their way
down the hill and past the shrine, they chant a psalm praying
for the forgiveness of their sins. The shepherd calls to them
asking them to pray for him in Rome, and, as they pass out of
sight, still singing, Tannhäuser, overcome with remorse for
his misspent years, sinks down on his knees before the Virgin's
shrine, humbly imploring forgiveness for his sins:--

   'Oh, see my heart by grief oppressed!
    I faint, I sink beneath the burden!
    Nor will I cease, nor will I rest,
    Till heavenly mercy grants me pardon.'

While he is still kneeling there, absorbed in prayer,
the Landgrave and his minstrel knights appear in hunting
costume. Their attention is attracted by the bowed figure of the
knight, and when he raises his head they recognise him as their
former companion. Some of the minstrels, jealous of his past
triumphs, would fain regard him as their foe, but, influenced by
one of their number, Wolfram von Eschenbach, they welcome him
kindly and ask him where he has been. Tannhäuser, only partly
roused from his half lethargic state, dreamily answers that he
has long been tarrying in a land where he found neither peace
nor rest, and in answer to their invitation to join them in the
Wartburg declares he cannot stay, but must wander on forever.
Wolfram, seeing him about to depart once more, then reminds him
of Elizabeth, the fair chatelaine of the Wartburg, and when he
sees that, although Tannhäuser trembles at the mere sound of the
name of the maiden he once loved, he will nevertheless depart,
he asks and obtains the Landgrave's permission to reveal a long
kept secret.

Wolfram himself has long loved the fair Elizabeth, but such is
his unselfish devotion that he would fain see her happy even with
a rival. To win the light back to her eyes and the smile to her
lips, he now tells Tannhäuser how she has drooped ever since he
went away, and generously confesses that she took pleasure in
his music only, and has persistently avoided the minstrel hall
since his departure. His eloquent pleading touches Tannhäuser's
reawakening heart, and he finally consents to accompany the
Landgrave and his minstrels back to the Wartburg. Hither
they now make their way on foot and on horseback, singing a
triumphal chorus:--

   'He doth return, no more to wander;
    Our loved and lost is ours again.
    All praise and thanks to those we render
    Who could persuade, and not in vain.
    Now let your harps indite a measure
    Of all that hero's hand may dare,
    Of all that poet's heart can pleasure,
    Before the fairest of the fair.'

The second act is played in the great hall of the Wartburg
castle, which is festively decorated, for the minstrels are
again to contend for the prize of song, a laurel wreath which
will again be bestowed as of yore by the fair hands of the
beloved Princess Elizabeth. As the curtain rises she is alone in
the hall, no longer pale and wan, but radiant with happiness,
for she knows that Tannhäuser, her lover, has returned, and
she momentarily expects him to appear. While she is greeting
the well known hall, the scene of her lover's former triumphs,
with a rapturous little outburst of song, the door suddenly
opens and Wolfram appears, leading the penitent Tannhäuser,
who rushes forward and falls at Elizabeth's feet, while his
friend discreetly withdraws. Elizabeth would fain raise the
knight, telling him it is unbecoming for him to assume so
humble an attitude beneath the roof where he has triumphed
over all rivals, and she tenderly asks where he has lingered
so long. Tannhäuser, ashamed of the past, and absorbed in the
present, declares that he has been far away, in the land of
oblivion, where he has forgotten all save her alone:--

   'Far away in strange and distant regions,
    And between yesterday and to-day oblivion's veil hath fallen.
    Every remembrance hath forever vanished,
    Save one thing only, rising from the darkness,--
    That I then dared not hope I should behold thee,
    Nor ever raise mine eyes to thy perfection.'

Elizabeth is so happy to see him once more, so ready to forgive
him at the very first word of repentance, that Tannhäuser cannot
but see how dearly she loves him, and they soon unite in a
duet of complete bliss, rejoicing openly over their reunion,
and vowing to love each other forever, and never to part again.

The Landgrave appears just as their song is ended, to
congratulate Elizabeth upon having at last left her seclusion
and honoured the minstrels with her presence. In conclusion,
he declares that, as all the contestants know she will be there
to bestow the prize, the rivalry will be greater than ever. He
is interrupted in this speech, however, by the entrance of
knights and nobles, who file in singing a chorus in praise of
the noble hall, and of Hermann, Landgrave of Thuringia, the
patron of song, whom they repeatedly cheer. When they have all
taken their appointed places, the Landgrave, rising in his seat,
addresses them, bidding them welcome, reminding them of the high
aims of their art, and telling them that, while the theme he is
about to propose for their lays is love, the princess herself
will bestow as prize whatever the winner may ask:--

   'Therefore hear now the theme you all shall sing.
    Say, what is love? by what signs shall we know it?
    This be your theme. Whoso most nobly this can tell,
    Him shall the princess give the prize.
    He may demand the fairest guerdon:
    I vouch that whatsoe'er he ask is granted.
    Up, then, arouse ye! sing, O gallant minstrels!
    Attune your harps to love. Great is the prize,'

At the summons of the heralds, Wolfram von Eschenbach first takes
up the strain, and as for him love is an ardent desire to see
the loved one happy, a longing to sacrifice himself if need be,
and an attitude of worshipful devotion, he naturally sings an
exalted strain. It finds favour with all his hearers,--with all
except Tannhäuser, who, having tasted of the passionate joys
of unholy love, cannot understand the purity of Wolfram's lay,
which he stigmatises as cold and unsatisfactory.

In his turn, he now attunes his harp to love, and sings
a voluptuous strain, which not only contrasts oddly with
Wolfram's performance, but shows love merely as a passion,
a gratification of the senses. The minstrels, jealous for
their art, indignantly interrupt him, and one even challenges
Tannhäuser to mortal combat:--

   'To mortal combat I defy thee!
    Shameless blasphemer, draw thy sword!
    As brother henceforth we deny thee:
    Thy words profane too long we've heard!
    If I of love divine have spoken,
    Its glorious spell shall be unbroken
    Strength'ning in valour, sword and heart,
    Altho' from life this hour I part.
    For womanhood and noble honour
    Through death and danger I would go;
    But for the cheap delights that won thee
    I scorn them as worth not one blow!'

This minstrel's sentiments are loudly echoed by all the knights
present, who, having been trained in the school of chivalry,
have an exalted conception of love, hold all women in high
honour, and deeply resent the attempt just made to degrade
them. Tannhäuser, whose once pure and noble nature has been
perverted and degraded by the year spent with Venus, cannot
longer understand the exalted pleasures of true love, even
though he has just won the heart of a peerless and spotless
maiden, and when Wolfram, hoping to allay the strife, again
resumes his former strain, he impatiently interrupts him.

Recklessly now, and entirely wrapped up in the recollection of
the unholy pleasures of the past, Tannhäuser exalts the goddess
of Love, with whom he has revelled in bliss, and boldly reveals
the fact that he has been tarrying with her in her subterranean

This confession fills the hearts of all present with nameless
terror, for the priests have taught them that the heathen
deities are demons disguised. The minstrels one and all fall
upon Tannhäuser, who is saved from immediate death at their
hands only by the prompt intervention of Elizabeth.

Broken-hearted, for now she knows the utter unworthiness of the
man to whom she has given her heart, yet loving him still and
hoping he may in time win forgiveness for his sin, she pleads
so eloquently for him that all fall back. The Landgrave,
addressing him, then solemnly bids him repent, and join the
pilgrims on their way to Rome, where perchance the Pope may
grant him absolution for his sin:--

   'One path alone can save thee from perdition,
    From everlasting woe,--by earth abandon'd,
    One way is left: that way thou now shalt know.
    A band of pilgrims now assembled
    From every part of my domain;
    This morn the elders went before them,
    The rest yet in the vale remain.
    'Tis not for crimes like thine they tremble,
    And leave their country, friends and home,--
    Desire for heav'nly grace is o'er them:
    They seek the sacred shrine at Rome.'

Urged to depart by the Landgrave, knights, nobles, and even by
the pale and sorrowful Elizabeth, Tannhäuser eagerly acquiesces,
for now that the sudden spell of sensuous love has departed,
he ardently longs to free his soul from the burden of sin. The
pilgrims' chant again falls upon his ear, and, sobered and
repentant, Tannhäuser joins them to journey on foot to Rome,
kneeling at every shrine by the way, and devoutly praying for
the forgiveness and ultimate absolution of his sins.

When the curtain rises upon the third and last act of this opera,
one whole year has slowly passed, during which no tidings of the
pilgrims have been received. It is now time for their return,
and they are daily expected by their friends, who have ardently
been praying that they may come home, shrived and happy, to
spend the remainder of their lives at home in peace. No one has
prayed as fervently as the fair Elizabeth, who, forgetting her
wonted splendour, has daily wended her way down the hillside,
to kneel on the rude stones in front of the Virgin's wayside
shrine. There she has daily prayed for Tannhäuser's happy return,
and there she kneels absorbed in prayer when Wolfram comes
down the path as usual. He has not forgotten his love for her,
which is as deep and self-sacrificing as ever, so he too prays
that her lover may soon return from Rome, entirely absolved, and
wipe away her constant tears. Elizabeth is suddenly roused from
her devotions by the distant chant of the returning pilgrims.
They sing of sins forgiven, and of the peace won by their long,
painful journey to Rome. Singing thus they slowly file past
Wolfram and Elizabeth, who eagerly scan every face in search
of one whom they cannot discover.

When all have passed by, Elizabeth, realising that she will
see her beloved no more, sinks slowly down on her knees, and,
raising her despairing eyes to the image of the Virgin. Then she
solemnly dedicates the remainder of her life to her exclusive
service, in the hope that Tannhäuser may yet be forgiven, and
prays that death may soon come to ease her pain and bring her
heart eternal peace:--

   'O blessed Virgin, hear my prayer!
    Thou star of glory, look on me!
    Here in the dust I bend before thee,
    Now from this earth oh set me free!
    Let me, a maiden, pure and white,
    Enter into thy kingdom bright!
    If vain desires and earthly longing
    Have turn'd my heart from thee away,
    The sinful hopes within me thronging
    Before thy blessed feet I lay.
    I'll wrestle with the love I cherish'd,
    Until in death its flame hath perish'd.
    If of my sin thou wilt not shrive me,
    Yet in this hour, oh grant thy aid!
    Till thy eternal peace thou give me,
    I vow to live and die thy maid.
    And on thy bounty I will call,
    That heav'nly grace on him may fall.'

This prayer ended, the broken-hearted Elizabeth slowly totters
away, while Wolfram von Eschenbach, who has seen by her pallid
face and wasted frame that the death she prays for will not
tarry long, sorrowfully realises at last that all his love can
save her no pang.

When the evening shadows have fallen, and the stars illumine the
sky, he is still lingering by the holy shrine where Elizabeth
has breathed her last prayer. The silence of the night is
suddenly broken by the sound of his harp, as he gives vent
to his sorrow by an invocation to the stars, among which his
lady-love is going to dwell ere-long, and as he sings the last
notes a pilgrim slowly draws near. Wolfram does not at first
recognise his old friend and rival Tannhäuser in this dejected,
foot-sore traveller; but when he sees the worn face he anxiously
inquires whether he has been absolved, and warns him against
venturing within the precincts of the Wartburg unless he has
received Papal pardon for his sins.

Tannhäuser, instead of answering this query, merely asks him
to point out the path, which he once found so easily, the path
leading to the Venus hill, and only when Wolfram renews his
questions does he vouchsafe him a brief account of his journey
to Rome. He tells how he trod the roughest roads barefooted,
how he journeyed through heat and cold, eschewing all comforts
and alleviation of his hard lot, how he knelt penitently before
every shrine, and how fervently he prayed for the forgiveness
of the sin which had darkened not only his life but that of
his beloved. Then, in faltering tones, he relates how the Pope
shrank from him upon hearing that he had sojourned for a year
in the Venus hill, and how sternly he declared there could be
no more hope of pardon for such a sin than to see his withered
staff blossom and bear leaves:--

   'If thou hast shar'd the joys of Hell,
    If thou unholy flames hast nurs'd
    That in the hill of Venus dwell,
    Thou art for evermore accurs'd!
    And as this barren staff I hold
    Ne'er will put forth a flower or leaf,
    Thus shalt thou never more behold
    Salvation or thy sin's relief.'

Tannhäuser now passionately describes his utter despair, after
hearing this awful verdict, his weary homeward journey, and
his firm determination, since he is utterly debarred from ever
seeing Elizabeth again, either in this world or in the next, to
hasten back to the hill of Venus, where he can at least deaden
his remorse with pleasure, and steep his sinful soul in sensual
love. In vain Wolfram pleads with him not to give up all hope
of ultimate salvation, and still to repent of his former sin;
he insists upon returning to the enchantress who warned him
of the intolerance of man, and whom he now calls upon to guide
his steps to the entrance of her abode.

This invocation does not remain unheard by the fair goddess of
beauty. She appears in the distance with her shadowy train,
singing her old alluring song, and welcoming him back to
her realm. Tannhäuser is about to obey her beckoning hand,
and to hasten after her in the direction of the Hörselberg,
when the sound of a funeral chant falls upon his ear. A long
procession is slowly winding down the hill. The mourners are
carrying the body of the fair Elizabeth, who has died of grief,
to its last resting place.

While Tannhäuser, forgetting all else, is gazing spellbound
at the waxen features of his beloved, thus slowly borne down
the hill, Wolfram tells him how the pure maiden interceded for
him in her last prayer on earth, and declares that he knows
her innocent soul is now pleading for his forgiveness at the
foot of the heavenly throne. This hope of salvation brings
such relief to Tannhäuser's tormented heart, that he turns his
back upon Venus, who, realising her prey has escaped, suddenly
vanishes in the Hörselberg with all her demon train.

Kneeling by Elizabeth's bier, Tannhäuser fervently prays for
forgiveness, until the bystanders, touched by his remorse, assure
him that he will be forgiven,--an assurance which is confirmed as
he breathes his last, by the arrival of the Pope's messenger. He
appears, bearing the withered staff, which has miraculously
budded and has burst forth into blossoms and leaves:--

   'The Lord himself now thy bondage hath riven.
    Go, enter in with the blest in His heaven.'



During a summer vacation at Teplitz in Bohemia, in 1845, Wagner
wrote the first sketch of the opera of 'Lohengrin.' The poem
was written at Dresden in 1845, but the score was finished
only in 1848. The opera was first performed at Weimar in 1850,
under the leadership of Liszt, who was greatly interested in it,
and determined to make it a success.

The poet composer had taken the idea for this poem from a
mediæval legend, based upon the old Greek myth of Cupid and
Psyche. Its poetical and musical possibilities immediately
struck him, and when the opera was first played to an audience
composed of musical and literary people from all parts of Europe,
whom Liszt had invited to be present, it produced 'a powerful
impression.' From the memorable night of its first performance
'dates the success of the Wagner movement in Germany.' During
the next nine years this opera was given in fourteen different
cities, and Wagner, who was then a political exile, is reported
to have sadly remarked, 'I shall soon be the only German who
has not heard Lohengrin.' It was in 1861, eleven years after
its first performance, that he finally heard it for the first
time in Vienna.

This opera won for Wagner not only lasting fame, but also the
enthusiastic admiration of the young Ludwig of Bavaria. Such
was the impression this work made upon the young prince, who
first heard it when he was only sixteen, that he resolved to
do all in his power to help the composer. Three years later he
succeeded to the throne of Bavaria as Ludwig II., and one of the
first independent acts of his reign was to send a messenger to
invite the master to come and dwell at his court, and to assure
him a yearly pension from his private purse. The young king
was so infatuated with the story of 'Lohengrin' that he not
only had his residence decorated with paintings and statues
representing different episodes of the opera, but used also
to sail about his lake, dressed in the Swan Knight's costume,
in a boat drawn by ingeniously contrived mechanical swans. The
story of this opera is as follows:--

Henry I., the Fowler, Emperor of Germany, about to make war
against the Hungarians who threaten to invade his realm, comes
to Antwerp to collect his troops, and to remind all the noblemen
of Brabant of their allegiance to him.

The opera opens with the trumpet call of the heralds, and by
Henry's speech to the assembled noblemen, who enthusiastically
promise him the support of their oft-tried arms. The king, who
is pleased with their readiness to serve him, then informs them
that he has heard rumours of trouble in their midst, and that
by right of his office as high justice of the realm he would
fain bring peace among them. He therefore summons Frederick of
Telramund, the guardian of the dukedom of Brabant, to state the
cause of dissension. This nobleman relates how the dying Duke
of Brabant confided his children, Elsa and Godfrey, to his care,
how tenderly he watched over them, and how much sorrow he felt
when the young heir, having gone out in the forest to walk with
his sister one day, failed to return. Frederick of Telramund
then goes on, and tells how he could not but suspect Elsa of her
brother's murder. He had therefore renounced her hand, which he
had once hoped to win, had married Ortrud, daughter of Radbod,
the heathen king and former possessor of all this tract of land,
which he now claims as his own by right of inheritance.

The people at first refuse to believe his dark accusation against
Elsa; but when Frederick declares she murdered her brother
so as to become sole mistress of the duchy, and to bestow it
upon some unworthy lover, the king sends for the maiden, and,
hanging his shield upon an oak, declares he will not depart
until he has tried this cause:--


    Now shall the cause be tried as ancient use requires.


    Never again my shield to wear
    Till judgment is pronounced, I swear.'

The people receive this decree with joy, and the men, drawing
their swords, thrust them into the ground as they form a
circle around the king. These preparations for a solemn court
of justice are scarcely ended when Elsa appears, all in white,
and attended by her ladies, who stand in the background while
she timidly advances and stands before the king. Her youth,
beauty, and apparent innocence produce a great effect, not only
upon the bystanders, but also upon the king, who gently begins
to question her.

But, instead of answering him, the fair maiden merely bows
and wrings her hands, exclaiming, 'My hapless brother!' until
the king implores her to confide in him. Suddenly her tongue
is loosened, and she begins to sing, as if in a trance, of a
vision with which she has been favoured, wherein a handsome
knight had been sent by Heaven to become her champion:--

   'I saw in splendour shining
    A knight of glorious mien,
    On me his eye inclining
    With tranquil gaze serene;
    A horn of gold beside him,
    He leant upon his sword.
    Thus when I erst espied him
    'Mid clouds of light he soared;
    His words so low and tender
    Brought life renewed to me.
    My guardian, my defender,
    Thou shalt my guardian be.'

