Götterdämmerung, or the Twilight of the gods, Immolation Scene, sung by Kirsten Flagstad, Hochdramatische Sopran

We have come to the end of at least what I am going to post right now for the Ring Cycle. This 4th opera in the cycle is nothing if not perplexing. I advise you to look at the link in the “Time for Wagner!” posting so that you can get your bearings. I have posted this scene before with the great Frida Leider singing it.  But that posting was without any context.  As the scene from the 4th and final opera in the Ring, this should have more contest, and I am choosing Kirsten Flagstad in wonderful voice to sing it.

At the end of the opera, Brunnhilde, now a mortal, takes her horse and the famous ring to be burnt to remove the curse on the ring. Her sacrifice leads to the fall of Valhalla and the downfall of the gods. If I write any more, it is going to get very confusing. Rather than give you the whole opera, I am going to post only Brunnhilde’s Immolation scene, where she takes her horse and rides into fire.

Brünnhilde
(zu den Mannen)
Starke Scheite schichtet mir dort
am Rande des Rhein’s zu Hauf’!
Hoch und hell lod’re die Gluth,
die den edlen Leib des hehresten Helden
verzehrt.
Sein Roß führet daher,
daß mit mir dem Recken es folge:
denn des Helden heiligste Ehre zu theilen
verlangt mein eigener Leib.
Vollbringt Brünnhildes Wort!
(Die jüngeren Männer errichten, während des
Folgen den, vor der Halle, nahe am Rheinufer, einen
mächtigen Scheiterhaufen: Frauen schmücken die-
sen dann mit Decken, auf welche sie Kräuter und Blumen streuen.)
(Brünnhilde versinkt von Neuem in die Betrachtung des Antlitzes
der Leiche Siegfrieds. Ihre Mienen
nehmen eine immer sanftere Verklärung an.)

Wie Sonne lauter strahlt mir sein Licht:
der Reinste war er, der mich verrieth!
Die Gattin trügend, treu dem Freunde,
von der eig’nen Trauten einzig ihm theuer,
schied er sich durch sein Schwert.
Ächter als er schwur Keiner Eide;
treuer als er hielt Keiner Verträge;
lautrer als er liebte kein And’rer:
Und doch, alle Eide, alle Verträge,
die treueste Liebe, trog keiner wie Er!
Wiß’t ihr, wie das ward?
(nach oben blickend)
O ihr, der Eide ewige Hüter!
Lenkt euren Blick auf mein blühendes Leid;
erschaut eure ewige Schuld!
Meine Klage hör’, du hehrster Gott!
Durch seine tapferste That,
dir so tauglich erwünscht,
weihtest du den, der sie gewirkt,
dem Fluche dem du verfielest:
Mich mußte der Reinste verrathen,
daß wissend würde ein Weib!
Weiß ich nun was dir frommt?
Alles, Alles, Alles weiß ich,
Alles ward mir nun frei.
Auch deine Raben hör’ ich rauschen;
mit bang ersehnter Botschaft
send’ ich die Beiden nun heim.
Ruhe, ruhe, du Gott!
(Sie winkt den Mannen Siegfrieds Leiche auf den
Scheitehaufen zu tragen; zugleich zieht sie von Sieg-
frieds Finger den Ring ab, und betrachtet ihn sinnend.)

Mein Erbe nun nehm’ ich zu eigen.
Verfluchter Reif! Furchtbarer Ring!
Dein Gold fass’ ich und geb’ es nun fort.
Der Wassertiefe weise Schwestern,
des Rheines schwimmende Töchter,
euch dank’ ich redlichen Rath:
was ihr begehrt, ich geb’ es euch:
aus meiner Asche nehmt es zu eigen!
Das Feuer, das mich verbrennt,
rein’ge vom Fluche den Ring!
Ihr in der Fluth löset ihn auf,
und lauter bewahrt das lichte Gold,
das Euch zum Unheil geraubt.
(Sie hat sich den Ring angesteckt, und wendet sich
jetzt zu dem Scheitergerüste, auf welchem Siegfrieds
Leiche ausgestreckt liegt. Sie entreißt einem Manne
den mächtigen Feuerbrand.)
(den Feuerbrand schwingend und nach dem
Hintergrunde deutend)
Fliegt heim, ihr Raben! Raun’t es eurem Herren,
was hier am Rhein ihr gehört!
An Brünnhildes Felsen fahrt vorbei!
Der dort noch lodert,
weiset Loge nach Walhall!
Denn der Götter Ende dämmert nun auf.
So werf’ ich den Brand
in Walhalls prangende Burg.
(Sie schleudert den Brand in den Holzstoß, welcher
sich schnell hell entzündet. Zwei Raben sind vom
Felsen am Ufer aufgeflogen, und verschwinden nach
dem Hintergrunde.)
(Brünnhilde gewahrt ihr Roß, welches soeben zwei
Männer herein führen.)
Grane, mein Roß! Sei mir gegrüßt!

