I am not done with Die Walkürie yet. I honestly believe, even given all my hesitation about Wagner, that the aria that Wotan sings in Act III is one of the most beautiful arias ever written. So, I present it here to you. If you read the synopsis, you can see where it falls in the plot.

Then we come to who could really sing this. I have chosen Alexander Kipnis over a German bass/baritone because of the beauty of the singing. Lots of singers in this role squeeze their throats as much as possible to force the sound out. Kipnis does none of this. It is a lyrical, loud, highly resonant sound. And he was a Ukrainian Jew. When it comes to Wagner, things become complicated.

Synopsis for the confused (I assume that everyone is confused by Wagner)

ACT I
Pursued by enemies during a storm, Siegmund stumbles exhausted into an unfamiliar house. Sieglinde finds him lying by the hearth, and the two feel an immediate attraction. They are interrupted by Sieglinde’s husband, Hunding, who asks the stranger who he is. Calling himself “Woeful,” Siegmund tells of a disaster-filled life, only to learn that Hunding is a kinsman of his enemies. Hunding tells his guest they will fight to the death in the morning.

Alone, Siegmund calls on his father, Wälse, for the sword he once promised him. Sieglinde reappears, having given Hunding a sleeping potion. She tells of her wedding, at which a one-eyed stranger thrust into a tree a sword that has since resisted every effort to pull it out (“Die Männer Sippe”). Sieglinde confesses her unhappiness to Siegmund. He embraces her and promises to free her from her forced marriage to Hunding. As moonlight floods the room, Siegmund compares their feelings to the marriage of love and spring (“Winterstürme wichen dem Wonnemond”). Sieglinde addresses him as “Spring” but asks if his father was really “Wolf,” as he said earlier. When Siegmund gives his father’s name as Wälse instead, Sieglinde recognizes him as her twin brother. Siegmund pulls the sword from the tree and claims Sieglinde as his bride, rejoicing in the union of the Wälsungs.

ACT II
High in the mountains, Wotan, leader of the gods, tells his warrior daughter, the Valkyrie Brünnhilde, that she must defend his mortal son Siegmund in his upcoming battle with Hunding. She leaves joyfully to do what he has asked, as Fricka, Wotan’s wife and the goddess of marriage, appears. Fricka insists that Wotan must defend Hunding’s marriage rights against Siegmund. She ignores his argument that Siegmund could save the gods by winning back the Nibelung Alberich’s all-powerful ring from the dragon Fafner. When Wotan realizes he is caught in his own trap—he will lose his power if he does not enforce the law—he submits to his wife’s demands. After Fricka has left, the frustrated god tells the returning Brünnhilde about the theft of the Rhinegold and Alberich’s curse on it (“Als junger Liebe Lust mir verblich”). Brünnhilde is shocked to hear her father, his plans in ruins, order her to fight for Hunding.

Siegmund comforts his fearful bride and watches over her when she falls asleep. Brünnhilde appears to him as if in a vision, telling him he will soon die and go to Valhalla (“Siegmund! Sieh auf mich!”). He replies that he will not leave Sieglinde and threatens to kill himself and his bride if his sword has no power against Hunding. Moved by his steadfastness, Brünnhilde decides to defy Wotan and help Siegmund. Siegmund bids farewell to Sieglinde when he hears the approaching Hunding’s challenge. The two men fight and Siegmund is about to be victorious, when Wotan appears and shatters his sword, leaving him to be killed by Hunding. Brünnhilde escapes with Sieglinde and the broken sword. Wotan contemptuously kills Hunding with a wave of his hand and leaves to punish Brünnhilde for her disobedience.

ACT III
Brünnhilde’s eight warrior sisters—who have gathered on their mountaintop bearing slain heroes to Valhalla. They are surprised to see Brünnhilde arrive with a woman, Sieglinde. When they hear she is fleeing Wotan’s wrath, they are afraid to hide her. Sieglinde is numb with despair until Brünnhilde tells her she bears Siegmund’s child. Now eager to be saved, she takes the pieces of the sword from Brünnhilde, thanks her, and rushes off into the forest to hide from Wotan. When the god appears, he sentences Brünnhilde to become a mortal woman, silencing her sisters’ objections by threatening to do the same to them. Left alone with her father, Brünnhilde pleads that in disobeying his orders she was really doing what he wished. Wotan will not give in: she must lie in sleep, a prize for any man who finds her. She asks to be surrounded in sleep by a wall of fire that only the bravest hero can pierce. Both sense this hero must be the child that Sieglinde will bear. Sadly renouncing his daughter (“Leb’ wohl, du kühnes, herrliches Kind”), Wotan kisses Brünnhilde’s eyes with sleep and mortality before summoning Loge, the god of fire, to encircle the rock. As flames spring up, the departing Wotan invokes a spell defying anyone who fears his spear to brave the flames.