These words and the maiden's rapt and innocent look are so
impressive, that the king and people utterly refuse to believe
the maiden guilty of crime, until Frederick of Telramund boldly
offers to prove the truth of his assertion by fighting against
any champion whom she may choose. Elsa accepts this proposal
gladly, for she hopes her heaven-sent champion may appear.
The lists are immediately prepared, while the herald calls

   'He who in right of Heaven comes here to fight
    For Elsa of Brabant, step forth at once.'

The first call remains unanswered; but, at Elsa's request, the
king commands a second to be made, while she sinks on her
knees and ardently begins praying for her champion's appearance.
Her prayer is scarcely ended when the men along the bank become
aware of the approach of a snowy swan, drawing a little skiff,
in which a handsome young knight in full armour stands erect.

Amid the general silence of the amazed spectators, Lohengrin, the
Swan Knight, springs ashore, and, turning to his swan, dismisses
it in a beautiful song, one of the gems of this opera:--

   'I give thee thanks, my faithful swan.
    Turn thee again and breast the tide;
    Return unto that land of dawn
    Where joyous we did long abide.
    Well thy appointed task is done.
    Farewell, my trusty swan.'

Then, while the swan slowly sails down the river and out of
sight, the Swan Knight announces to the king that he has come
as Elsa's champion, and, turning to her, asks whether she will
be his wife if he proves victorious. Elsa gladly promises him
her hand, nor does she even offer to withdraw this promise when
he tells her that she must trust him entirely, and never ask
who he is or whence he comes:--

   'Say, dost thou understand me?
    Never, as thou dost love me,
    Aught shall to question move thee
    From whence to thee I came,
    Or what my race and name.'

Elsa faithfully promises to remember all these injunctions, and
bids him do battle for her, whereupon he challenges Telramund,
with whom he begins fighting at a given signal. The Swan Knight
soon defeats his enemy, who is thus convicted of perjury by the
judgment of God, but he magnanimously refuses to take his life.

Then, turning to Elsa, who thanks him passionately for saving
her, he clasps her in his arms, while Telramund and Ortrud,
his wife, bewail their disgrace, for, according to the law of
the land, they are doomed to poverty and exile. Their sorrow,
however, is quite unheeded by the enthusiastic spectators, who
set Elsa and Lohengrin upon their shields, and then bear them
off in triumph, to the glad accompaniment of martial strains:--


        We sing to thee,--we praise thee,
        To highest honour raise thee.
        Stranger, we here greet thee delighted.
        Wrong thou hast righted;
        We gladly greet thee here.
    Thee, thee we sing alone. Thy name shall live in story.
    Oh, never will be one to rival thee in glory!'

It is night when the curtain rises upon the second act; the
knights are still revelling in the part of the palace they
occupy, while the women's apartments are dark and still. The
street is deserted, and on the steps of the cathedral sit
Frederick and Ortrud, who have been despoiled of their rich
garments, and are now clad like beggars.

Frederick, who feels his disgrace, bitterly reproaches his wife
for having blasted his career, and seeks to induce her to depart
with him ere day breaks; but Ortrud refuses to go. She is not yet
conquered, and passionately bids him rouse himself, and listen to
her plan, if he would recover his honour, retrieve his fortunes,
and avenge himself for his public defeat. She first persuades
him that the Swan Knight won the victory by magic arts only,
which was an unpardonable offence, and then declares that, if
Elsa could only be prevailed upon to disobey her champion's
injunctions and ask his name, the spell which protects him
would soon be broken, and he would soon become their prey.

Telramund, overjoyed at the prospect of wiping out his disgrace,
acquiesces eagerly, and as Elsa just then appears at her window
and softly apostrophises the evening breeze, Ortrud creeps out
of the shadow and timidly addresses her, simulating a distress
she is far from feeling.

Moved by compassion at the sight of the haughty woman thus laid
low, and touched by the pretended repentance she shows, Elsa,
whom happiness has made even more tender than usual, eagerly
hastens down with two of her attendants, and, opening the door,
bids her come in, promising to intercede in her behalf on the
morrow. During the subsequent brief conversation Ortrud artfully
manages to make Elsa vaguely uneasy, and to sow in her innocent
mind the first seeds of suspicion.

Frederick of Telramund, in the mean while, has watched his wife
disappear with Elsa, and, hiding in a niche of the old church,
he sees the gradual approach of day, and hears the herald
proclaiming through the streets the Emperor's ban upon him:--

   'Our king's august decree through all the lands
    I here make known,--mark well what he commands:
    Beneath a ban he lays Count Telramund
    For tempting Heaven with traitorous intent.
    Whoe'er shall harbour or companion him
    By right shall share his doom with life and limb.'

The unhappy man also hears the herald announce Elsa's coming
marriage with the heaven-sent Swan Knight, and grimly tells the
bystanders he will soon unmask the traitor. A few minutes later,
when he has returned to his hiding place, he sees Elsa appear in
bridal array, followed by her women, and by Ortrud, who is very
richly clad. But at the church door Ortrud insolently presses
in front of Elsa, claiming the right of precedence as her due,
and taunting her for marrying a man who has won her by magic
arts only, and whose name and origin she does not even know.

This altercation is interrupted by the appearance of the king
and his attendants, among whom is the Swan Knight. He hastens
to Elsa's side, while the monarch imperiously demands the cause
of strife. Lohengrin tenderly questions Elsa, who tells him
all. As Ortrud's venomous insinuations have had no apparent
effect upon her, he is about to lead her into the church,
when Telramund suddenly steps forward, loudly declaring that
the Swan Knight overcame him by sorcery, and imploring Elsa
not to believe a word he says.

These accusations are, however, dismissed by the king and his
men, since Elsa passionately refuses to credit them, and the
wedding procession sweeps into the church, followed by the
vindictive glances of Telramund and Ortrud,--glances which the
trembling Elsa alone seems to perceive.

The third act takes place on that selfsame evening. The
festivities are nearly ended, and through opposite doors
the wedding procession enters the nuptial chamber to the
accompaniment of the well known Bridal Chorus. The attendants
soon depart, however, leaving Elsa and Lohengrin to join in a
duet of happy married love. Now that they are alone together
for the first time, Elsa softly begins chiding her lover for not
showing more confidence in her, and revealing who he is. In spite
of his tender attempts to turn aside the conversation into a
less dangerous channel, she gradually becomes more importunate:--

   'Oh, make me glad with thy reliance,
    Humble me not that bend so low.
    Ne'er shalt thou rue thy dear affiance:
    Him that I love, oh let me know!'

Seeing her husband does not yield to her tender pleading, Elsa
then redoubles her caresses. Her faint suspicions have taken
such firm root, and grow with such rapidity, that she is soon
almost wild with suspense. All his attempts to soothe her only
seem to excite her more, and suddenly, fancying that she hears
the swan boat coming to bear him away from her, she determines to
break the magic spell at any cost, as Ortrud cunningly advised
her, and demands his name. Just as Lohengrin is gazing upon her
in heart-rending but mute reproach, Telramund bursts into the
room, with a band of hired assassins, to take his life. A quick
motion from Elsa, whose trust returns when she sees her beloved
in danger, permits Lohengrin to parry the first blow with his
sword, and Frederick of Telramund soon lies dead upon the floor,
while his accomplices cringe at Lohengrin's feet imploring his
pardon. Day is dawning, and Lohengrin, after caring tenderly
for the half-fainting Elsa, bids the would-be assassins bear
the corpse into the presence of the king, where he promises to
meet Elsa and satisfy all her demands:--

   'Bear hence the corpse into the king's judgment hall.
    Into the royal presence lead her.
    Arrayed as fits so fair a bride;
    There all she asks I will concede her,
    Nor from her knowledge aught will hide.'

At the last scene the king is again near the river, on his
judgment throne, whence he watches the mustering of the
troops which are to accompany him to the war, and makes a
patriotic speech, to which they gladly respond. Suddenly,
however, the four men appear with the corpse of Frederick of
Telramund, which they lay at the king's feet, declaring they
are obeying the orders of the new lord of Brabant, who will
soon come to explain all. Before the king can question further,
Elsa appears, pale and drooping, in spite of her bridal array,
and just as the king is rallying her at wearing so mournful an
expression when her bridegroom is only leaving her for a short
time to lead his troops to the fray, the Swan Knight appears,
and is enthusiastically welcomed by his men. Sadly he informs
them he can no longer lead them on to victory, and declares
that he slew Frederick of Telramund in self-defence, a crime
for which he is unanimously acquitted.

Then he sadly goes on to relate that Elsa has already broken
her promise, and asked the fatal question concerning his name
and origin. Proudly he tells them that he has no cause to be
ashamed of his lineage, as he is Lohengrin, son of Parsifal,
the guardian of the Holy Grail, sent from the temple on Mount
Salvatch to save and defend Elsa. The only magic he had used was
the power with which the Holy Grail endowed all its defenders,
and which never forsook them until they revealed their name:--

   'He whom the Grail to be its servant chooses
    Is armed henceforth by high invincible might;
    All evil craft its power before him loses,
    The spirit of the darkness where he dwells takes flight.
    Nor will he lose the awful charm it lendeth,
    Although he should to distant lands,
    When the high cause of virtue he defendeth:
    While he's unknown, its spells he still commands.'

Now, he adds, the sacred spell is broken, he can no longer
remain, but is forced to return immediately to the Holy Grail,
and in confirmation of his word the swan and skiff again appear,
sailing up the river. Tenderly the Swan Knight now bids the
repentant Elsa farewell, gently resisting her passionate attempts
to detain him, and giving her his sword, horn, and ring, which
he bids her bestow upon her brother when he returns to protect
her. This boon is denied him, because she could not keep faith
with him for one short year, at the end of which time he would
have been free to reveal his name, and her missing brother
would have been restored to her by the power of the Holy Grail.

Placing the fainting Elsa in her women's arms, Lohengrin then
goes down toward the swan boat, amid the loud lamentations of all
the people, One person only is glad to see him depart, Ortrud,
the wife of Telramund, and, thinking he can no longer interfere,
she cruelly taunts Elsa with her lack of faith, and confesses
that her magic arts and heathen spells have turned the heir
of Brabant into the snowy swan which is even now drawing the
tiny skiff.

These words, which fill the hearts of Elsa and all the spectators
with horror and dismay, are however overheard by Lohengrin, who,
accustomed to rely upon Divine aid in every need, sinks upon his
knees, and is rapt in silent prayer. Suddenly a beam of heavenly
light streams down upon his upturned face, and the white dove
of the Holy Grail is seen hovering over his head. Lohengrin,
perceiving it, springs to his feet, looses the golden chain
which binds the swan to the skiff, and as the snowy bird sinks
out of sight a fair young knight in silver armour rises out of
the stream. Then all perceive that he is in truth, as Lohengrin
proclaims, the missing Godfrey of Brabant, released from bondage
by the power of the Holy Grail. Elsa embraces her brother with
joy, the king and nobles gladly welcome him, and Ortrud sinks
fainting to the ground. Lohengrin, seeing that his beloved has
now a protector, springs into the skiff, whose chain is caught
by the dove, and rapidly drawn out of sight. As it vanishes,
Elsa sinks lifeless to the ground with a last passionate cry of
'My husband!' and all gaze mournfully after him, for they know
they will never see Lohengrin, the Swan Knight, again.

[Illustration: TRISTAN'S DEATH.]


It was in 1854, when still an exile from his native land, that
Wagner, weary of his long work, 'The Ring of the Niblungs,'
of which only the first two parts were completed, conceived
the idea of using the legend of Tristan as basis for a popular
opera. Three years later the poem was finished, but the opera
was played in Munich only in 1865 for the first time.

The libretto is based on an ancient Celtic myth or legend,
which was very popular during the Middle Ages. It was already
known in the seventh century, but whether it originally came
from Wales or Brittany is a disputed point. It was very widely
known, however, and, thanks to the wandering minstrels, it
was translated into all the Continental idioms, and became
the theme of many poets, even of later times. Since the days
when Godfried of Strasburgh wrote his version of the story it
has been versified by many others, among whom, in our days,
are Matthew Arnold and Swinburne. While the general outline
of these various versions remains the same, the legend has
undergone many transformations, but Wagner has preserved many
of the fundamental ideas of the myth, which is intended to
illustrate the overpowering force of passion. The scene was
originally laid in Ireland, Cornwall, and French Brittany.

Blanchefleur, sister of King Mark of Cornwall, falls in love
with Rivalin, who dies shortly after their union. Withdrawing to
her husband's castle in Brittany, Blanchefleur gives birth to
a child whom she calls Tristan, as he is the child of sorrow,
and, feeling that she cannot live much longer, she intrusts
him to the care of her faithful steward, Kurvenal. When the
young hero has reached the age of fifteen, his guardian takes
him over to Cornwall, where King Mark not only recognises him
as his nephew, but also designates him as his heir.

Tristan has been carefully trained, and is so expert in the
use of his arms that he soon excites the envy of the courtiers,
who are watching for an opportunity to do him harm. The King of
Cornwall, having been defeated in battle by the King of Ireland,
is obliged to pay him a yearly tribute, which is collected
by Morold, a huge giant and a relative of the Irish king.
Morold, coming as usual to collect the tribute money, behaves
so insolently that Tristan resolves to free the country from
thraldom by slaying him. A challenge is given and accepted,
and after a terrible combat, such as the mediæval poets love
to describe with minute care, the giant falls, after wounding
Tristan with his poisoned spear.

The King of Cornwall, instead of sending the wonted tribute to
Ireland, now forwards Morold's head, which is piously preserved
by Ysolde, the Irish princess, who finds in the wound a fragment
of sword by which she hopes to identify the murderer, and avenge
her kinsman's death.

Tristan, finding that the skill of all the Cornwall leeches can
give him no relief, decides to go to Ireland and claim the help
of Ysolde the princess, who, like her mother, is skilled in the
art of healing, and knows the antidote for every poison. Fearing,
however, lest she may seek to avenge Morold's death, he goes
alone, disguised as a harper, and presents himself before her
as Tantris, a wandering minstrel.

His precarious condition touches Ysolde's compassionate heart,
and she soon uses all her medical science to accomplish his
cure, tenderly nursing him back to health. While sitting beside
him one day, she idly draws his sword from the scabbard, and
her sharp eyes perceive that a piece is missing. Comparing
the break in the sword with the fragment in her possession,
she is soon convinced that Morold's murderer is at her mercy,
and she is about to slay her helpless foe when an imploring
glance allays her wrath.

Tristan, having entirely recovered under her care, takes leave
of the fair Ysolde, who has entirely lost her heart to him,
and returns to Cornwall, where he relates his adventures, and
speaks in such glowing terms of Ysolde's beauty and goodness that
the courtiers finally prevail upon the king to sue for her hand.

As the courtiers have tried to make the king believe that his
nephew would fain keep him single lest he should have an heir,
Tristan reluctantly accepts the commission to bear the king's
proposals and escort the bride to Cornwall. Ysolde is of course
overjoyed at his return, for she fancies he reciprocates her
love; but when he makes his errand known, she proudly conceals
her grief, and prepares to accompany the embassy to Cornwall,
taking with her her faithful nurse, Brangeane.

The Queen of Ireland, another Ysolde, well versed in every
magic art, then brews a mighty love potion, which she intrusts
to Brangeane's care, bidding her conceal it in her daughter's
medicine chest, and administer it to the royal bride and groom
on their wedding night, to insure their future happiness by
deep mutual love.

Wagner's opera opens on shipboard, where Ysolde lies sullen and
motionless under a tent, brooding over her sorrow and nursing
her wrath against Tristan, who has further embittered her by
treating her with the utmost reserve, and never once approaching
her during the whole journey. The call of the pilot floats
over the sea, and Ysolde, roused from her abstraction, asks
Brangeane where they are. When she learns that the vessel is
already within sight of Cornwall, where a new love awaits her,
Ysolde gives vent to her despair, and openly regrets that she
does not possess her mother's power over the elements, as she
would gladly conjure a storm which would engulf the vessel and
set her free from a life she abhors.

Brangeane, alarmed at this outburst, vainly tries to comfort her,
and as the vessel draws near the land she obeys Ysolde's command
and goes to summon Tristan into her presence. Approaching the
young hero, who is at the helm, the maid delivers her message,
but Tristan refuses to comply, under pretext of best fulfilling
his trust by steering the vessel safe to land:--

   'In every station
    Where I stand
    I serve with life and blood
    The pearl of womanhood:--
    If I the rudder
    Rashly left,
    Who steer'd then safely the ship
    To good King Mark's fair land?'

He further feigns to misunderstand the purport of her message,
by assuring her that the discomforts of the journey will
soon be over. Kurvenal, his companion, incensed by Brangeane's
persistency, then makes a taunting speech to the effect that his
master Tristan, the slayer of Morold, is not the vassal of any
queen, and the nurse returns to the tent to report her failure.
Ysolde, however, has overheard Kurvenal's speech, and when she
learns that Tristan refuses to obey her summons, she comments
bitterly upon his lack of gratitude for all her tender care,
and confides to Brangeane how she spared him when he was ill
and at her mercy.

Brangeane vainly tries to make her believe that Tristan has shown
his appreciation by wooing her for the king rather than for
himself, and when Ysolde murmurs against a loveless marriage,
she shows her the magic potion intrusted to her care, which
will insure her becoming a loving and beloved wife.

The sight of the medicine chest in which it is secreted
unfortunately reminds Ysolde that she too knows the secret of
brewing draughts of all kinds, so she prepares a deadly potion,
trying all the while to make Brangeane believe that it is a
perfectly harmless drug, which will merely make her forget the
unhappy past.

While she is thus occupied, Kurvenal suddenly appears to announce
that they are about to land, and to bid her prepare to meet the
king, who has seen their coming and is wending his way down to
the shore to bid her welcome. Ysolde haughtily replies that she
will not stir a step until Tristan proffers an apology for his
rude behaviour and obeys her summons. After conferring together
for a few moments, Tristan and Kurvenal agree that it will be
wiser to appease the irate beauty by yielding to her wishes,
than to have an _esclandre_, and Tristan prepares to appear
before her. Ysolde, in the mean while, has passionately flung
herself into Brangeane's arms, fondly bidding her farewell,
and telling her to have the magic draught she has prepared all
ready to give to Tristan, with whom she means to drink atonement.

While Brangeane, who mistrusts her young mistress, is still
pleading with her to forget the past, Tristan respectfully
approaches the princess, and when she haughtily reproves him
for slighting her commands, he informs her, with much dignity,
that he deemed it his duty to keep his distance:--

   'Good breeding taught,
    Where I was upbrought,
    That he who brings
    The bride to her lord
    Should stay afar from his trust.'