(Sie ist ihm entgegen gesprungen, faßt es und ent-
zäumt es schnell: dann neigt sie sich traulich zu ihm.)
Weißt du auch, mein Freund,
wohin ich dich führe?
Im Feuer leuchtend, liegt dort dein Herr,
Siegfried, mein seliger Held.
Dem Freunde zu folgen wieherst du freudig?
Lockt dich zu ihm die lachende Lohe?
Fühl’ meine Brust auch, wie sie entbrennt,
helles Feuer das Herz mir erfaßt,
ihn zu umschlingen, umschlossen von ihm,
in mächtigster Minne, vermählt ihm zu sein!
Heiajoho! Grane! Grüß’ deinen Herren!
(Sie hat sich auf das Roß geschwungen und hebt
es jetzt zum Sprunge.)

Siegfried! Siegfried! Sieh!
Selig grüßt dich dein Weib!

(Sie sprengt das Roß mit einem Satze in den
brennenden Scheitehaufen. Sogleich steigt prasselt
der Brand hoch auf, so daß das Feuer den ganzen
Raum vor der Halle erfüllt und diese selbst schon zu
ergreifen scheint. Entsetzt drängen sich die Männer
und Frauen nach dem äußersten Vordergrunde.)

(Als der ganze Bühnenraum nur noch von Feuer
erfüllt erscheint, verlischt plötzlich der Gluthschein, so
daß bald bloß ein Dampfgewölke zurück bleibt,
welches sich dem Hintergrunde zu verzieht, und dort
am Horizonte sich als finstere Wolkenschicht lagert.
Zugleich ist vom Ufer her der Rhein mächtig ange-
schwollen, und hat seine Fluth über die Brandstätte
gewälzt. Auf den Wogen sind die drei Rheintöchter
herbei geschwommen und erscheinen jetzt über der Brandstätte.)

Brünnhilde
(to the Vassals)
Mighty logs I bid you now pile
on high by the river shore!
Bright and fierce kindle a fire;
let the noblest hero’s corpse in its flames be
consumed.
His steed bring to me here,
that with me his lord he may follow:
for my body burneth with holiest longing my
hero’s honor to share.
Fulfill Brünnhild’s behest.
(During the following, the young men raise a huge
funeral pyre of logs before the hall, near the bank of
the Rhine: women decorate this with coverings on
which they strew plants and flowers.)
(Brünnhilde becomes again absorbed in contemplation
of Siegfried’s dead face. Her features take
gradually a softer and brighter expression.)

Like rays of sunshine streameth his light:
the purest was he, who hath betrayed me!
In wedlock traitor, true in friendship;
from his heart’s own true love, only beloved one,
barred was he by his sword.
Truer than his were oaths ne’er spoken;
faithful as he, none ever held promise;
purer than his, love ne’er was plighted:
Yet oaths hath he scorned, bonds hath he broken,
the most faithful love none so hath betrayed!
Know ye why that was?
(looking upward)
Oh ye, of vows the heavenly guardians!
Turn now your eyes on my grievous distress;
behold your eternal disgrace!
To my plaint give ear, thou mighty god!
Through his most valiant deed,
by thee so dearly desired,
didst thou condemn him to endure
the doom that on thee had fallen;
he, truest of all, must betray me,
that wise a woman might grow!
Know I now all thy need?
All things, all things, all now know I.
All to me is revealed.
Wings of thy ravens wave around me;
with tidings long desired,
I send now thy messengers home.
Rest, rest, o god!
(She makes a sign to the Vassals to lift Siegfried’s
body onto the pyre; at the same time she draws the
ring from Siegfried’s finger and looks at it meditatively.)

My heritage yields now the hero.
Accursed charm! Terrible ring!
My hand grasps thee, and gives thee away.
Ye sisters wise who dwell in the waters,
give ear, ye sorrowing Rhine maids,
good counsel lives in your words:
what ye desire I leave to you:
now from my ashes take ye your treasure!
Let fire, burning this hand,
cleanse, too, the ring from its curse!
Ye in the flood, wash it away,
and purer preserve your shining gold
that to your sorrow was stolen.
(She has put the ring on her finger and now turns
to the pile of logs on which Siegfried’s body lies
stretched. She takes a great firebrand
from one of the men.)
(waving the firebrand and pointing to the
background)
Fly home, ye ravens! tell your lord the tidings
that here on the Rhine ye have learned!
To Brünnhilde’s rock first wing your flight!
there burneth Loge:
straight way bid him to Valhalla!
For the end of godhood draweth now near.
So cast I the brand
on Valhalla’s glittering walls.
(She flings the brand on the woodpile, which
quickly breaks out into bright flames. Two ravens fly
up from the rock and disappear in the background.)
(Brünnhilde notices her horse, which has just
been led in by two men.)
Grane, my steed, I greet thee, friend!