Wotan
Leb’ wohl, du kühnes, herrliches Kind!
Du meines Herzens heiligster Stolz!
Leb’ wohl! leb’ wohl! leb’ wohl!
(sehr leidenschaftlich) Muß ich dich meiden,
und darf nicht minnig
mein Gruß dich mehr grüßen;
sollst du nun nicht mehr neben mir reiten,
noch Meth beim Mahl mir reichen;
muß ich verlieren dich, die ich liebe,
du lachende Lust meines Auges:
ein bräutliches Feuer soll dir nun brennen,
wie nie einer Braut es gebrannt!
Flammende Gluth umglühe den Fels;
mit zehrenden Schrecken scheuch’ es den Zagen;
der Feige fliehe Brünnhildes Fels!
Denn Einer nur freie die Braut,
der freier als ich, der Gott!

(Brünnhilde sinkt, gerührt und begeistert, an
Wotans Brust: er hält sie lange umfangen.)
(Sie schlägt das Haupt wieder zurück und blickt,
immer noch ihn umfassend, feierlich ergriffen Wotan in das Auge.)

Der Augen leuchtendes Paar,
das oft ich lächelnd gekos’t,
wenn Kampfeslust ein Kuß dir lohnte,
wenn kindisch lallend der Helden Lob
von holden Lippen dir floß:
dieser Augen strahlendes Paar,
das oft im Sturm mir geglänzt,
wenn Hoffnungssehnen das Herz mir sengte,
nach Weltenwonne mein Wunsch verlangte,
aus wild webendem Bangen:
zum letzten Mal letz’ es mich heut’
mit des Lebewohles letztem Kuß!
Dem glücklichen Manne glänze sein Stern:
dem unseligen Ew’gen
muß es scheidend sich schließen.
(Er faßt ihr Haupt in beide Hände.)
Denn so kehrt der Gott sich dir ab,
so küßt er die Gottheit von dir!
(Er küßt sie lange auf die Augen. Sie sinkt mit
geschlossenen Augen, sanft ermattend, in seine Arme
zurück. Er geleitet sie zart auf einen niedrigen Mooshügel
zu liegen, über den sich eine breitästige Tanne ausstreckt.)

(Er betrachtet sie und schließt ihr den Helm: sein
Auge weilt dann auf der Gestalt der Schlafenden, die
er mit dem großen Stahlschilde der Walküren ganz
zudeckt. Langsam kehrt er sich ab, mit einem
schmerzlichen Blicke wendet er sich noch einmal um.)

(Er schreitet mit feierlichem Entschlusse in die
Mitte der Bühne und kehrt die Spitze seines Speeres
gegen einen mächtigen Felsstein.)
Loge hör’! lausche hieher!
Wie zuerst ich dich fand, als feurige Gluth,
wie dann einst du mir schwandest,
als schweifende Lohe;
wie ich dich band, bann’ ich dich heut’!
Herauf, wabernde Lohe,
umlod’re mir feurig den Fels!

(Er stößt mit dem Folgenden dreimal mit dem
Speer auf den Stein.)
Loge! Loge! hieher!
(Dem Stein entfährt ein Feuerstrahl, der zur all-
mäh lich immer helleren Flammenglut anschwillt.)
(Lichte Flackerlohe bricht aus.)
(Lichte Brunst umgiebt Wotan mit wildem
Flackern. Er weis’t mit dem Speere gebieterisch dem
Feuermeere den Umkreis des Felsenrandes zur
Strömung an; alsbald zieht es sich nach dem
Hintergrunde, wo es nun fortwährend den Bergsaum umlodert.)

Wer meines Speeres Spitze fürchtet
durchschreite das Feuer nie!