Ysolde retorts, that, as he is such a rigid observer of
etiquette, it would best behoove him to remember that as yet
he has not even proffered the usual atonement for shedding
the blood of her kin, and that his life is therefore at her
disposal. Tristan, seeing she is bent upon revenge, haughtily
hands her his sword, telling her that, since Morold was so
dear to her, she had better avenge him. Under pretext that King
Mark might resent such treatment of his nephew and ambassador,
Ysolde refuses to take advantage of his defencelessness, and
declares she will consider herself satisfied if he will only
pledge her in the usual cup of atonement, which she motions to
Brangeane to bring.

The bewildered handmaiden hastily pours a drug into the cup. This
she tremblingly brings to her mistress, who, hearing the vessel
grate on the pebbly shore, tells Tristan his loathsome task
will soon be over, and that he will soon be able to relinquish
her to the care of his uncle.

Tristan, suspecting that the contents of the cup are poisonous,
nevertheless calmly takes it from her hand and puts it to his
lips. But ere he has drunk half the potion, Ysolde snatches
it from his grasp and greedily drains the rest. Instead of the
ice-cold chill of death which they both expected, Tristan and
Ysolde suddenly feel the electric tingle of love rushing madly
through all their veins, and, forgetting all else, fall into
each other's arms, exchanging passionate vows of undying love.

Brangeane, the only witness of this scene, views with terror
the effect of her subterfuge, for, fearing lest her mistress
should injure Tristan or herself, she had hastily substituted
the love potion intrusted to her care for the poison Ysolde
had prepared. While the lovers, clasped in each other's arms,
unite in a duet of passionate love, the vessel is made fast
to the shore, where the royal bridegroom is waiting, and it
is only when Brangeane throws the royal mantle over Ysolde's
shoulders, and when Kurvenal bids them step ashore, that the
lovers suddenly realise that their brief dream of love is over.

The sudden revulsion from great joy to overwhelming despair
proves too much for Ysolde's delicate frame, and she sinks
fainting to the deck, just as King Mark appears and the curtain
falls upon the first act.

Several days are supposed to have elapsed, when the second act
begins. Ysolde after her fainting fit has been conveyed to the
king's palace, where she is to dwell alone until her marriage
takes place, and where she forgets everything except the passion
which she feels for Tristan, who now shares all her feelings.
In a hurried private interview the lovers have arranged a
code of signals, and it is agreed that as soon as the light
in Ysolde's window is extinguished her lover will join her as
speedily as possible.

It is a beautiful summer night, and the last echoes of
the hunting horn are dying away on the evening breeze, when
Ysolde turns to Brangeane, and impatiently bids her put out the
light. The terrified nurse refuses to do so, and implores Ysolde
not to summon her lover, declaring that she is sure that Melot,
one of the king's courtiers, noted her pallor and Tristan's
strange embarrassment. In vain she adds that she knows his
suspicions have been aroused, and that he is keeping close watch
over them both to denounce them should they do anything amiss.
Ysolde refuses to believe her.

The princess is so happy that she makes fun of her attendant's
forebodings, and, after praising the tender passion she feels,
she again bids her put out the light. As Brangeane will not
obey this command, Ysolde, too much in love to wait any longer,
finally extinguishes the light with her own hand, and bids her
nurse go up in the watch-tower and keep a sharp lookout.

Ysolde then hastens to the open door, and gazes anxiously out
into the twilighted forest, frantically waving her veil to
hasten the coming of her lover, and runs to meet and embrace
him when at last he appears.

Blissful in each other's company, Tristan and Ysolde now forget
all else, while they exchange passionate vows and declarations
of love, bewailing the length of the days which keep them apart,
and the shortness of the nights during which they can see each
other. In a passionate duet of mutual love and admiration,
they also rejoice that, instead of dying together, as Ysolde
had planned, they are still able to live and love.

Brangeane, posted in the watch-tower above, repeatedly warns them
that they had better part, but her wise advice proves useless,
and it is only when she utters a loud cry of alarm that Tristan
and Ysolde start apart. Simultaneously almost with Brangeane's
cry, Kurvenal rushes upon the scene with drawn sword, imploring
his master to fly; but ere this advice can be followed King
Mark and the traitor Melot appear, closely followed by all
the royal hunting party. Ysolde, overcome with shame at being
thus detected with her lover, sinks fainting to the ground,
while Tristan, wishing to shield her as much as possible from
the scornful glances of these men, stands in front of her with
his mantle outspread. He, too, is overwhelmed with shame,
and silently bows his head when his uncle bitterly reproves him
for betraying him, and robbing him of the bride he had already
learned to love. Even the sentence of banishment pronounced upon
him seems none too severe, and Tristan, almost broken-hearted
at the sight of his uncle's grief, sadly turns to ask Ysolde
whether she will share his lot. Shame and discovery have in no
wise diminished her affection for him, and when she promises to
follow him even to the end of the earth he cannot restrain his
joy, and notwithstanding the king's presence he passionately
clasps her in his arms:

   'Wherever Tristan's home may be,
    That will Ysolde share with thee:
    That she may follow
    And to thee hold,
    The way now shown to Ysold'!'

Melot, enraged at this sight, rushes upon Tristan with drawn
sword, and wounds him so sorely that he falls back unconscious
in Kurvenal's arms, while Ysolde, clinging to him, faints away
as the curtain falls on the second act.

The third act is played in Tristan's ancestral home in Brittany,
whither he has been conveyed by Kurvenal, who vainly tries to
nurse his wounded master back to health and strength. The sick
man is lying under a great linden tree, in death-like lethargy,
while Kurvenal anxiously watches for the vessel which he trusts
will bring Ysolde from Cornwall. She alone can cure his master's
grievous wound, and her presence only can woo him back from
the grave into which he seems rapidly sinking.

From time to time Kurvenal interrupts his sad watch beside the
pallid sleeper to call to a shepherd piping on the hillside, and
to inquire of him whether he descries any signs of the coming
sail. Slowly and feebly Tristan at last opens his eyes, gazes
dreamily at his attendant and surroundings, and wonderingly
inquires how he came thither. Kurvenal gently tells him that
he bore him away from Cornwall while wounded and unconscious,
and brought him home to recover his health amid the peaceful
scenes of his happy youth; but Tristan sadly declares that life
has lost all its charms since he has parted from Ysolde. In a
sudden return of delirium the wounded hero then fancies he is
again in the forest, watching for the light to go out, until
Kurvenal tells him that Ysolde will soon be here, as he has
sent a ship to Cornwall to bring her safely over the seas.

These tidings fill Tristan's heart with such rapture that
he embraces Kurvenal, thanking him brokenly for his lifelong
devotion, and bidding him climb up into the watch-tower that he
may catch the first glimpse of the coming sail. While Kurvenal
is hesitating whether he shall obey this order and leave his
helpless patient alone, the shepherd joyfully announces the
appearance of the ship. Kurvenal, ascending the tower, reports
to his master how it rounds the point, steers past the dangerous
rocks, touches the shore, and permits Ysolde to land.

Tristan has feverishly listened to all these reports, and bids
Kurvenal hasten down to bring Ysolde to him; then, left alone,
he bursts forth into rapturous praise of the happy day which
brings his beloved to him once more, and of the deep love which
has called him back from the gates of the tomb. His impatience
to see Ysolde soon gets the better of his weakness, however,
and he struggles to rise from his couch, although the exertion
causes his wounds to bleed afresh. Painfully he staggers half
across the stage to meet Ysolde, who appears only in time to
hear his last passionate utterance of her beloved name, and to
catch his dying form in her arms. She does not realise that he
has breathed his last, however, and gently tries to woo him back
to life, and make him open his eyes. But when all her efforts
have failed, and she finds his heart no longer beats beneath her
hand, she reproaches him tenderly for leaving her thus alone,
and sinks unconscious upon his breast. Kurvenal, standing beside
the lovers, speechless with grief, is roused to sudden action
by the shepherd's hurried announcement that a second ship has
arrived, and that King Mark, Melot, and all his train, are about
to appear. Frenzied with grief, and thinking that they have come
once more to injure his master, Kurvenal seizes his sword, and,
springing to the gate, fights desperately until he has slain
Melot, and falls mortally wounded at Tristan's feet.

While the fight is taking place, King Mark and Brangeane,
standing without the castle wall, vainly call to him to stay
his hand, as they have come with friendly intentions only,
and now that he can resist them no longer they all come
rushing in. They are horror-struck at the sight of Tristan
and Ysolde, both apparently dead; but Brangeane, having
discovered that her mistress has only swooned, soon restores
her to consciousness. King Mark hastens to assure Ysolde
that she and Tristan are both forgiven; for Brangeane having
penitently revealed to him the secret of the love potion which
she administered, he realises that they could not but yield to
its might. Ysolde, however, pays no heed to his words, but,
gazing fixedly at Tristan, she mournfully extols his charms
and love, until her heart breaks with grief, and she too sinks
lifeless to the ground. No restoratives can now avail to recall
the life which has flown forever, and King Mark blesses the
corpses of the lovers, and of the faithful servant who has
expired at their feet, as the curtain falls.



When Richard Wagner was only sixteen years of age he read with
great enthusiasm one of Hoffmann's novels entitled 'Sängerkrieg,'
giving a romantic account of the ancient musical contests at
the Wartburg in Bavaria. The impression made upon him by this
account was first utilised in his opera of 'Tannhäuser,' when
his attention was attracted also to the picturesque possibilities
of the guilds formed by the burghers.

It was not until 1845, however, that he made definite use
of this material, and began the sketch for his only comic
opera. The first outline was drawn during a sojourn in the
Bohemian mountains, when he felt in an unusually light and
festive mood. But the work was soon set aside, and was not
resumed until 1862, when it was finished in Paris. The score
was then begun, and written almost entirely at Biberich on the
Rhine, and Wagner himself conducted the overture for the first
time at a concert in Leipzig.

This fragment was very well received and there was an
'enthusiastic demand for a repetition, in which the members
of the orchestra took part as much as the audience.' The opera
itself, however, was first performed under Von Bülow, in 1868, at
Munich. The best singers of the day took the principal parts, and
the result of their united efforts was 'a perfect performance;
the best that had hitherto been given of any work of the master.'

The opera, at first intended as a comical pendant to
'Tannhäuser,' is, as we have already stated, Wagner's first
and only attempt to write in the comic vein, and the text
is full of witty and cutting allusions to the thick-headed
critics (at whose hands Wagner had suffered so sorely), who
sweepingly condemn everything that does not conform to their
fixed standard. During all the Middle Ages, and more especially
in the middle of the thirteenth century, the quaint old city of
Nuremberg was the seat of one of the most noted musical guilds,
or German training schools for poets and musicians. The members
of this fraternity were all burghers, instead of knights like
the Minnesingers, and held different ranks according to their
degree of proficiency. They were therefore called singers when
they had mastered a certain number of tunes; poets when they
could compose verses to a given air; and Master Singers when
they could write both words and music on an appointed theme.
The musical by-laws of this guild were called 'Tabulatur,'
and every candidate was forced to pass an examination, seven
mistakes being the maximum allowed by the chief examiner,
who bore the title of Marker.

The opera opens in the interior of St. Catharine's church in
Nuremberg, where a closing hymn in honour of St. John is being
sung. Eva Pogner and her maid, Magdalena, have been present
at the service, and are still standing in their pew. But,
in spite of her handmaiden's energetic signs and nudges, the
young lady pays but little heed to the closing hymn, and turns
all her attention upon a handsome young knight, Walther von
Stolzenfels, who, as the last note dies away, presses eagerly
forward and enters into conversation with her.

To secure a few moments' private interview Eva sends her maid
back to the pew, first for her forgotten kerchief, next for a
pin which she has lost, and lastly for her prayer-book. During
these temporary absences the deeply enamoured youth implores Eva
to tell him whether she is still free, and whether her heart
and hand are still at her own disposal. Before the agitated
girl can answer, the servant comes up, and, overhearing the
question, declares that her mistress's hand has already been
promised,--a statement which Eva modifies by adding that her
future bridegroom is yet to be chosen. As these contradictory
answers greatly puzzle Walther, she hurriedly explains that
her father, the wealthiest burgher of the town, wishing to
show his veneration for music, has promised his fortune and her
hand to a Master Singer, the preference being given to the one
who will win the prize on the morrow. The only proviso made is
that the girl may remain free if the bridegroom does not win
her approval, and Eva timidly confesses that she will either
marry Walther or remain single all her life. Magdalena, who
has been carrying on a lively flirtation of her own with David,
the sexton, now suddenly hurries her young mistress off, bidding
the knight apply to David if he would learn any more concerning
the musical test about to take place, and in the same breath
she promises her lover some choice dainties if he will only do
all in his power to enlighten and favour her mistress's suitor.

   'Let David supply all
    The facts of the trial.--
    David, my dear, just heed what I say!
    You must induce Sir Walther to stay.
    The larder I'll sweep,
    The best for you keep;
    To-morrow rewards shall fall faster
    If this young knight is made Master.'

Walther, who has just passionately declared to Eva that he
knows he could become both poet and musician for her sweet
sake, since her father has vowed never to allow her to marry
any but a Master, now listens attentively to David's exposition
of the school's rules and regulations. In the mean while the
apprentices come filing in, prepare the benches and chairs,
arrange the Marker's curtained box, and gayly chaff each other
as they join in an impromptu dance.

They only subside when Pogner, Eva's father, enters with
Beckmesser, an old widower, the Marker of the guild, who flatters
himself he can easily win the prize on the morrow, and would
fain make Pogner promise that the victor should receive the
maiden's hand without her consent being asked. He fears lest
the capricious fair one may yet refuse to marry him, and decides
to make sure of her by singing a serenade under her window that
very night. But when he sees the handsome young candidate step
forward and receive the support of Pogner, (who has already made
his acquaintance, and who evidently is inclined to favour him,)
the widower looks very glum indeed, and vindictively resolves
to prevent his entrance into the guild by fair means or by foul.

Hans Sachs, the poet shoemaker of Nuremberg, and all the other
members of the guild, having now appeared, Beckmesser calls
the roll, and Pogner repeats his offer to give his fortune
and daughter to the winner of the prize on the morrow, and
charges the guild to select their candidates for the contest. Of
course the very first thing to be done is to examine the new
candidate. Walther, when questioned concerning his teachers
and method, boldly declares he has learned his art from nature
alone, chooses love as his theme for a trial song, and bursts
forth into an impassioned and beautiful strain. But as his
words and music are strictly original, and therefore cannot
be judged by the usual canons, Beckmesser savagely marks down
mistake after mistake, and brusquely interrupts the song to
declare the singer is 'outsung and outdone.' In proof of this
assertion he exhibits his slate, which is covered with bad
marks. Hans Sachs, the only member present who has understood
the beauty of this original lay, vainly tries to interfere in
Walther's behalf, but his efforts only call forth a rude attack
on Beckmesser's part, who advises him to reserve his opinions,
stick to his last, and finish the pair of shoes which he has
promised him for the morrow. Walther is finally allowed to
finish his song, but the prejudiced and intolerant citizens of
Nuremberg utterly refuse to receive him in their guild, and he
rushes out of the hall in despair, for he has lost his best
chance to win the hand of his lady love by competing for the
prize on the morrow. His departure is a signal for a tumultuous
breaking up of the meeting, the apprentices dancing as before,
as soon as their masters have departed.

The second act represents one of the tortuous alleys and a
long straight street of the quaint old city of Nuremberg. On
one side is Hans Sachs's modest shoemaker's shop, on the other
the entrance to Pogner's stately dwelling. It is evening, and
David, the shoemaker's apprentice, is leisurely putting up the
shutters, when his attention is suddenly attracted by Magdalena,
who appears with a basket of dainties. She however refuses to
give them to him until he tells her the result of the musical
examination. When she hears that Walther has failed and has
been refused admittance to the guild, she pettishly snatches the
basket from his grasp and flounces off in great displeasure. The
other apprentices, who in the mean while have slyly drawn near,
now make unmerciful fun of David, who stands stupidly in the
middle of the street gazing regretfully after her.

This rough play is soon ended by the appearance of Hans
Sachs. He orders all the apprentices to bed, and, by a judicious
application of his strap, drives David into the house. Quiet has
just been restored once more, when Pogner and Eva come sauntering
down the street, returning from their customary evening walk,
and sit down side by side on the bench in front of their door.

Here Pogner tries to sound his daughter's feelings, and to
discover whether she has any preference among the morrow's
candidates, reiterating his decision, however, that he will
never allow her to marry any one except a man who has publicly
won the title of Master Singer. As he cannot ascertain his
daughter's feelings, he soon enters the house, while Eva lingers
outside watching for Walther's promised visit. She is soon
joined by Magdalena, who sorrowfully tells her that Walther
has been rejected; but, as she can give no details about the
examination, Eva timidly approaches Hans Sachs's window hoping
to learn more from him. The cobbler is sitting at work near his
window, singing a song of his own composition, and the maiden
soon enters into a bantering conversation with her old friend.

In answer to Hans Sachs's questions, she soon confides to him
that she cannot endure Beckmesser, and to flatter him into a
good humour she archly suggests that, as he too is a widower,
he ought to compete for her hand. Hans Sachs, who is far too
shrewd not to see through her girlish fencing, now resolves
to discover whether she is as indifferent to the young knight,
and in order to do so he drops a few careless and contemptuous
remarks about him, which drive the young lady away in a very
bad temper.

Smiling maliciously at the success of his ruse, the cobbler
cheerfully continues his work, while Eva rejoins Magdalena,
who informs her that Beckmesser has signified his intention
to serenade her that very night. Eva cares naught for the
widower's music, and, only intent upon securing a private
interview with the handsome young knight, refuses to re-enter
the house; so Magdalena leaves her to answer Pogner's call.

A few moments later Walther himself comes slowly down the street;
but, in spite of Eva's rapturous welcome, he remains plunged in
melancholy, for he has forfeited all hope of winning her on the
morrow. The sound of the watchman's horn drives the young people
apart, and while Eva vanishes into the house, Walther hides under
the shadow of the great linden tree in front of Sachs's house.

His presence has been detected by the shoemaker, who makes no
sign, and when the night watchman has gone by, singing the hour
and admonishing all good people to go to bed, he perceives
a female form glide softly out of the house and join the
knight. This female is Eva, who has exchanged garments with
Magdalena, and has prevailed upon her to pose at her window
during the serenade, while she tries to comfort her beloved.