(She has sprung toward him, seizes and unbridles
him: then she bends affectionately toward him.)
Knowest thou now to whom
and whither I lead thee?
In fire radiant, lies there thy lord,
Siegfried, my hero blest.
To follow thy master, joyfully neighest thou?
Lures thee to him the light with its laughter?
Feel, too, my bosom, how it doth burn;
glowing flames now lay hold on my heart:
fast to enfold him, embraced by his arms,
in might of our loving with him aye made one!
Heiajoho! Grane! Greet thy Master!
(She has swung herself on the horse and urges it to
spring forward.)

Siegfried! Siegfried! See!
Blisfully Brünnhilde greets thee.

(She makes her horse leap into the burning pile of
logs. The flames immediately blaze up so that they fill
the whole space in front of the hall and appear to
seize on the building itself. The men and women
press to the front in terror.)

(As the whole space of the stage seems filled with
fire, the glow suddenly subsides, so that only a cloud
of smoke remains, which is drawn to the background,
and lies there on the horizon as a dark bank of cloud.
At the same time the Rhine overflows its banks in a
mighty flood which rolls over the fire. On the waves
the three Rhine daughters swim forward and now
appear on the place of the fire.)

Kirsten Flagstag was born on July 12, 1895 in Hamar, Norway, and she died on December 7, 1962 in Oslo, Norway. Flagstad’s father was a conductor, and her mother was a singing coach and pianist as well as her first teacher. She continued her studies in Oslo with Ellen Schyte-Jacobsen and in Stockholm with Dr. Gillis Bratt.

While still a student, Kirsten Flagstad made her début at the National Theater in Oslo in 1913 as Nuri in Eugen d’Albert’s Tiefland. For the next 18 years she sang exclusively in Scandinavia, performing in opera, operetta and musical comedy. Her first Isolde in Oslo in 1932 led to Bayreuth engagements in minor parts in 1933 and to roles as Sieglinde and Gutrune in 1934.

Later in 1934, Kirsten Flagstad turned her sights on North America and auditioned at the Metropolitan Opera to succeed the reigning Wagnerian soprano Frida Leider. Her unheralded Met début as Sieglinde, broadcast nationwide on February 2, 1935, created a sensation. Four days later, she sang Isolde, and later that month, she performed Brünhilde in Die Walküre and Die Götterdämmerung for the first time. Almost overnight she was regarded as the pre-eminent Wagnerian soprano of her generation. Later that season, Flagstad also sang Elsa, Elisabeth, and her first Kundry. Fidelio (1936) was her only non-Wagnerian role at the Met before the war. She sang the same repertory in San Francisco in 1935-1938 and in Chicago in 1937.

In 1936 and 1937 Kirsten Flagstad performed the roles of Isolde, Brünhilde and Senta at Covent Garden under Sir Thomas Beecham, Fritz Reiner and Wilhelm Furtwängler, arousing as much enthusiasm there as in New York. In 1941 she returned to Nazi-occupied Norway to join her second husband, whose collaboration with the Nazis led to his arrest after World War II. Although her own wartime record was free from controversy, her return to Norway during the war and a certain political naïvété on her part nature created much ill-feeling towards her, particularly in the USA.

During four consecutive Covent Garden seasons, from 1948 to 1951, Kirsten Flagstad repeated all her regular Wagnerian roles, including Kundry and Sieglinde. She returned to San Francisco in 1948 but was not invited back to the Metropolitan Opera until Sir Rudolph Bing became manager. In the 1950-1951 season, although she was well into her 50’s, Flagstad showed herself still in remarkable form as Isolde, Brünnhilde and Fidelio. Flagstad’s final role at the Metropolitan Opera was as Alceste in Gluck’s opera. Her final operatic performances were as Purcell’s Dido at the Mermaid Theatre in London in 1953. Flagstad continued to record and sing concerts, and was director of the Norwegian National Opera from 1958 to 1960.

The enduring purity, beauty and power of Kirsten Flagstad’s tone probably owed much, not only to natural gifts and sound training, but to the enforced repose of the war years and the fact that she had undertaken no heavy roles until middle life. Flagstad as regarded as an impeccable musician in matters of rhythm and intonation. While she was not the most dramatic or magnetic of Wagnerian heroines, no one within living memory surpassed her sheer beauty and consistency of line and tone. Of her many records, the complete Tristan und Isolde with Furtwängler undoubtedly offers the finest memorial to her interpretive art in its maturity. Her pre-war recordings, however, showcase her voice in its freshest brilliance and clarity.