Crouching in the shade, the lovers now plan to elope that very
night, but Hans Sachs overhears their conversation, and when
they are about to leave their hiding-place and depart, he flings
open his shutter so that a broad beam of light streams across
the old street. It makes such a brilliant illumination that
it is impossible for any one to pass unseen. This ruse, which
proves such a hindrance to the lovers, is equally distasteful
to Beckmesser, who has come down the street and has taken his
stand near them to tune his lute and begin his serenade. Before
he can utter the first note, Hans Sachs, having become aware of
his presence also, and maliciously anxious to defeat his plans,
lustily entones a noisy ditty about Adam and Eve, hammering
his shoes to beat time.

Beckmesser, who has seen Eva's window open, and longs to make
himself heard, steps up to the shoemaker's window. In answer
to his testy questions why he is at his bench at such an hour,
Hans Sachs good-humouredly replies that he must work late to
finish the shoes about which he has been twitted in public.
At his wit's end to silence the shoemaker and sing his serenade,
Beckmesser artfully pretends that he would like to have Sachs's
opinion of the song he intends to sing on the morrow, and
proposes to let him hear it then. After a little demur the
shoemaker consents, upon condition that he may give a tap with
his hammer every time he hears a mistake, and thus carry on the
double office of marker and of cobbler.

Beckmesser is, however, so angry and agitated that his song is
utterly spoiled, and he makes so many mistakes that the cobbler's
hammer keeps up an incessant clatter. These irritating sounds
make the singer more nervous still, and he sings so loudly and
so badly that he rouses the whole neighbourhood, and heads pop
out of every window to bid him be still.

David also ventures to peer forth, and, seeing that the serenade
is directed to Magdalena, whom he recognises at the window above,
his jealous anger knows no bounds. He springs out of the window,
and begins belabouring his unlucky rival with a stout cudgel. The
Nuremberg apprentices, who are divided up into numerous rival
guilds, and who are always quarrelling, seize this occasion to
bandy words, which soon result in bringing them all out into
the street, where a free fight takes place between the rival
factions of journeymen and apprentices.

Magdalena, seeing her beloved David in peril screams aloud,
until Pogner, deceived by her apparel, pulls her into the room
and closes the window, declaring he must go and see that all
is safe. Sachs, who has closed his shutter at the first sounds
of the fight, steals out into the street, approaches the young
lovers, and, pretending to take Eva for Magdalena, he thrusts
her quickly into Pogner's house, and drags Walther into his
own dwelling just as the sound of the approaching night watch
is heard. As if by magic the brawlers suddenly disappear,
the windows close, the lights are extinguished, and as the
watchman turns the corner the street has resumed its wonted
peaceful aspect.

The third act opens on the morrow, in Hans Sachs's shop, where
the cobbler is absorbed in reading and oblivious of the presence
of his apprentice David, who comes sneaking in with a basket
which he has just received from Magdalena. Taking advantage of
his master's absorption, David examines the ribbons, flowers,
cakes, and sausages with which it is stocked, starting guiltily
at his master's every movement, and finally seeking to disarm
the anger he must feel at the evening's brawl by offering him
the gifts he has just received.

Hans Sachs, however, good-naturedly refuses to receive them,
and after making his apprentice sing the song for the day he
dismisses him to don his festive attire, for he has decided to
take him with him to the festival. Left alone, Sachs soliloquises
on the follies of mankind, until Walther appears. In reply to his
host's polite inquiry how he spent the night, Walther declares
he has been visited by a wonderful dream, which he goes on to
relate. At the very first words the cobbler discovers that it is
part of a beautiful song, conforming to all the Master Singers'
rigid rules, and he hastily jots down the words, bidding the
young knight be careful to retain the tune.

As they both leave the room to don their festive apparel,
Beckmesser comes limping in. He soon discovers the verses on the
bench, and pockets them, intending to substitute them for his own
in the coming contest. Sachs, coming in, denies all intention of
taking part in the day's programme, and when Beckmesser jealously
asks why he has been inditing a love song if he does not intend
to sue for Eva's hand, he discovers the larceny. He, however,
good-naturedly allows Beckmesser to retain the copy of verses,
and even promises him that he will never claim the authorship
of the song, a promise which Beckmesser intends to make use of
so as to pass it off as his own.

Triumphant now and sure of victory, Beckmesser departs as
Eva enters in bridal attire. She is of course devoured by
curiosity to know what has become of her lover, but, as excuse
for her presence, she petulantly complains that her shoe pinches.
Kneeling in front of her, Sachs investigates the matter, greatly
puzzled at first by her confused and contradictory statements
and by her senseless replies to his questions. He is turning
his back to the inner door, through which Walther has also
entered the shop, but, soon becoming aware of the cause of
her perturbation, he deftly draws the shoe from her foot,
and going to his last pretends to be very busy over it, while
he is in reality listening intently to discover whether Eva's
presence will inspire Walther with the third and last verse
of his song. His expectations are not disappointed, for the
knight, approaching the maiden softly, declares his love in a
beautiful song.

As the last notes die away, the cobbler joyfully exclaims that
Walther has composed a Master Song, calls Eva and David (who has
just entered) as witnesses that he composed it, foretells that,
if Walther will only yield to his guidance he will yet enable
him to win the prize, and, patting Eva in a truly paternal
fashion, he bids her be happy, for she will yet be able to
marry the man she loves. David, who has been made journeyman
so that he can bear witness for Walther, greets the happy
Magdalena with the tidings that they no longer need delay,
but can marry immediately.

After the four happy young people and Hans Sachs have given
vent to their rapture in a beautiful quintette, they adjourn
to the meadow outside of the town, where the musical contest is
to take place. The peasants and apprentices are merrily dancing
on the green, and cease their mirthful gyrations only when the
Master Singers appear. Hans Sachs addresses the crowd, reads
the conditions of the test, proclaims what the prize shall be,
and concludes by inviting Beckmesser to come forth and begin his
song. The young people assembled hail this elderly candidate
with veiled scorn, and Beckmesser, painfully clambering to
the eminence where the candidates are requested to stand,
hesitatingly begins his lay. The words, with which he has had
no time to become familiar, are entirely unadapted to his tune,
so he draws them out, clips them, loses the thread of the verses,
and fails in every sense.

In his chagrin at having made himself ridiculous, and in
anger because his colleagues declare the words of his song
have no sense, he suddenly turns upon Hans Sachs, and, hoping
to humiliate him publicly, accuses him of having written the
song. Hans Sachs, of course, disowns the authorship, but stoutly
declares the song is a masterpiece, and that he is sure every
one present will agree with him if they hear it properly rendered
to its appropriate tune. As he is a general favourite among his
townsmen, he soon prevails upon them to listen to the author
and composer and decide whether he or Beckmesser is at fault.

Walther then springs lightly up the turfy throne, and,
inspired by love, he sings with all his heart. The beautiful
words, married to an equally beautiful strain, win for him the
unanimous plaudits of the crowd, who hail him as victor, while
the blushing Eva places the laurel crown upon his head. Pogner,
openly delighted with the favourable turn of affairs, gives him
the badge of the guild, and heartily promises him the hand of
his only daughter. As for Hans Sachs, having publicly proved
that his judgment was not at fault, and that he had been keen
enough to detect genius even when it revealed itself in a new
form, he is heartily cheered by all the Nurembergers, who are
prouder than ever of the cobbler poet who has brought about a
happy marriage:--

   'Hail Sachs! Hans Sachs!
    Hail Nuremberg's darling Sachs!'

[Illustration: THE RHINE MAIDENS.]


It was in 1848, after the completion of Tannhäuser, that Wagner
looked about for a subject for a new opera. Then 'for the last
time the conflicting claims of History and Legend presented
themselves.' He had studied the story of Barbarossa, intending
to make use of it, but discarded it in favour of the Nibelungen
Myths, which he decided to dramatise.[1] His first effort was
an alliterative poem entitled 'The Death of Siegfried,' which,
however, was soon set aside, a part of it only being incorporated
in 'The Twilight [or Dusk] of the Gods.'

Wagner was then dwelling in Dresden, and planning the
organisation of a national theatre; but the political troubles
of 1849, which resulted in his banishment, soon defeated all
these hopes. After a short sojourn in Paris, Wagner took up
his abode in Zurich, where he became a naturalised citizen, and
where he first turned all his attention to the principal work
of his life,--'The Nibelungen Ring.' In connection with this
work Wagner himself wrote: 'When I tried to dramatise the most
important moment of the mythos of the Nibelungen in Siegfried's
Tod, I found it necessary to indicate a vast number of antecedent
facts, so as to put the main incidents in the proper light. But
I could only _narrate_ these subordinate matters, whereas I felt
it imperative that they should be embodied in the action. Thus
I came to write Siegfried. But here again the same difficulty
troubled me. Finally I wrote "Die Walküre" and "Das Rheingold,"
and thus contrived to incorporate all that was needful to make
the action tell its own tale.' The completed poem was privately
printed in 1853, and published 'as a literary product' ten
years later, when the author was in his fiftieth year.

As for the score, it was begun in 1853, and Wagner says:
'During a sleepless night at an inn at Spezzia, the music of
"Das Rheingold" occurred to me; straightway I turned homeward
and set to work.' Such was the energy with which he laboured
that the complete score of the Rheingold was finished in
1854. Two years later the music to the Walkyrie was all done,
and Siegfried begun. But pecuniary difficulties now forced
the master to undertake more immediately remunerative work,
and, 'tired of heaping one silent score upon another,' he
undertook and finished 'Tristan and Ysolde.' He then thought
he would never be able to finish his grand work, and wrote:
'I can hardly expect to find leisure to complete the music, and
I have dismissed all hope that I may live to see it performed.'

Fortunately for him, however, Ludwig II. of Bavaria had heard
'Lohengrin' when only sixteen, and, a passionate lover of
music and art, he had become an enthusiastic admirer of the
great composer. One of the very first acts of his reign was,
therefore, to despatch his own private secretary to Wagner with
the message, 'Come here and finish your work.'

As this message was backed by a small pension which would enable
the musician to keep the wolf from the door, he hopefully went
to Munich. But, in spite of the sovereign's continued favour,
Wagner found so many enemies that the sojourn there became
very unpleasant. It was then that the architect Semper made
the first plans for a theatre, in which the king intended that
'The Nibelungen Ring' should be played, as he had formally
commissioned Wagner to complete the work.

Driven away from his native land once more by the bitterness of
his enemies, Wagner, who still enjoyed Ludwig's entire favour,
withdrew in 1865 to Triebschen, where the 'Ring' progressed
steadily. It was there, in 1869, that he completed the Siegfried
score, and began that of 'The Twilight of the Gods,' which was
finished only some time later. As the King's plan for building a
national theatre for the representation of 'The Nibelungen Ring'
had to be abandoned, the scheme was taken up by the municipality
of the little town of Bayreuth. Wagner was cordially invited
to take up his residence there, and settled in his new home in
1872, when he was already sixty years of age.

Thanks to munificent private subscriptions secured in great
part by the Wagner societies in various parts of the world,
the long planned theatre was finally begun. It was finished in
1876, and the entire 'Nibelungen Ring' was performed there in
the month of August, the very best singers of the day taking
all the principal parts, which they rendered to the best of
their abilities. The result was a magnificent performance,
a musical triumph; but as the venture was not a financial
success, the performances were not repeated in the following
summer. Several new ventures, however, were made, and another
Wagner festival has just taken place, of which the real result
is yet unknown, although the attendance was very large, the
audience being composed of people from all parts of the world.
Thus Wagner completed and rendered the series of operas, which
include plays 'for three days and a fore evening,' whence the
series is generally called a 'trilogy,' although it is really
composed of four whole operas.

Away down in the translucent depths of the Rhine, three beautiful
nymphs, Woglinde, Wellgunde, and Flosshilde, daughters of the
river-god, dart in and out among the jagged rocks. They have
been stationed there to guard the Rhinegold, the priceless
treasure of the deep, whence comes all the warm golden light
which illumines the utmost recesses of their dark and damp abode.

The nymphs suddenly pause in their merry game, for the wily
dwarf Alberich has emerged from one of the sombre chasms. He
is a Nibelung, a spirit of night and darkness, and slowly
gropes his way to one of the upper ridges, whence he can see
the graceful forms of the nymphs, watch their merry evolutions,
and overhear them repeatedly admonish each other to keep watch
over the gleaming treasure, which their father, the Rhinegod,
has intrusted to their keeping, warning them that just such a
dark and misshapen creature as the dwarf would try to wrest it
from their grasp:--

   'Guard the gold!
    Father said
    That such was the foe.'

But all Alberich's senses are fascinated by the water-nymphs'
beauty, and he soon falls madly in love with them, and makes
almost superhuman efforts to overtake the mocking fair. Hotly he
pursues them from ridge to ridge, yielding to the blandishments
of one after another, and is beside himself with rage as they
deftly escape from his clasp just as he fancies he has at
last caught them. The fair nymphs, who know they have nothing
to fear from so infatuated a lover, swim hither and thither,
tantalising him by their nearness, and lure him up and down
the rocky river-bed.

They have just exhausted his patience, and driven him wild with
impotent rage, when the green waters are suddenly illumined
by the phosphorescent glow of the Rhinegold, the treasure
whose presence they hail with a rapturous outburst of song,
and whose secret power they extol:--

   'The realm of the world
    By him shall be won
    Who from the Rhinegold
    Hath wrought the ring
    Imparting measureless power.'[2]

The dwarf, attracted by the brilliant light, hears their words
at first without paying any attention to them; but when they
repeat that he who is willing to forego love can fashion a ring
from this gold which will make him master of all the world,
he starts with surprise. Fascinated at last by the glow of
the treasure, and forgetting all thoughts of love in greed, he
suddenly grasps the carelessly guarded gold and plunges with
it down into the depths, leaving the three nymphs to bewail
its loss in utter darkness.

Little by little the gloom lightens, however, and instead of
the river bed the scene represents the green valley through
which the Rhine is flowing. In the gray dawn one can descry the
high hills on either side, and as the light increases Wotan
and Fricka, the principal deities of Northern mythology, are
seen lying on the flowery slopes.

As they gently awaken from their peaceful slumbers, the
morning mists entirely disappear, revealing in the background
the fairy-like beauty of a wondrous palace which has just been
completed for their abode. This sight startles Fricka, for she
knows that the assembled gods have promised that Fasolt and
Fafnir, the gigantic builders, should have sun and moon and the
fair Freya as fee. To lose the bright luminaries of the world
were bad enough, but Fricka's dismay is still greater at the
prospect of parting forever with the fair goddess of beauty
and youth. In her sorrow she bitterly regrets that the promise
has been made and rendered inviolable by being inscribed on
her husband's spear, and reproves him for the joy he shows in
viewing the completion of his future abode:--

   'In delight thou revel'st
    When I am alarmed?
    Thou 'rt glad of the fortress,
    For Freya I fear.
    Bethink thee, thou thoughtless god,
    Of the guerdon now to be given!
    The castle is finished,
    And forfeit the pledge.
    Forgettest thou what is engaged?'

Thus suddenly brought to his senses, Wotan, king of the Northern
gods, protests that he never really intended to part with the
beauty, light, and sweetness of life, and seeks to excuse himself
by urging that Loge, the god of fire and the arch-deceiver,
overpersuaded him by promising to find some way of escape from
the fatal bargain:--

   'He whom I hearkened to swore
    To find a safety for Freya;
    On him my hope have I set.'

They are still discussing the matter, and eagerly wondering
why Loge does not appear, when Freya comes rushing wildly
upon the stage, with fear-blanched face and trembling limbs,
breathlessly imploring the father of the gods to save her from
the two huge giants in close pursuit. In her terror she also
summons her devoted brothers, Donner and Fro. But, in spite of
the strength of these potent gods of the sunshine and thunder,
the giants boldly advance, boasting aloud of their achievement,
and demanding the fulfilment of the stipulated contract.

The gods are almost at their wits' end with anxiety, when Loge,
god of fire, appears. They loudly clamour to him to keep his word
and release them from the consequences of their rash bargain. In
reply to this summons, Loge declares he has wandered everywhere
in search of something more precious than youth and love,
and that he has utterly failed to find it. No one, he says,
is ready to relinquish these blessed gifts,--no one except
Alberich, who has bartered love for the gleaming treasure which
he has just stolen from the Rhine nymphs. Loge concludes his
speech by delivering to Wotan an imploring message from the
defrauded maidens, who summon him to avenge their wrongs and
help them to recover the stolen gold. The description of the
gleaming treasure, of the power of the ring which Alberich has
fashioned out of it, and especially of the immense hoard which
he has amassed by the unlimited sway which the ring enables
him to wield over all the underground folk, has so greatly
fascinated the giants, that, after a few moments' consultation,
they step forward, offering to relinquish all claim to the
previously promised reward, providing the hoard is theirs ere
nightfall. This said, they bear the shrieking and reluctant
Freya away as a hostage, and vanish in the distance.

As they depart, the light suddenly grows wan and dim. The goddess
who has just departed is the dispenser of the golden apples
of perennial youth according to Wagner, and, as she vanishes,
the gods, deprived of the substance which keeps them ever young,
suddenly lose all their vigour and bloom, and grow visibly old
and gray, to their openly expressed dismay:--

   'Without the apples,
    Old and hoar--
    Hoarse and helpless--
    Worth not a dread to the world,
    The dying gods must grow.'

This sudden change, especially in his beloved wife Fricka,
determines Wotan to secure the gold at any price, and he bids
Loge lead the way to Alberich's realm, following him bravely
down through a deep cleft in the rock, whence rises a dense mist,
which soon blots the whole scene from view.

In the mean while, the dwarf Alberich has conveyed the gleaming
Rhinegold to his underground dwelling, where, mindful of the
nymphs' words, he has forced his brother and slave, the smith
Mime, to fashion a ring. No sooner has Alberich put on this
trinket than he finds himself endowed with unlimited power, which
he uses to oppress all his race, and to pile up a mighty hoard,
for the greed of gold has now filled all his thoughts. Fearful
lest any one should wrest the precious ring from him, he next
directs Mime to make a helmet of gold, the magic tarn-helm,
which will render the wearer invisible. Mime is at work at his
underground forge, and has just finished the helmet which he
intends to appropriate to his own use to escape thraldom, when
Alberich suddenly appears, snatches it from his trembling hand,
and, placing it upon his head, becomes invisible to all. The
malicious dwarf misuses this power to torture Mime with his whip,
and rushes off to lash the dwarfs in the rear of the cave as
Wotan and Loge suddenly appear. Of course their first impulse
is to inquire the cause of Mime's writhing and bitter cries, and
from him they hear how Alberich has become lord of the Nibelungs
by the might of his ring and magic helmet. In corroboration
of this statement, the gods soon behold a long train of dwarfs
toiling across the cave, bending beneath their burdens of gold
and precious stones, and driven incessantly onward by Alberich's
whip, which he plies with merciless vigour. He is visible now,
for he has hung the magic helmet to his belt; but he no sooner
becomes aware of the gods' presence than he strides up to them,
and haughtily demands their name and business. Disarmed a little
by Wotan's answer, that they have heard of his new might and have
come to ascertain whether the accounts were true, Alberich boasts
of his power to compel all to bow before his will, and says he
can even change his form, thanks to his magic helmet. At Loge's
urgent request, the dwarf then gives them an exhibition of his
power by changing himself first into a huge loathsome dragon,
and next into a repulsive toad. While in this shape he is made
captive by the gods, deprived of his tarn-helm, and compelled
to surrender his hoard as the price of his liberty. Before
departing, Wotan even wrests from his grasp the golden ring,
to which he desperately clings, for he knows that as long as
it remains in his possession he will have the power to collect
more gold. In his rage at being deprived of it, Alberich hurls
his curse after the gods, declaring the ring will ever bring
death and destruction to the possessor:--

   'As by curse I found it first,
    A curse rest on the ring!
    Gave its gold
    To me measureless might,
    Now deal its wonder
    Death where it is worn!'

This curse uttered, he disappears, and while mist invades the
place the scene changes, and Loge and Wotan stand once more
on the grassy slopes, where Fricka, Donner, and Fro hasten to
welcome them, and to inquire concerning the success of their
enterprise. Almost at the same moment, the giants Fasolt and
Fafnir also appear, leading Freya, whom Fricka would fain
embrace, but who is withheld from her longing arms. The grim
giants vow that no one shall even touch their fair captive until
they have received a pile of gold as high as their staffs,
which they drive into the ground, and wide enough to screen
the goddess entirely. Thus admonished, Loge and Fro pile up the
gleaming treasure, which is surmounted by the glittering helmet,
whose power the giants do not know. Freya is entirely hidden,
and only a chink remains through which the giants can catch a
glimpse of her golden hair. They insist upon having this chink
closed up ere they will relinquish Freya, so Wotan is forced to
give up the magic ring. But he draws it from his finger only
when Erda, the shadowy earth goddess, half rises out of the
ground to command the sacrifice of the treasure which Alberich
stole from the Rhine maidens.

As the stipulated ransom has all been paid, the giants release
Freya. She joyfully embraces her kin, and under her caresses
they recover all their former youth and bloom. In the mean
while the giants produce their bags, but soon begin quarrelling
together about the division of the hoard, and appeal to the
gods to decide their dispute. The gods are all too busy to
pay any heed to this request, all except the malicious Loge,
who slyly advises Fafnir to seize the ring and pay no heed to
the rest. As the ring is accursed, Fafnir remorselessly slays
his brother to obtain it; then, packing up all the treasure in
his great bag, he triumphantly departs. To disperse the shadow
hovering over Wotan's brow ever since he has been obliged to
sacrifice the ring, Thor now beats the rocks with his magic
hammer, and conjures a brief storm. The long roll of thunder
soon dies away, and when the fitful play of the lightning
is ended Thor shows the assembled gods a glittering rainbow
bridge of quivering, changing hues, which stretches from the
valley where they are standing to the beautiful portals of the
wondrous palace Walhalla, the home of the gods!

Fascinated by this sight, Wotan invites the gods to follow him
over its lightly swung arch, and as they trip over the rainbow
bridge, the lament of the Rhine-maidens mourning their treasure
falls in slow, pitiful cadences upon their ears:--

    Purest gold!
    O would that thy light
    Waved in the waters below!
    Unfailing faith
    Is found in the deep,
    While above, in delight,
    Faintness and falsehood abide!'

[1] See the author's 'Myths of Northern Lands' and 'Legends of
    the Rhine.'

[2] All the quotations in the 'Ring' have been taken either
    from Dippold's or Forman's admirable translations.



Wotan--made secretly uneasy by Erda's dark prediction that

   'Nothing that is ends not;
    A day of gloom
    Dawns for the gods;--
    Be ruled and waive from the ring'--

relinquishes the ring which he had wrested from Alberich, as
has been seen. His restlessness however daily increases, until
at last he penetrates in disguise into the dark underground
world and woos the fair earth goddess. So successfully does
he plead his cause, that she receives him as her spouse and
bears him eight lovely daughters. She also reveals to him the
secrets of the future, when Walhalla's strong walls shall fall,
and the gods shall perish, because they have resorted to fraud
and lent a willing ear to Loge, prince of evil.

Notwithstanding this fatal prediction Wotan remains
undismayed. Instead of yielding passively to whatever fate may
befall him, he resolves to prepare for a future conflict, and to
defend Walhalla against every foe. As the gods are few in number,
he soon decides to summon mortals to his abode, and in order
to have men trained to every hardship and accustomed to war,
he flings his spear over the world, and kindles unending strife
between all the nations. His eight daughters, the Walkyries,
are next deputed to ride down to earth every day and bear away
the bravest among the slain. These warriors are entertained
at his table with heavenly mead, and encouraged to keep up
their strength and skill by cutting and hewing each other,
their wounds healing magically as soon as made.

But, in spite of these preparations, Wotan is not yet
satisfied. He still remembers the all-powerful ring which he has
given to the giants, and which is still in the keeping of Fafnir.
In case this ring again falls into the hands of the revengeful
Alberich, he knows the gods cannot hope to escape from his
wrath. He himself cannot snatch back a gift once given, so he
decides to beget a son, who will unconsciously be his emissary,
and who will, moreover, oppose the offspring which Erda has
predicted that Alberich will raise merely to help him avenge
his wrongs. Disguised as a mortal named Wälse, or Volsung, Wotan
takes up his abode upon earth, and marries a mortal woman, who
bears him twin children, Siegmund and Sieglinde. These children
are still very young when Hunding, a hunter and lover of strife,
comes upon their hut in the woods, and burns it to the ground,
after slaying the elder woman and carrying off the younger as
his captive.

On their return from the forest, Wälse and Siegmund behold
with dismay the destruction of their dwelling, and vow constant
warfare against their foes. This vow they faithfully keep until
Siegmund grows up and his father suddenly and mysteriously
disappears, leaving behind him nothing but the wolf-skin garment
to which he owes his name.

Hunding, in the mean while, has carried Sieglinde off to his
dwelling, which is built around the stem of a mighty oak, and
when she attains a marriageable age he compels her to become
his wife, although she very reluctantly submits to his wish. The
opening scene of this opera represents Hunding's hall,--in the
midst of which stands the mighty oak whose branches overshadow
the whole house,--which is dimly illumined by the fire burning
on the hearth. Suddenly the door is flung wide open, and a
stranger rushes in. He is dusty and dishevelled, and examines the
apartment with a wild glance. When he has ascertained that it is
quite empty, he comes in, closes the door behind him, and sinks
exhausted in front of the fire, where he soon falls asleep. A
moment later Sieglinde, Hunding's forced wife, appears. When she
sees a stranger in front of the fire, instead of her expected
lord and master, she starts back in sudden fear. But, reassured
by the motionless attitude of the stranger, she soon draws near,
and, bending over him, discovers that he has fallen asleep:--

   'His heart still heaves,
    Though his lids be lowered,
    Warlike and manful I deem him
    Though wearied down he sunk.'

As she has only a very dim recollection of her past, she fails
to recognise her brother in the sleeper. He soon stirs uneasily,
and, wakening, tries to utter a few words, which his parched
lips almost refuse to articulate, until she compassionately
gives him a drink.

Gazing at Sieglinde as if fascinated by some celestial vision,
Siegmund, in answer to her questions, informs her that he is an
unhappy wight, whose footsteps misfortune constantly dogs. He
then goes on to inform her that even now he has escaped from
his enemies with nothing but his life, and makes a movement
to leave her for fear lest he should bring ill-luck upon her
too. Sieglinde, however, implores him to remain and await the
return of her husband. Almost as she speaks Hunding enters
the house, and, allowing her to divest him of his weapons,
seems dumbly to inquire the reason of the stranger's presence
at his hearth.

Sieglinde rapidly explains how she found him faint and weary
before the fire, and Hunding, mindful of the laws of hospitality,
bids the stranger welcome, and invites him to partake of the
food which Sieglinde now sets before them. As Siegmund takes
his place at the rude board, Hunding first becomes aware
of the strange resemblance he bears to his wife, and after
commenting upon it _sotto voce_, he inquires his guest's name and
antecedents. Siegmund then mournfully relates his happy youth,
the tragic loss of his mother and sister, his roaming life
with his father, and the latter's mysterious disappearance.
Only then does Hunding recognize in him the foe whom he has
long been seeking to slay.

Unconscious of all this, Siegmund goes on to relate how on that
very day he had fought single-handed against countless foes to
defend a helpless maiden, running away only when his weapons had
failed him and the maiden had been slain at his feet. Sieglinde
listens breathless to the story of his sad life and of his brave
defence of helpless virtue, while Hunding suddenly declares that,
were it not that the sacred rights of hospitality restrained him,
he would then and there slay the man who had made so many of his
kinsmen bite the dust. He however contents himself with making
an appointment for a hostile encounter early on the morrow,
promising to supply Siegmund with a good sword, since he has
no weapons of his own:--

   'My doors ward thee,
    Wölfing, to-day;
    Till the dawn shelter they show;
    A flawless sword
    Will befit thee at sunrise,
    By day be ready for fight,
    And pay thy debt for the dead.'

Then Hunding angrily withdraws with his wife, taking his weapons
with him, and muttering dark threats, which fill his guest's
heart with nameless fear. Left alone, Siegmund bitterly mourns
his lack of weapons, for he fears lest he may be treacherously
attacked by his foe, and in his sorrow he reproaches his father,
who had repeatedly told him that he would find a sword ready
to his hand in case of direst need.

   'A sword,--so promised my father--
    In sorest need I should find--
    Weaponless falling
    In the house of the foe,
    Here in pledge
    To his wrath I am held.'

While he is brooding thus over his misfortunes, the flames
on the hearth flicker and burn brighter. Suddenly their light
glints upon the hilt of a sword driven deep in the bole of the
mighty oak, and, reassured by the thought that he has a weapon
within reach, Siegmund disposes himself to sleep.

The night wears on. The fire flickers and dies out. The deep
silence is broken only by Siegmund's peaceful breathing, when
the door noiselessly opens, and Sieglinde, all dressed in white,
steals into the room. She glides up to the sleeping guest and
gently rouses him, bidding him escape while her husband is
still sound asleep under the influence of an opiate which she
has secretly administered:--

   'It is I; behold what I say!
    In heedless sleep is Hunding,
    I set him a drink for his dreams,
    The night for thy safety thou needest.'

Leading him to the oak, she then points out the sword, telling
him it was driven into the very heart of the tree by a one-eyed
stranger. He had come into the hall on her wedding day, and had
declared that none but the mortal for whom the gods intended
the weapon would ever be able to pull it out. She then goes
on to describe how many strong men have tried to withdraw it,
and warmly declares it must have been intended for him who had
so generously striven to protect a helpless maiden. Her tender
solicitude fills the poor outcast's famished heart with such
love and joy that he clasps her to his breast, and, the door
swinging noiselessly open to admit a flood of silvery moonbeams,
they join in the marvellous duet known as the 'Spring Song.'

As they gaze enraptured upon each other, they too perceive the
strong resemblance which has so struck Hunding, but still fail to
recognize each other as near of kin. To save Sieglinde from her
distasteful compulsory marriage, Siegmund now consents to fly,
providing she will accompany him, vowing to protect her till
death with the sword which he easily draws from the oak, and
which he declares he knows his father must have placed there,
as he recognizes him in the description which Sieglinde had
given of the stranger:--

   'Siegmund the Volsung,
    Seest thou beside thee!
    For bridal gift
    He brings thee this sword.
    He woos with the blade
    The blissfullest wife.
    From the house of the foe
    He hies with thee.
    Forth from here
    Follow him far,
    Hence to the laughing
    House of the Spring,
    Where Nothung the sword defends thee,
    Where Siegmund infolds thee in love!'

This passionate appeal entirely sweeps away Sieglinde's last
scruples; she yields rapturously to his wooing, and they steal
away softly, hand in hand, to go and seek their happiness
out in the wide world. Hunding, upon awaking on the morrow,
discovers the treachery of his guest and the desertion of his
wife. Almost beside himself with fury, he prepares to overtake
and punish the guilty pair.

As a fight is now imminent between Siegmund, his mortal son,
and Hunding, Wotan, who is up on a rocky mountain overlooking
the earth, summons Brunhilde the Walkyrie to his side, bidding
her saddle her steed and so direct the battle that Siegmund
may remain victor and Hunding only fall. Chanting her Walkyrie
war-cry, Brunhilde departs, laughingly calling out to Wotan
that he had best be prepared for a call from his wife, who is
hastening toward him as fast as her rams can draw her brazen
chariot. Brunhilde has scarcely passed out of sight when Fricka
comes upon the scene. After upbraiding Wotan for forsaking her
to woo the goddess Erda and a mortal maiden, she says that,
as father of the gods and ruler of the world, he is bound to
uphold religion and morality. She then dwells angrily upon
the immorality of the just consummated union between Siegmund
and Sieglinde, who are brother and sister, and finally forces
her husband, much against his will, to promise he will revoke
his decree, give the victory to the injured husband, Hunding,
and punish Siegmund, the seducer, by immediate death.

Wotan therefore summons Brunhilde once more, and sadly bids her
to shield Hunding in the coming fight. Brunhilde, who realizes
that the second command has been dictated by Fricka, implores
him to confide his troubles to her. She then hears with dismay
an account of the way in which Wotan has been beguiled into
wrongdoing by Loge, of his attempts to gather an army large
enough to oppose to his foes when the last day should come,
and of his long cherished hope that Siegmund would recover the
fatal ring which he feared would again fall into the revengeful
Alberich's hands. Finally, however, Wotan repeats his order to
her to befriend Hunding, and Brunhilde, awed by his despair,
slowly departs to fulfil his commands.

The god has just vanished amid the mutterings of thunder,
expressive of his wrath if any one dare to disobey his behests,
when Siegmund and Sieglinde suddenly appear upon the mountain
side. They are fleeing from Hunding, and Sieglinde, who has
discovered when too late that Siegmund is her brother, is so
torn by remorse, love, and fear that she soon sinks fainting
to the ground. Siegmund, alarmed, bends over her, but, having
ascertained that she has only fainted, makes no effort to revive
her, deeming it better that she should remain unconscious during
the encounter which must soon take place, for the horn of the
pursuing Hunding is already heard in the distance.

Siegmund has just pressed a tender kiss upon Sieglinde's fair
forehead, when Brunhilde, the Walkyrie, suddenly appears before
him, and solemnly warns him of his coming defeat and death. He
proudly tells her of his matchless sword, but she informs him
that his reliance upon it is quite misplaced, for it will be
wrenched from his grasp when his need is greatest. Then she
tries to comfort him by describing the glory which awaits him
in Walhalla, whither she will convey him after death.

Siegmund eagerly questions her, but, learning that Sieglinde
can never be admitted within its shining portals, passionately
declares he cannot leave her. He next proposes to kill her and
himself, so that they may be together in Hela's dark abode,
for he will accept no joys which she cannot share:--

   'Then greet for me Valhall,
    Greet for me Wotan;
    Hail unto Wälse,
    And all the heroes!
    Greet, too, the graceful
    Warlike mist-maidens:
    For now I follow thee not.'

Brunhilde's heart is so touched by his love for and utter
devotion to Sieglinde, and she is so anxious at the same time
to fulfil Wotan's real wish, in defiance of his orders, that
she finally allows compassion to get the better of her reason,
and impulsively promises Siegmund that she will protect him in
the coming fray. At the same moment Hunding's horn is heard,
and Brunhilde disappears, while the scene darkens with the rapid
approach of a thunderstorm. Such is the darkness that Siegmund,
who has sprung down the path in his eagerness to meet his foe,
misses his way, while Sieglinde slowly rouses from her swoon,
muttering of the days of her happy childhood when she dwelt with
her family in the great wood. Suddenly, the lightning flashes,
and Hunding and Siegmund, meeting upon a ridge, begin fighting,
in spite of Sieglinde's frantic cries.

As the struggle begins, Brunhilde, true to her promise, hovers
over the combatants, holding her shield over Siegmund and warding
off every dangerous blow, while Sieglinde gazes in speechless
terror upon the combatants.

But in the very midst of the fray, when Siegmund is about
to pierce Hunding's heart with his glittering sword, Wotan
suddenly appears, and, extending his sacred spear to parry the
blow, he shivers the sword Nothung to pieces. Hunding basely
takes advantage of this accident to slay his defenceless foe,
while Brunhilde, fearing Wotan's wrath and Hunding's cruelty,
catches up the fainting Sieglinde and bears her rapidly away
upon her fleet-footed steed.

After gazing for a moment in speechless sorrow at his lifeless
favourite, Wotan turns a wrathful glance upon the treacherous
Hunding, who, unable to endure the divine accusation of his
unflinching gaze, falls lifeless to the ground. Then the god
mounts his steed, and rides off on the wings of the storm in
pursuit of the disobedient Walkyrie, whom he is obliged to
punish severely for his oath's sake.

The next scene represents an elevated plateau, the trysting
spot of the eight Walkyries, on Hindarfiall, or Walkürenfels,
whither they all come hastening, bearing the bodies of the
slain across their fleet steeds. Brunhilde appears last of all,
carrying Sieglinde. She breathlessly pours out the story of
the day's adventures, and implores her sisters to devise some
means of hiding Sieglinde, and to protect her from Wotan's
dreaded wrath:--

   'The raging hunter
    Behind me who rides,
    He nears, he nears from the North!
    Save me, sisters!
    Ward this woman.'

The sound of the tempest has been growing louder and louder
while she is speaking, and as she ends her narrative Sieglinde
recovers consciousness, but only to upbraid her for having
saved her life. She wildly proposes suicide, until Brunhilde
bids her live for the sake of Siegmund's son whom she will bring
into the world, and tells her to treasure the fragments of the
sword Nothung, which she had carried away. Sieglinde, anxious
now to live for her child's sake, hides the broken fragments in
her bosom, and, in obedience to Brunhilde's advice, speeds into
the dense forest where Fafnir has his lair, and where Wotan will
never venture lest the curse of the ring should fall upon him.

   'Save for thy son
    The broken sword!
    Where his father fell
    On the field I found it.
    Who welds it anew
    And waves it again,
    His name he gains from me now--
    "Siegfried" the hero be hailed.'

The noise of the storm and rushing wind has become greater
and greater, the Walkyries have anxiously been noting Wotan's
approach. As Sieglinde vanishes in the dim recesses of the
primeval forest, the wrathful god comes striding upon the
stage in search of Brunhilde, who cowers tremblingly behind
her sisters. After a scathing rebuke to the Walkyries, who
would fain shelter a culprit from his all-seeing eye, Wotan
bids Brunhilde step forth. Solemnly he then pronounces her
sentence, declaring she shall serve him as Walkyrie no longer,
but shall be banished to earth, where she will have to live as
a mere mortal, and, marrying, to know naught beyond the joys
and sorrows of other women:--

   'Heard you not how
    Her fate I have fixed?
    Far from your side
    Shall the faithless sister be sundered;
    Her horse no more
    In your midst through the breezes shall haste her;
    Her flower of maidenhood
    Will falter and fade;
    A husband will win
    Her womanly heart,
    She meekly will bend
    To the mastering man
    The hearth she'll heed, as she spins,
    And to laughers is left for their sport.'

Brunhilde, hearing this terrible decree, which degrades her
from the rank of a goddess to that of a mere mortal, sinks to
her knees and utters a great cry of despair. This is echoed
by the Walkyries, who, however, depart at Wotan's command,
leaving their unhappy sister alone with him.

Passionately now Brunhilde pleads with her father, declaring
she had meant to serve him best by disobeying his commands,
and imploring him not to banish her forever from his beloved
presence. But, although Wotan still loves her dearly, he cannot
revoke his decree, and repeats to her that he will leave her
on the mountain, bound in the fetters of sleep, a prey to the
first man who comes to awaken her and claim her as his bride.

All Brunhilde's tears and passionate pleadings only wring from
him a promise that she will be hedged in by a barrier of living
flames, so that none but the very bravest among men can ever
come near her to claim her as his own.

Wotan, holding his beloved daughter in a close embrace, then
gently seals her eyes in slumber with tender kisses, lays her
softly down upon the green mound, and draws down the visor of
her helmet. Then, after covering her with her shield to protect
her from all harm, he begins a powerful incantation, summoning
Loge to surround her with an impassable barrier of flames. As
this incantation proceeds, small flickering tongues of fire
start forth on every side; they soon rise higher and higher,
roaring and crackling until, as Wotan disappears, they form a
fiery barrier all around the sleeping Walkyrie:--

   'Loge, hear!
    Hitherward listen!
    As I found thee at first--
    In arrowy flame
    As thereafter thou fleddest--
    In fluttering fire;
    As I dealt with thee once,
    I wield thee to-day!
    Arise, billowing blaze,
    And fold in thy fire the rock!
    Loge! Loge! Aloft!
    Who fears the spike
    Of my spear to face,
    He will pierce not the planted fire.'

[Illustration: SIEGFRIED AND MIME.]


Sieglinde, having dragged herself into the depths of the
great untrodden forest, dwelt there in utter solitude until
the time came for her son Siegfried to come into the world.
Sick and alone, the poor woman went about in search of aid,
and finally came to Mime's cavern, where, after giving birth
to her child and intrusting him to the care of the dwarf,
she gently breathed her last.

Here, in the grand old forest, young Siegfried grew up to
manhood, knowing nothing of his parentage except the lie which
Mime, the wily dwarf, chose to tell him, that he was his own
son. Strong, fearless, and unruly, the youth soon felt the utmost
contempt for the cringing dwarf, and, instead of bending over
the anvil and swinging the heavy hammer, he preferred to range
the forest, hunting the wild beasts, climbing the tallest trees,
and scaling the steepest rocks.

As the opera opens, the curtain rises upon a sooty cave, where
the dwarf Mime is alone at work, hammering a sword upon his
anvil and complaining bitterly of the strength and violence of
young Siegfried, who shatters every weapon he makes. In spite of
repeated disappointments, however, Mime the Nibelung works on.
His sole aim is to weld a sword which in the bold youth's hands
will avail to slay his enemy, the giant Fafnir, the owner of the
ring and magic helm, and the possessor of all the mighty hoard.

While busy in his forge, Mime tells how the giant fled with his
treasure far away from the haunts of men, concealed his gold
in the Neidhole, a grewsome den. There, thanks to the magic
helmet, he has assumed the loathsome shape of a great dragon,
whose fiery breath and lashing tail none dares to encounter.

As Mime finishes the sword he has been fashioning, Siegfried,
singing his merry hunting song, dashes into the cave, holding
a bear in leash. After some rough play, which nearly drives
the unhappy Mime mad with terror, Siegfried sets the beast
free, grasps the sword, and with one single blow shatters
it to pieces on the anvil, to Mime's great chagrin. Another
weapon has failed to satisfy his needs, and the youth, after
harshly upbraiding the unhappy smith, throws himself sullenly
down in front of the fire. Mime then cringingly approaches him
with servile offers of food and drink, continually vaunting
his love and devotion. These protests of simulated affection
greatly disgust Siegfried, who is well aware of the fact that
they are nothing but the merest pretence.

In his anger against this constant deceit, he finally resorts
to violence to wring the truth from Mime, who, with many
interruptions and many attempts to resume his old whining tone,
finally reveals to him the secret of his birth and the name of
his mother. He also tells him all he gleaned about his father,
who fell in battle, and, in proof of the veracity of his words,
produces the fragments of Siegmund's sword, which the dying
Sieglinde had left for her son:--

   'Lo! what thy mother had left me!
    For my pains and worry together
    She gave me this poor reward.
    See! a broken sword,
    Brandished, she said, by thy father,
    When foiled in the last of his fights.'

Siegfried, who has listened to all this tale with breathless
attention, interrupting the dwarf only to silence his recurring
attempts at self-praise, now declares he will fare forth into
the wild world as soon as Mime has welded together the precious
fragments of the sword. In the mean while, finding the dwarf's
hated presence too unbearable, he rushes out and vanishes in
the green forest depths. Left alone once more, Mime wistfully
gazes after him, thinking how he may detain the youth until
the dragon has been slain. At last he slowly begins to hammer
the fragments of the sword, which will not yield to his skill
and resume their former shape.

While the dwarf Mime is abandoning himself to moody despair,
Wotan has been walking through the forest. He is disguised as
a Wanderer, according to his wont, and suddenly enters Mime's
cave. The dwarf starts up in alarm at the sight of a stranger,
but after asking him who he may be, and learning that he prides
himself upon his wisdom, he bids him begone. Wotan, however,
who has come hither to ascertain whether there is any prospect
of discovering anything new, now proposes a contest of wit, in
which the loser's head shall be at the winner's disposal. Mime
reluctantly assents, and begins by asking a question concerning
the dwarfs and their treasures. This Wotan answers by describing
the Nibelungs' gold, and the power wielded by Alberich as long
as he was owner of the magic ring.

Mime's second inquiry is relative to the inhabitants of earth,
and Wotan describes the great stature of the giants, who,
however, were no match for the dwarfs, until they obtained
possession not only of the ring, but also of the great hoard
over which Fafnir now broods in the guise of a dragon.

Then Mime questions him concerning the gods, but only to be told
that Wotan, the most powerful of them all, holds an invincible
spear upon whose shaft are engraved powerful runes. In speaking
thus the disguised god strikes the ground with his spear,
and a long roll of thunder falls upon the terrified Mime's ear.

The three questions have been asked and successfully answered,
and it is now Mime's turn to submit to an interrogatory,
from which he evidently shrinks, but to which he must yield.
Wotan now proceeds to ask him which race, beloved by Wotan, is
yet visited by his wrath, which sword is the most invincible
of weapons, and who will weld its broken pieces together.
Mime triumphantly answers the first two questions by naming
the Volsung race and Siegmund's blade, Nothung; but as he has
failed to weld the sword anew, and has no idea who will be able
to achieve the feat, he is forced to acknowledge himself beaten
by the third.

Scorning to take any advantage of so puny a rival, Wotan refuses
to take the forfeited head, and departs, after telling the
Nibelung that the sword can only be restored to its pristine
glory by the hand of a man who knows no fear, and that the
same man will claim it as his lawful prize and dispose of
Mime's head:--

   'Hark thou forfeited dwarf;
    None but he
    Who never feared,
    Nothung forges anew.
    Henceforth beware!
    Thy wily head
    Is forfeit to him
    Whose heart is free from fear.'

When Siegfried returns and finds the fire low, the dwarf idle,
and the sword unfinished, he angrily demands an explanation. Mime
then reveals to him that none but a fearless man can ever
accomplish the task. As Siegfried does not even know the meaning
of the word, Mime graphically describes all the various phases
of terror to enlighten him.

Siegfried listens to his explanations, but when they have come to
an end and he has ascertained that such a feeling has never been
harboured in his breast, he springs up and seizes the pieces of
the broken sword. He files them to dust, melts the metal on the
fire, which he blows into an intense glow, and after moulding
tempers the sword. While hammering lustily Siegfried gaily sings
the Song of the Sword. The blade, when finished, flashes in his
hand like a streak of lightning, and possesses so keen an edge
that he cleaves the huge anvil in two with a single stroke.

While Siegfried is thus busily employed, Mime, dreading the
man who knows no fear, and to whom he has been told his head
was forfeit, concocts a poisonous draught. This he intends to
administer to the young hero as soon as the frightful dragon
is slain, for he has artfully incited the youth to go forth and
attack the monster, in hope of learning the peculiar sensation
of fear, which he has never yet known.

In another cave, in the depths of the selfsame dense forest,
is Alberich the dwarf, Mime's brother and former master. He
mounts guard night and day over the Neidhole, where Fafnir,
the giant dragon, gloats over his gold. It is night and the
darkness is so great that the entrance to the Neidhole only dimly
appears. The storm wind rises and sweeps through the woods,
rustling all the forest leaves. It subsides however almost as
soon as it has risen, and Wotan, still disguised as a Wanderer,
appears in the moonlight, to the great alarm of the wily dwarf.
A moment's examination suffices to enable him to recognise his
quondam foe, whom he maliciously taunts with the loss of the
ring, for well he knows the god cannot take back what he has
once given away.

Wotan, however, seems in no wise inclined to resent this taunting
speech, but warns Alberich of the approach of Mime, accompanied
by a youth who knows no fear, and whose keen blade will slay
the monster. He adds that the youth will appropriate the hoard,
ere he rouses Fafnir to foretell the enemy's coming. Then he
disappears with the usual accompaniment of rushing winds and
rumbling thunder.

The warning which Alberich would fain disbelieve is verified,
as soon as the morning breaks, by the appearance of Siegfried and
Mime. The latter is acting as guide, and eagerly points out the
mighty dragon's lair. But even then the youth still refuses to
tremble, and when Mime describes Fafnir's fiery breath, coiling
tail, and impenetrable hide, he good-naturedly declares he will
save his most telling blow until the monster's side is exposed,
and he can plunge Nothung deep into his gigantic breast.

Thus forewarned against the dragon's various modes of attack,
Siegfried advances boldly, while Mime prudently retires to a
place of safety. He is closely watched by Alberich, who crouches
unseen in his cave. Siegfried seats himself on the bank to wait
for the dragon's awakening, and beguiles the time by trying to
imitate the songs of the birds, which he would fain understand
quite clearly. As all his efforts result in failure, Siegfried
soon casts aside the reed with which he had tried to reproduce
their liquid notes, and, winding his horn, boldly summons Fafnir
to come forth and encounter him in single fight.

This challenge immediately brings forth the frightful dragon. To
Siegfried's surprise he can still talk like a man. After a
few of the usual amenities, the fight begins. Mindful of his
boast, Siegfried skilfully parries every blow, evades the fiery
breath, lashing tail, and dangerous claws, and, biding his time,
thrusts his sword up to the very hilt in the giant's heart.

With his dying breath, the monster tells the youth of the
curse which accompanies his hoard, and, rolling over, dies
in terrible convulsions. The young hero, seeing the monster
is dead, withdraws his sword from the wound; but as he does
so a drop of the fiery blood falls upon his naked hand. The
intolerable smarting sensation it produces causes him to put
it to his lips to allay the pain. No sooner has he done so
than he suddenly becomes aware that a miracle has happened,
for he can understand the songs of all the forest birds.

Listening wonderingly, Siegfried soon hears a bird overhead
warning him to possess himself of the tarn-helmet and magic ring,
and proclaiming that the treasure of the Nibelungs is now his
own. He immediately thanks the bird for its advice, and vanishes
into the gaping Neidhole in search of the promised treasures:--

   'Hi! Siegfried shall have now
    The Nibelungs' hoard,
    For here in the hole
    It awaits his hand!
    Let him not turn from the tarn-helm,
    It leads to tasks of delight;
    But finds he a ring for his finger,
    The world he will rule with his will.'

Alberich and Mime, who have been trembling with fear as long as
the conflict raged, now timidly venture out of their respective
hiding places. Then only they become aware of each other's
intention to hasten into the cave and appropriate the treasure,
and begin a violent quarrel. It is brought to a speedy close,
however, by the reappearance of Siegfried wearing the glittering
helmet, armour, and magic ring.

The mere appearance of this martial young figure causes both
dwarfs to slink back to their hiding places, while the birds
resume their song. They warn Siegfried to distrust Mime,
who is even then approaching with the poisonous draught. This
the dwarf urges upon him with such persistency that Siegfried,
disgusted with his fawning hypocrisy, finally draws his sword
and kills him with one blow:--

   'Taste of my sword,
    Sickening talker!
    Meed for hate
    Nothung makes;
    Work for which he was mended.'

Then, while Alberich is laughing in malicious glee over
the downfall of his rival, Siegfried flings his body into
the Neidhole, and rolls the dragon's carcass in front of the
opening to protect the gold. He next pauses again to listen
to the bird in the lime tree, which sings of a lovely maiden
surrounded by flames, who can be won as bride only by the man
who knows no fear:--

   'Ha! Siegfried has slain
    The slanderous dwarf.
    O, would that the fairest
    Wife he might find!
    On lofty heights she sleeps,
    A fire embraces her hall;
    If he strides through the blaze,
    And wakens the bride,
    Brunhilde he wins to wife.'

This new quest sounds so alluring to Siegfried, that he
immediately sets out upon it, following the road which the
Wanderer has previously taken. The latter has gone on to the
very foot of the mountain, upon which the flickering flames
which surrounded Brunhilde are burning brightly. There he
pauses to conjure the goddess Erda to appear and reveal future
events. Slowly and reluctantly the Earth goddess arises from her
prolonged sleep. Her face is pallid as the newly fallen snow,
her head crowned with glittering icicles, and her form enveloped
in a great white winding-sheet. In answer to the god's inquiries
about the future, she bids him question the Norns and Brunhilde.
After a few obscure prophecies he allows her to sink down into
her grave once more, for he now knows that one of the Volsung
race has won the magic ring, and is even now on his way up the
mountain to awaken Brunhilde.

In corroboration of these words, Siegfried appears a few moments
after the prophetess or Wala has again sunk into rest. Challenged
by Wotan the Wanderer, he declares he is on the way to rouse the
sleeping maiden. In answer to a few questions, he rapidly adds
that he has slain Mime and the dragon, has tasted its blood,
and brandishes aloft the glittering sword which has done him
good service and which he has welded himself.

Wotan, wishing to test his courage, and at the same time to
fulfil his promise to Brunhilde that none should attempt to pass
the flames except the one who feared not even his magic spear,
now declares that he has slain his father, Siegmund. Siegfried,
the avenger, boldly draws his gleaming sword, which, instead of
shattering as once before against the divine spear, cuts it to
pieces. In the same instant the Wanderer disappears, amid thunder
and lightning. Siegfried, looking about him to find Brunhilde,
becomes aware of the flickering flames of a great fire, which
rise higher and higher as he rushes joyfully into their very
midst, blowing his horn and singing his merry hunting lay.

The flames, which now invade the whole stage, soon flicker
and die out, and, as the scene becomes visible once more,
Brunhilde is seen fast asleep upon a grassy mound. Siegfried
comes, and, after commenting upon the drowsing steed, draws
nearer still. Then he perceives the sleeping figure in armour,
and bends solicitously over it. Gently he removes the shield
and helmet, cuts open the armour, and starts back in surprise
when he sees a flood of bright golden hair fall rippling all
around the fair form of a sleeping woman:--

   'No man it is!
    Hallowed rapture
    Thrills through my heart;
    Fiery anguish
    Enfolds my eyes.
    My senses wander
    And waver.
    Whom shall I summon
    Hither to help me?
    Mother! Mother!
    Be mindful of me.'

His head suddenly sinks down upon her bosom, but, as her
immobility continues, he experiences for the first time a faint
sensation of fear. This is born of his love for her, and, in a
frantic endeavour to recall her to life, he bends down and kisses
her passionately. At the magic touch of his lips, Brunhilde
opens her eyes, and, overjoyed at the sight of the rising sun,
greets it with a burst of rapturous song ere she turns to thank
her deliverer. The first glimpse of the hero in his glittering
mail is enough to fill her heart with love, and recognizing in
him Siegfried, the hero whose coming she herself has foretold,
she welcomes him with joy. Siegfried then relates how he found
her, how he delivered her from the fetters of sleep, and,
impetuously declaring his passion, claims her love in return.

The scene between the young lovers, the personifications of
the Sun and of Spring, is one of indescribable passion and
beauty, and when they have joined in a duet of unalterable
love, Brunhilde no longer regrets past glories, but declares
the world well lost for the love she has won.

   'Away Walhall's
    Lightening world!
    In dust with thy seeming,
    Towers lie down!
    Farewell greatness
    And gift of the gods!
    End in bliss
    Thou unwithering breed!
    You, Norns, unravel
    The rope of runes!
    Darken upwards
    Dusk of the gods!
    Night of annulment,
    Near in thy cloud!--
    I stand in sight
    Of Siegfried's star;
    For me he was
    And for me he will be,
    Ever and always,
    One and all
    Lighting love
    And laughing death.'

These sentiments are more than echoed by the enamoured Siegfried,
who is beside himself with rapture at the mere thought of
possessing the glorious creature, who has forgotten all her
divine state to become naught but a loving and lovable woman.



The Norns, or Northern goddesses of fate, are seen in the dim
light before dawn, busily weaving the web of destiny on the
rocky hillside where the Walkyries formerly held their tryst. As
they twist their rope, which is stretched from north to south,
they sing of the age of gold. Then they sat beneath the great
world-ash, near the limpid well, where Wotan had left an eye
in pledge to win a daily draught of wisdom.

They also sing how the god tore from the mighty ash a limb
which he fashioned into an invincible spear. This caused the
death of the tree, which withered and died in spite of all their
care. The third Norn then continues the tale her sisters have
begun, and tells how Wotan came home with a shivered spear one
day, and bade the gods cut down the tree. Its limbs were piled
like fuel all around Walhalla, the castle which the giants had
built, and since then Wotan has sat there in moody silence,
awaiting the predicted end, which can no longer be far distant.

While they are singing, the barrier of flame in the background
burns brightly, and its light grows pale only as dawn breaks
slowly over the scene. The rope which the Norns are weaving
then suddenly parts beneath their fingers; so they bind the
fragments about them and sink slowly into the ground, to join
their mother Erda, wailing a prophecy concerning the end of
the old heathen world:--

   'Away now is our knowledge!
    The world meets
    From wisdom no more;
    Below to Mother, below!'

As they vanish, the day slowly breaks, and Siegfried and
Brunhilde come out of the cave. The former is in full armour
and bears a jewelled shield, the latter leads her horse, Grane,
by the bridle. Tenderly Brunhilde bids her lover farewell,
telling him that she will not restrain his ardour, for she knows
it is a hero's part to journey out into the world and perform
the noble tasks which await him. But her strength and martial
fury have entirely departed since she has learned to love, and
she repeatedly adjures him not to forget her, promising to await
his homecoming behind her flickering barrier of flame, and to
think constantly of him while he is away. Siegfried reminds her
that she need not fear he will forget her as long as she wears
the Nibelung ring, the seal of their troth, and gladly accepts
from her in exchange the steed Grane. Although it can no longer
scurry along the paths of air, this horse is afraid of nothing,
and is ready to rush through water and fire at his command.

As Siegfried goes down the hill leading his steed, Brunhilde
watches him out of sight, and it is only when the last echoes of
his hunting horn die away in the distance that the curtain falls.

The next scene is played at Worms on the Rhine. Gunther and
his sister Gutrune are sitting in their ancestral hall, with
their half-brother Hagen. He is the son of Alberich, and has
been begotten with the sole hope that he will once help his
father to recover the Nibelung ring. Hagen advises Gunther to
remember the duty he owes his race, and to marry as soon as
possible, and recommends as suitable mate the fair Brunhilde,
who is fenced in by a huge barrier of living flame.

Gunther is not at all averse to matrimony, and is anxious to
secure the peerless bride proposed, yet he knows he can never
pass through the flames, and asks how Brunhilde is to be won.
Hagen, who as a Nibelung knows the future, foretells that
Siegfried, the dauntless hero, will soon be there, and adds
that, if they can only efface from his memory all recollection
of past love by means of a magic potion, they can soon induce
him to promise his aid in exchange for the hand of Gutrune.

As he speaks, the sound of a horn is heard, and Hagen, looking
out, sees Siegfried crossing the river in a boat, and goes
down to the landing with Gunther to bid the hero welcome.
Hagen leads the horse away, but soon returns, while Gunther
ushers Siegfried into the hall of the Gibichungs, and enters
into conversation with him. As Siegfried's curiosity has been
roused by the strangers calling him by name, he soon inquires
how they knew him, and Hagen declares that the mere sight of
the tarn-cap had been enough. He then reveals to Siegfried
its magical properties, and asks him what he has done with the
hoard, and especially with the ring, which he vainly seeks on
his hand. Siegfried carelessly replies that the gold is still in
the Neidhole, guarded by the body of the dragon, while the ring
now adorns a woman's fair hand. As he finishes this statement,
Gutrune timidly draws near, and offers him a drinking horn,
the draught of welcome, in which, however, the magic potion of
forgetfulness has been mixed.

Siegfried drains it eagerly, remarking to himself that he drinks
to Brunhilde alone. But no sooner has he partaken of it than
her memory leaves him, and he finds himself gazing admiringly
upon Gutrune. Gunther then proceeds to tell Siegfried the story
of Brunhilde, whom he would fain woo to wife. Although the hero
dreamily repeats his words, and seems to be struggling hard to
recall some past memory, he does not succeed in doing so. Finally
he shakes off his abstraction, and ardently proposes to pass
through the fire and win Brunhilde for Gunther in exchange for
Gutrune's hand:--

   'Me frights not her fire;
    I'll woo for thee the maid;
    For with might and mind
    Am I thy man--
    A wife in Gutrun' to win.'

The two heroes now decide upon swearing blood brotherhood
according to Northern custom,--an inviolable oath,--and,
charging Hagen to guard the hall of the Gibichungs, they
immediately sally forth on their quest.

Brunhilde, in the mean while, has remained on the Walkürenfels
anxiously watching for Siegfried's return, and spending long
hours in contemplating the magic ring, her lover husband's last
gift. Her solitude is, however, soon invaded by Waltraute, one
of her sister Walkyries. She informs her that Wotan has been
plunged in melancholy thought ever since he returned home from
his wanderings with a shattered spear, and bade the gods pile
the wood of the withered world-ash all around Walhalla. This
he has decided shall be his funeral pyre, when the predicted
doom of the gods overtakes him.

Waltraute adds also that she alone has found the clue to his
sorrow, for she has overheard him mutter that, if the ring
were given back to the Rhine-daughters, the curse spoken by
Alberich would be annulled, and the gods could yet be saved
from their doom:--

   'The day the River's daughters
    Find from her finger the ring,
    Will the curse's weight
    Be cast from the god and the world.'

Brunhilde pays but indifferent attention to all this account,
and it is only when Waltraute informs her that it is in her
power to avert the gods' doom by restoring the ring she wears
to the mourning Rhine-daughters, that she starts angrily from
her abstraction, swearing she will never part with Siegfried's
gift, the emblem and seal of their plighted troth.

Waltraute, seeing no prayers will avail to win the ring, then
rides sadly away, while the twilight gradually settles down,
and the barrier of flames burns on with a redder glow. At
the sound of a hunting horn, Brunhilde rushes joyously to the
back of the scene, with a rapturous cry of 'Siegfried!' but
shrinks suddenly back in fear and dismay when, instead of the
bright beloved form, a dark man appears through the flickering
flames. It is Siegfried, who, by virtue of the tarn-helmet, has
assumed Gunther's form and voice, and boldly claims Brunhilde
as his bride, in reward for having made his way through the
barrier of fire. Brunhilde indignantly refuses to recognize
him as her master. Passionately kissing her ring, she loudly
declares that as long as it graces her finger she will have
the strength to repulse every attack and keep her troth to the
giver. This declaration so incenses Siegfried--who, owing to the
magic potion, has entirely forgotten her and her love--that he
rushes towards her, and after a violent struggle wrenches the
ring from her finger, and places it upon his own.

Cowed by the violence of this rude wooer, and deprived of her
ring, Brunhilde no longer resists, but tacitly yields when
he claims her as wife, and both soon disappear in the cave.
There Siegfried, mindful of his oath to marry her by proxy only,
lays his unsheathed sword between him and his friend's bride:--

   'Now, Nothung, witness well
    That faithfully I wooed;
    Lest I wane in truth to my brother,
    Bar me away from his bride!'

Hagen, left alone at Worms to guard the hall of the Gibichungs,
is favored in his sleep by a visit from his father, Alberich. The
dwarf informs him that ever since the gods touched the fatal
ring their power has waned, and that he must do all in his
power to recover it from Siegfried, who again holds it, and
who little suspects its magic power. As Alberich disappears,
carrying with him Hagen's promise to do all he can, the latter
awakens just in time to welcome the returning Siegfried. The
young hero joyfully announces the success of their expedition,
and rapturously claims Gutrune as his bride. After hearing
her lover's account of his night's adventures, the maiden
leads him into the hall in search of rest and refreshment,
while Hagen, summoning the people with repeated blasts of his
horn, admonishes them to deck the altars of Wotan, Freya, and
Donner, and to prepare to receive their master and mistress
with every demonstration of joy. The festive preparations are
barely completed, when Gunther and Brunhilde arrive. The bride
is pale and reluctant, and advances with downcast eyes, which
she raises only when she stands opposite Gutrune and Siegfried,
and hears the latter's name. Dropping Gunther's hand, she rushes
forward impetuously to throw herself in Siegfried's arms, but,
arrested by his cold unrecognising glance, she tremblingly
inquires how he came there, and why he stands by Gutrune's
side? Calmly then Siegfried announces his coming marriage:--

   'Gunther's winsome sister
    She that I wed
    As Gunther thee.'

Brunhilde indignantly denies her marriage to Gunther, and almost
swoons, but Siegfried supports her, and, although Brunhilde
softly and passionately asks him if he does not know her, the
young hero indifferently hands her over to Gunther, bidding
him look after his wife.

At a motion of his hand, Brunhilde's attention is attracted to
the ring, and she angrily demands how he dare wear the token
which Gunther wrested from her hand.

Bewildered by this question, Siegfried denies ever having
received the ring from Gunther, and declares he won it from the
dragon in the Neidhole; but Hagen, anxious to stir up strife,
interferes, and elicits from Brunhilde an assurance that the
hero can have won the ring only by guile.

A misunderstanding now ensues, for while Brunhilde in speaking
refers to their first meeting, and swears that Siegfried had
wooed and treated her as his wife, he, recollecting only the
second encounter, during which he acted only as Gunther's proxy,
denies her assertions.

Both solemnly swear to the truth of their statement upon Hagen's
spear, calling the vengeance of Heaven down upon them in case of
perjury. Then the interrupted wedding festivities are resumed,
for Gunther knows only too well by what fraud his bride was
obtained, and thinks the transformation has not been complete
enough to blind the wise Brunhilde.

As Siegfried gently leads Gutrune away into the hall, whither
all but Hagen, Gunther, and Brunhilde follow him, the latter
gives way to her extravagant grief. Hagen approaches her,
offering to avenge all her wrongs, and even slay Siegfried if
nothing else will satisfy her, and wipe away the foul stain
upon her honour. But Brunhilde tells him it is quite useless to
challenge the hero, for she herself had made him invulnerable
to every blow by blessing every part of his body except his
back. This she deemed useless to protect, as Siegfried, the
bravest of men, never fled from any foe:--


    So wounds him nowhere a weapon?


    In battle none:--but still
    Bare to the stroke is his back
    Never--I felt--
    In flight he would find
    A foe to be harmful behind him,
    So spared I his back from the blessing.'

Her resentment against Siegfried has reached such a pitch,
however, that she finally hails with fierce joy Hagen's proposal
to slay him in the forest on the morrow. Even Gunther acquiesces
in this crime, which will leave his sister a widow, and they
soon agree that it shall be explained to Gutrune as a hunting

At noon on the next day Siegfried arrives alone on the banks of
the Rhine, in search of a quarry which has escaped him. The Rhine
daughters, who concealed it purposely in hopes of recovering
their ring, rise up out of the water, and swimming gracefully
around promise to help him recover his game if he will only
give them his ring. Siegfried, who attaches no value whatever
to the trinket, but wishes to tease them, refuses it at first;
but when they change their bantering into a prophetic tone and
try to frighten him by telling him the ring will prove his bane
unless he intrust it to their care, he proudly answers that he
has never yet learned to fear, and declares he will keep it,
and see whether their prediction will be fulfilled:--

   'My sword once splintered a spear;--
    The endless coil
    Of counsel of old,
    Wove they with wasting
    Curses its web;
    Norns shall not cover from Nothung!
    One warned me beware
    Of the curse a Worm;
    But he failed to make me to fear,--
    The World's riches
    I won with a ring,
    That for love's delight
    Swiftly I'd leave;
    I'll yield it for sweetness to you;
    But for safety of limbs and of life,--
    Were it not worth
    Of a finger's weight,--
    No ring from me you will reach!'

The Rhine maidens then bid him farewell, and swim away repeating
their ominous prophecy. After they have gone, the hunting
party appear, heralded by the merry music of their horns. All
sit down to partake of the refreshments that have been
brought, and as Siegfried has provided no game, he tries to do
his share by entertaining them with tales of his early youth.

After telling them of his childhood spent in Mime's forge, of
the welding of Nothung and the slaying of Fafnir, he describes
how a mere taste of the dragon's blood enabled him to understand
the songs of the birds. Encouraged by Hagen, he next relates
the capture of the tarn-helm and ring, and then, draining his
horn in which Hagen has secretly poured an antidote to the
draught of forgetfulness administered by Gutrune, he describes
his departure in quest of the sleeping Walkyrie and his first
meeting with Brunhilde. At the mere mention of her name, all
the past returns to his mind. He suddenly remembers all her
beauty and love, and starts wildly to his feet, but only to be
pierced by the spear of the treacherous Hagen, who had stolen
behind him to drive it into his heart.

The dying hero makes one last vain effort to avenge himself,
then sinks feebly to the earth, while Hagen slips away, declaring
that the perjurer had fully deserved to be slain by the weapon
upon which he had sworn his false oath. Gunther, sorry now
that it is too late, bends sadly over the prostrate hero,
who, released from the fatal effects of Gutrune's draught,
speaks once more of his beloved Brunhilde, and fancies he is
once more clasped in her arms as of old.

Then, when he has breathed his last, the hunters place his
body upon a shield and bear it away in the rapidly falling
dusk, to the slow, mournful accompaniment of a funeral march,
whose muffled notes fall like a knell on the listener's ear.

Gutrune, who has found the day very long indeed without
her beloved Siegfried, comes out of her room at nightfall,
and listens intently for the sound of the hunting horn which
will proclaim his welcome return. She is not the only watcher,
however, for Brunhilde has stolen down to the river, and her
apartment is quite empty.

Suddenly Hagen comes in, and Gutrune, terrified at his unexpected
appearance, anxiously inquires why she has not heard her
husband's horn. Without any preparation, roughly, brutally,
Hagen informs her the hero is dead, just as the bearers enter
and deposit his lifeless body at her feet.

Gutrune faints, but when she recovers consciousness she
indignantly refuses to credit Hagen's story, that her husband was
slain by a boar. She wildly accuses Gunther, who frees himself
from suspicion by denouncing Hagen. Without showing the least
sign of remorse, the dark son of Alberich then acknowledges
the deed, and, seeing that Gunther is about to appropriate the
fatal ring, draws his sword and slays him also. Wildly now Hagen
snatches at the ring, that long coveted treasure; but he starts
back in dismay without having secured it, for the dead hand is
threateningly raised, to the horror of all the spectators.

Next Brunhilde comes upon the scene, singing a song of vengeance;
and when Gutrune wildly accuses her of being the cause of her
husband's murder, she declares that she alone was Siegfried's
lawful wife, and that he would always have been true to her had
not Gutrune won him by the ruse of a magic draught. Sadly Gutrune
acknowledges the truth of this statement, and, feeling that she
has no right to mourn over the husband of another woman, she
creeps over to Gunther's corpse and bends motionless over him.

Brunhilde's anger is all forgotten now that the hero is dead,
and, after caressing him tenderly for a while, she directs
the bystanders to erect a huge funeral pyre. While they are
thus occupied she sings the hero's dirge, and draws the ring
unhindered from his dead hand. Then she announces her decision
to perish in the flames beside him, and declares the Rhine
maidens can come and reclaim their stolen treasure from their
mingled ashes:--

   'Thou guilty ring!
    Running gold!
    My hand gathers,
    And gives thee again.
    You wisely seeing
    Water sisters,
    The Rhine's unresting daughters,
    I deem your word was of weight!
    All that you ask
    Now is your own;
    Here from my ashes'
    Heap you may have it!--
    The flame as it clasps me round
    Free from the curse of the ring!--
    Back to its gold
    Unbind it again,
    And far in the flood
    Withhold its fire,
    The Rhine's unslumbering sun,
    That for harm from him was reft.'

The curse of the ring is at an end. The ravens of Wotan, perching
aloft, fly heavily off to announce the tidings in Walhalla,
while Brunhilde, after seeing Siegfried's body carefully
deposited on the pyre with all his weapons, kindles the fire
with her own hand. Then, springing upon Grane, she rides into
the very midst of the flames, which soon rise so high that they
swallow her up and entirely hide her from the spectators' sight.

After a short time the flames die down, the bright light fades,
the stage darkens, and the river rises and overflows its banks,
until its waves come dashing over the funeral pyre. They
bear upon their swelling crests the Rhine maidens who have
come to recover their ring, Hagen, standing gloomily in the
background, becomes suddenly aware of their intention, wildly
flings his weapons aside, and rushes forward, crying, 'Unhand
the ring!' But he is caught in the twining arms of two of the
Rhine maidens, who draw him down under the water, and drown
him, while the third, having secured the Nibelung ring, returns
in triumph on the ebbing waves to her native depths, chanting
the Rhinegold strain. As she disappears, a reddish glow like
the Aurora Borealis appears in the sky. It grows brighter and
brighter, until one can discern the shining abode of Walhalla,
enveloped in lurid flames from the burning world-ash, and in
the centre the assembled gods calmly seated upon their thrones,
to submit to their long predicted doom, the 'Götterdämmerung.'[3]

[3] See Prof. G.T. Dippold's 'Ring of the Nibelung.'



It was while he was searching for the material for Tannhäuser,
that Wagner came across Wolfram von Eschenbach's poems of
'Parsifal' and 'Titurel,'[4] and, as he reports, 'an entirely
new world of poetical matter suddenly opened before me.' Wagner
made no use of this idea, however, until 1857, some fifteen
years later, when he drew up the first sketch of his Parsifal,
during his residence at Zurich; twenty years later he finished
the poem at Bayreuth. He then immediately began the music,
although he was sixty-five years of age. That same year, while
he was making a concert tour in London, he read the poem to a
select audience of friends, by whose advice it was published.

Although the music for this opera, which is designated as 'a
solemn work destined to hallow the stage,' was finished in 1879,
the instrumentation was completed only in 1882, at Palermo,
a few months before its first production at Bayreuth.

This opera, which Wagner himself called a religious drama, is
intended as the 'Song of Songs of Divine Love, as Tristan and
Ysolde is the Song of Songs of Terrestrial Love.' The performance
was repeated sixteen times at Bayreuth, where many people had
come from all parts of the world to hear and see it, and has
since been revived a number of times. It is the most difficult
and least easily understood of the master's intricate works,
and bears the imprint not only of his philosophical studies, but
also of the spirit of Oriental mysticism, in which he delighted,
and which he at one time intended to make use of for the stage.

The opera opens in the forest, where Gurnemanz, an old servant
of Amfortas, guardian of the Holy Grail, is lying asleep with
two squires. Suddenly, reveille sounds from the top of Mount
Salvat, the sacred hill upon which the temple stands. Gurnemanz,
springing to his feet, rouses the squires, and bids them prepare
the bath for their ailing master, who will soon appear as is
his daily custom.

This Amfortas, whose coming they momentarily expect, is the
son of Titurel, the founder of the temple erected on Mount
Salvat for the reception of the Holy Grail, a vessel in which
Joseph of Arimathea caught a few drops of blood from the dying
Redeemer's side, after it had served as chalice during the
Last Supper. Titurel, feeling too old to continue his office
as guardian of the Grail, appointed Amfortas as his successor,
giving him the sacred lance which pierced the Saviour's side,
and told him that none could resist him as long as he wielded
it and kept himself perfectly pure.

During many years Amfortas led a stainless life, defending the
Holy Grail from every foe, performing all his sacred offices
with exemplary piety, and teaching the Knights of the Grail to
fight for the right, and rescue the feeble and oppressed. He
also sent out messengers to all parts of the world to right
the wrong, whenever called upon to do so, by the words which
suddenly appeared and glowed like fire around the edge of
the mystic vase. All the knights who served the Holy Grail
were not only fed with celestial viands by its power alone,
but were endowed with resistless might, which assured their
victory everywhere as long as they remained unknown. They
had moreover the privilege of recovering, as if by magic,
from every wound. Of course, many knights were desirous of
being admitted into the temple, but none except those whose
lives were pure and whose purposes lofty were ever accepted.
When Klingsor, the magician, attempted to enter, therefore,
he was repulsed. In his anger he established himself upon the
other side of the mountain, where, summoning all the arts of
magic to his aid, he called up delusions of every kind. Thus
he beguiled many of the knights in search of the Holy Grail,
caught them in his toils and led them on to sin, until they
were unfit for the holy life to which they had once aspired.

Amfortas, hearing of this, and too confident in his own
strength, sallied forth one day, armed with the sacred lance,
determined to destroy Klingsor, and put an end to his magic.
But alas! he had no sooner entered the magician's garden,
where roamed a host of lovely maidens trained to lure all men
to sin, than he yielded to the blandishments of the fairest
among them. Carelessly flinging his sacred lance aside, he gave
himself up to the delights of passion. Such was his bewitched
condition that he never even noticed the stealthy approach
of the magician, who seized the lance and thrust it into his
side. This deep wound, which had refused to heal ever since,
caused him incessant tortures, which were increased rather than
diminished whenever he uncovered the Holy Grail.

Although no remedy could allay this torture, the Holy Grail
decreed that it should be stilled by a guileless fool, who,
enlightened by pity, would find the only cure. But, as he
tarried, many knights travelled all over the world in search
of simples, and Kundry, a wild, witch-like woman, also sought
in vain to relieve him.

While the squires, in obedience to Gurnemanz's orders, prepare
the bath, Kundry comes riding wildly on the scene. In breathless
haste she thrusts a curious little flask into Gurnemanz's
hand, telling him it is a precious balsam she has brought
from a great distance to alleviate Amfortas's suffering. She
is so exhausted by her long ride that she flings herself upon
the ground, where she remains while a little procession comes
down the hill. It is composed of knights bearing the wounded
Amfortas, and they set the litter down for a moment, as the
king gives vent to heart-rending groans. To soothe him, his
attendants remind him that there are many more remedies to try,
and Gurnemanz adds that, failing all others, they can always
rely upon the promise of the Holy Grail, and await the coming
of the guileless fool. When Amfortas learns that Kundry has
made another attempt to help him, he thanks her kindly, but
his gentle words only seem to increase her distress, for she
writhes uneasily on the ground and refuses all thanks.

When the king and his bearers have gone down the hill, and
have passed out of sight, the squires begin chaffing poor
Kundry. She gazes upon them with the wild eyes of an animal
at bay, until Gurnemanz comes to her rescue, and chides the
youths. He tells them that although she may once have been,
as they declare, under a curse, she has repented of her sins,
and serves the Holy Grail with a humility and singleness of
purpose which they would do well to imitate rather than deride.

In answer to their questions, he then goes on to describe
how Amfortas received the grievous wound which causes him such
intolerable pain, and lost the sacred spear, which only enhances
Klingsor's power for evil, and which none but a stainless
knight can ever recover. Their quiet conversation is brusquely
interrupted by the heavy fall of a swan, which lies dead at their
feet. This arouses their keenest indignation, for the rules of
the order forbid any deed of violence within sight or hearing of
the sacred edifice containing the Holy Grail. Gazing around in
search of the culprit, they soon behold the youth Parsifal, clad
in the rough and motley garments of a fool, and when Gurnemanz
angrily reproves him, and questions him concerning his name
and origin, he is amazed by the ignorance the lad displays.

By the help of Kundry, however, who, having travelled everywhere,
knows everything, Gurnemanz finally ascertains that the youth
is a descendant of the royal family, his father, Gamuret,
having died when he was born. His mother, Herzeloide (Heart's
Affliction), has brought him up in utter solitude and ignorance,
to prevent his becoming a knight and leave her perchance to
fall in battle:--

   'Bereft of father his mother bore him.
    For in battle perished Gamuret:
    From like untimely hero's death
    To save her offspring, strange to arms
    She reared him a witless fool in deserts.'

The youth, however, pays no heed to Kundry's explanations,
but goes on to tell Gurnemanz that he saw some men riding
through the forest in glittering array, and followed them
through the world with no other weapon than the bow he had
manufactured. But when Kundry again interrupts him, declaring
that his sudden disappearance has caused his mother's death,
he shows the greatest sensibility, and even faints with grief.

While the squires gently bathe his face and hands to bring
him back to life, Kundry, feeling the sudden and overpowering
desire for sleep which often mysteriously overpowers her,
creeps reluctantly into a neighbouring thicket, where she
immediately sinks into a comatose state. In the mean while,
the king's procession comes up from the bath, and slowly passes
across the stage and up the hill. Gurnemanz, whose heart has
been filled with a sudden hope that the youth before him may
be the promised guileless fool who alone can cure the king,
puts an arm around him, gently raises him, and, supporting his
feeble footsteps, leads him up the hill. They walk along dark
passages, and finally come into the great hall on the top of
Mount Salvat, which is empty now, and where only the sound of
the bells in the dome is heard as Gurnemanz says to Parsifal:--

   'Now give good heed, and let me see,
    If thou 'rt a Fool and pure
    What wisdom thou presently canst secure.'

Parsifal, the unsophisticated youth, stands spellbound at the
marvels he beholds, nor does he move when the great doors open,
and the Knights of the Grail come marching in, singing of the
mystic vessel and of its magic properties. This strain is
taken up not only by the youths who follow them, but also by
a boy choir in the dome which is intended to represent the
angels. When the knights have all taken their places, the
doors open again to admit the bearers of the sacred vessel,
which is kept in a shrine. They are followed by Amfortas, in
his litter, and when he has been carefully laid upon a couch,
and the vessel has been placed upon the altar before him, all
bow down in silent prayer. Suddenly the silence is broken by
the voice of the aged Titurel. He is lying in a niche in the
rear of the hall, and calls solemnly upon his son to uncover
the Holy Grail, and give him a sight of the glorious vessel,
which alone can renew his failing strength. The boys are
about to remove the veil when Amfortas suddenly detains them,
and begins a passionate protest, relating how his sufferings
increase every time he beholds the Grail. He implores his
father to resume the sacred office, and wildly asks how long
his sufferings must endure. To this appeal the angels' voices
respond by repeating the prophecy made by the Holy Grail:--

   'By pity 'lightened
    The guileless Fool--
    Wait for him
    My chosen tool.'

Strengthened by this reminder of ultimate relief, and by the
voice of the knights and of Titurel again calling for the
uncovering of the Grail, Amfortas takes the crystal cup from
its shrine, bends over it in devout prayer, while the angel
voices above chant a sort of communion service, and the hall is
gradually darkened. Suddenly a beam of blinding light shoots
down through the dome and falls upon the cup, which 'glows with
an increased purple lustre,' while Amfortas holds it above his
head, and gently waves it to and fro, so that its mystic light
can be seen by all the knights and squires, who have sunk to
their knees.

Titurel hails the sight with a pious ejaculation, and when
Amfortas has replaced the vessel in the shrine the beam of
light disappears, daylight again fills the hall, and knights
and squires begin to partake of the bread and wine before
them, a feast to which Gurnemanz invites the amazed Parsifal
by a mute gesture. The youth is too astonished to accept;
he remains spellbound, while the invisible choir resume their
chant, which is taken up first by the youths' voices, and then
by the knights, and ends only as the meal draws to a close, and
Amfortas is borne out, preceded by the Holy Grail and followed
by the long train of knights and squires.

Gurnemanz and Parsifal alone remain. The Fool, though guileless,
has not been enlightened by pity to inquire the cause of
Amfortas's wound. He has thus missed his opportunity to cure
him, and Gurnemanz, indignant at his boundless stupidity, opens
a side door, and thrusts him out into the forest, uttering a
contemptuous dismissal.

   'Thou art then nothing but a Fool!
    Come away, on thy road be gone
    And put my rede to use:
    Leave all our swans for the future alone
    And seek thyself, gander, a goose.'

The second act represents the inner keep of Klingsor's castle,
the magician himself being seated on the battlement. He is
gazing intently into the magic mirror, wherein all the world
may be seen, and comments with malicious glee upon Parsifal's
ejection from the temple of the Holy Grail and his approach to
his enchanted ground.

Laying aside his magic mirror, Klingsor then begins one of
his uncanny spells, and in the midst of a bluish vapor calls up
Kundry from the enchanted sleep into which his art has bound her.
He tells her that, although she has succeeded in escaping his
power for a short time, and has gone over to the enemy whom
she has done all in her power to serve, he now requires her to
exercise all her fascinations to beguile Parsifal away from
the path of virtue, as she once lured Amfortas, the king and
guardian of the Holy Grail.

In vain the half awakened Kundry struggles and tries to resist
his power, Klingsor has her again in his toils, and once more
compels her, much against her wishes, to execute his will.
Just as Parsifal, overcoming all resistance, drives away
the guards of the castle and springs up on the ramparts,
the magician waves his wand. He and his tower sink from view,
and a beautiful garden appears, in which lovely damsels flit
excitedly about in very scanty attire. After a few moments
spent in motionless admiration of the scene before him, Parsifal
springs down into the garden, where he is immediately surrounded
by the fair nymphs. They pull him this way and that, tease and
cajole him, and use all their wiles to attract his attention
and win his admiration. Seeing him very indifferent to their
unadorned charms, a few of them hastily retire into a bower,
where they don gay flower costumes, in which they soon appear
before him, winding in and out in the gay mazes of the dance.

Their youthful companions immediately follow their example,
and also try to beguile Parsifal by their flower hues, their
kisses and caresses, but he stands stolidly by until Kundry,
who is now no longer a terrible and haggard witch, but a fair
enchantress reclining upon a bed of roses, calls him to her side.

As in a dream, Parsifal obeys her summons, while the flower
nymphs flit away to their respective bowers. Wonderingly he now
inquires how Kundry knows his name, and again hears her relate
how she was present at his birth, watched over his childhood,
and witnessed the death of his mother. At this mention the
youth is again overcome with grief. To comfort him, Kundry,
the enchantress, tenderly embraces him, and lavishes soft
words upon him, but all her caresses have no effect, except to
awaken in his heart a sudden miraculous comprehension of all
he has seen. Love is suddenly born in his heart, but it is not
the evil passion which Kundry had striven to bring to life,
but the pure, unselfish feeling which enables one human being
to understand and sympathise with another. He now knows that
Amfortas yielded to passion's spell, and in punishment suffered
the spear wound in his side, and realizes that he alone could
have given him relief. Moved to sudden indignation by his
compassion, he flings Kundry's caressing arms aside, promising,
however, to help her win her own redemption, if she will only
tell him how to save Amfortas, and will reveal who wielded the
spear which dealt the fatal wound. But Kundry, who is acting
now entirely under Klingsor's influence, and not by her own
volition, seeing she cannot lure him to sin, and that he is
about to escape forever, shrieks frantically for help, cursing
him vehemently, and declaring that he will have to wander long
ere he can again find a way to the realm of the Holy Grail.
Her piercing screams bring the flower damsels and Klingsor
upon the scene, and the latter, standing upon the rampart,
flings the holy spear at Parsifal, expecting to wound him as
grievously as Amfortas. But the youth has committed no sin,
he is quite pure; so the spear remains poised above his head,
until he stretches out his hand, and, seizing it, makes a sign
of the cross, adjuring the magic to cease:--

   'This sign I make, and ban thy cursed magic:
    As the wound shall be closed
    Which thou with this once clovest,--
    To wrack and to ruin
    Falls thy unreal display!'

At the holy sign, the enchanter's delusions vanish, maidens and
gardens disappear, and Kundry sinks motionless upon the arid
soil, while Parsifal springs over the broken wall, calling out
that they shall meet again.

The third act is played also upon the slopes of the mountain,
upon which the temple stands. Many years have elapsed, however,
and Gurnemanz, bent with age, slowly comes out of his hut at
the sound of a groan in a neighbouring thicket. The sounds are
repeated until the good old man, who has assumed the garb of
a hermit, searches in the thicket, and, tearing the brambles
aside, finds the witch Kundry in one of her lethargic states. He
has seen her so before in days gone by, and, dragging her
rigid form out from the thicket, he proceeds to restore her
to life. Wildly as of old her eyes roll about, but she has no
sooner come to her senses than she clamours for some work to
do for the Holy Grail, and proceeds to draw water and perform
sundry menial tasks. Gurnemanz, watching her closely, comments
upon her altered behaviour, and expresses a conviction that she
will ultimately be saved, since she has returned to the Grail
after many years on the morning of Good Friday.

He is so occupied in examining her that he does not notice
the approach of Parsifal, clad in black armour, with closed
helmet and lowered spear, and it is only when Kundry calls his
attention to the stranger that he welcomes him, but without
recognizing him in the least.

Parsifal, however, has not forgotten the old man whom he has
sought so long in vain, and is, so overcome by emotion that
he cannot speak. He obeys Gurnemanz's injunctions to remove
his arms, as none dare enter the holy precincts of the Holy
Grail in martial array, and, planting the spear he recovered
from Klingsor into the ground, he bends the knee before it,
and returns silent thanks that his quest is ended, and he may
at last be vouchsafed to quiet the pain which Amfortas still
endures. While he is wrapt in prayer, Gurnemanz, staring at
him, suddenly recognizes him as the Guileless Fool who came
so long ago, and imparts his knowledge to Kundry, who confirms
it. Parsifal, having finished his prayer, and recovered the power
of speech, now greets Gurnemanz, and in answer to his question
says that he has wandered long, and expresses a fervent hope
that he has not come too late to retrieve his former fault:--

   'Through error and through suffering lay my pathway;
    May I believe that I have freed me from it,
    Now that this forest's murmur
    Falls upon my senses,
    And worthy voice of age doth welcome?
    Or yet--is 't new error?
    All's altered here meseemeth.'

Gurnemanz is almost overcome with joy when he hears the young man
declare that he has brought back the sacred lance undefiled,
although he has suffered much to defend it from countless
foes who would fain have wrested it from him. As Parsifal now
begins eagerly to question him, he mournfully relates that times
have changed indeed. Amfortas still lives, and suffers untold
tortures from his unhealed wound, but Titurel, the aged king,
no longer quickened by the sight of the Holy Grail, (which has
never again been unveiled since his unhappy visit,) has slowly
passed away, and has closed his eyes in a last sleep. At these
sad tidings Parsifal faints with remorse, and Gurnemanz and
Kundry restore him with water from the holy spring, with which
they also wash away all the soil of travel. As he comes to life
again, inquiring whether he will be allowed to see Amfortas,
Gurnemanz tells him that the knights are to assemble once more
in the temple, as of old, to celebrate Titurel's obsequies,
and that Amfortas has solemnly promised to unveil the Holy
Grail, although at the cost of suffering to himself. He wishes
to comfort the knights, who have lost all their courage and
strength, and are no longer called upon to go forth and battle
for the right in the name of the Grail.

To enable Parsifal to appear in the temple, Gurnemanz now
baptises him with water from the spring, and Kundry, anointing
his feet with a costly perfume, wipes them with her hair.
Parsifal rewards her for this humble office by baptising her
in his turn. Then Gurnemanz anoints Parsifal's head with the
same ointment, for it is decreed he shall be king, and after
he and Kundry have helped him to don the usual habit of the
servants of the Holy Grail they proceed, as in the first act,
to the temple, and once more enter the great hall.

As they appear, the doors open, and two processions enter,
chanting a mournful refrain. Ten knights bear the bier containing
Titurel's corpse, the others carry the wasted form of the wounded
king. The chorus ended, the coffin is opened, and at the sight
of the dead Titurel all the assistants cry out in distress. No
wail is so bitter, however, as that of Amfortas, who mournfully
addresses his dead father, imploring him to intercede for him
before the heavenly throne, and to obtain for him the long hoped
for and long expected release.

Then he bids the knights uncover the Holy Grail; but ere they
can do so he bursts out into a paroxysm of grief, exposing
his bleeding and throbbing wound, and declaring he has not
the courage to endure the sacred beam of light from the Holy
Grail. But, unnoticed by all, Parsifal, Gurnemanz, and Kundry
have drawn near. Suddenly the youth extends the sacred spear,
and, touching Amfortas with its point, declares that its
power alone can stanch the blood and heal the wounded side,
and pronounces the absolution of his sin:--

   'Be whole, unsullied and absolved,
    For I now govern in thy place.
    Oh blessed be thy sorrows,
    For Pity's potent might
    And Knowledge's purest power
    They taught a timid Fool.'

No sooner has the sacred point touched the wound than it is
indeed healed, and while Amfortas sinks tottering with emotion
into the arms of Gurnemanz, all the knights gaze enraptured
at the spear. Then Parsifal announces that he is commanded by
Divine decree to become the guardian of the Grail, which he
unveils and reverently receives into his hands.

Once more the hall is darkened, once more the beam of refulgent
light illumines the gloom, and, as Parsifal slowly waves the
vessel to and fro, a snowy dove, the emblem of the Holy Grail,
hovers lightly over his head.

Suddenly the beam of light falls across the face of the dead
Titurel, who, coming to life again in its radiance, raises
his hand in fervent blessing ere he sinks back once more to
peaceful rest. Kundry, too, has seen the Holy Grail before
her eyes closed in death, and Amfortas, cured and forgiven,
joins the knights and invisible choir in praising God for his
great mercy, which endures forever.

[4] See the author's 'Legends of the Middle Ages,' in press.


*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Stories of the Wagner Opera" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.