(Er streckt den Speer wie zum Banne aus. Er blickt
schmerzlich auf Brünnhilde zurück. Er wendet sich
langsam zum Gehen. Er wendet sich nochmals mit
dem Haupt und blickt zurück. Er verschwindet durch das Feuer.)

(Vorhang fällt.)

Wotan
Farewell, thou valiant, glorious child!
Thou once the holiest pride of my heart!
Farewell! farewell! farewell!
(very passionately) Must I forsake thee,
and may my welcome
of love no more greet thee;
may’st thou now ne’er more ride as my comrade,
nor bear me mead at banquet;
must I abandon thee, whom I loved so,
thou laughing delight of my eyes?
Such a bridal fire for thee shall be kindled
as ne’er yet has burned for a bride!
Threatening flames shall flare round the fell:
let withering terrors daunt the craven!
let cowards fly from Brünnhilde’s rock!
For one alone winneth the bride;
one freer than I, the god!

(Brünnhilde, deeply moved, sinks in ecstasy on
Wotan’s breast: he holds her in a long embrace.)
(She throws her head back again and, still
embracing Wotan, gazes with deep enthusiasm in his eyes.)

Thy brightly glittering eyes,
that, smiling, oft I caressed,
when valor won a kiss as guerdon,
when childish lispings of heroes’ praise
from sweetest lips has flowed forth:
those gleaming radiant eyes
that oft in storms on me shone,
when hopeless yearning my heart had wasted,
when world’s delights all my wishes wakened,
thro’ wild wildering sadness:
once more today, lured by their light,
my lips shall give them love’s farewell!
On mortal more blessed once may they beam:
on me, hapless immortal,
must they close now forever.
(He clasps her head in his hands.)
For so turns the god now from thee,
so kisses thy godhood away!
(He kisses her long on the eyes. She sinks back with
closed eyes, unconscious, in his arms. He gently bears
her to a low mossy mound, which is overshadowed
by a wide-spreading fir tree, and lays her upon it.)

(He looks upon her and closes her helmet: his eyes
then rest on the form of the sleeper, which he now
completely covers with the great steel shield of the
Valkyrie. He turns slowly away, then again turns
around with a sorrowful look.)

(He strides with solemn decision to the middle of
the stage and directs the point of his spear toward a
large rock.)
Loge, hear! List to my word!
As I found thee of old, a glimmering flame,
as from me thou didst vanish,
in wandering fire;
as once I stayed thee, stir I thee now!
Appear! come, waving fire,
and wind thee in flames round the fell!

(During the following he strikes the rock thrice
with his spear.)
Loge! Loge! appear!
(A flash of flame issues from the rock, which swells
to an ever-brightening fiery glow.)
(Flickering flames break forth.)

(Bright shooting flames surround Wotan. With his
spear he directs the sea of fire to encircle the rocks; it
presently spreads toward the background, where it
encloses the mountain in flames.)

He who my spear point’s sharpness feareth
shall cross not the flaming fire!

(He stretches out the spear as a spell. He gazes
sorrowfully back on Brünnhilde. Slowly he turns to
depart. He turns his head again and looks back. He
disappears through the fire.)

(The curtain falls.)

Background

Alexander Kipnis (February 13, 1891 – May 14, 1978) was a Ukrainian-born operatic bass. Having initially established his artistic reputation in Europe, Kipnis became an American citizen in 1931, following his marriage to an American. He appeared often at the Chicago Opera before making his belated début at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City in 1940.

Early life

Aleksandr Kipnis was born in Zhytomyr, the capital of the Volhynian Governorate, in the Russian Empire (now Ukraine). His impoverished family of seven lived in a Jewish ghetto. After his father died, when he was aged 12, he helped support the family as a carpenter’s apprentice and by singing soprano in local synagogues and in Bessarabia (now Moldova) until his voice changed. As a teenager he took part in a Yiddish theatrical group, until he entered the Warsaw Conservatory at age 19. On the recommendation of the choirmaster, he traveled to Berlin and studied voice with Ernst Grenzebach who was also a teacher of Lauritz Melchior, Meta Seinemeyer, and Max Lorenz.

When the First World War started, Kipnis was interned as an alien in a German holding camp. While singing to himself he was overheard by an army captain whose brother was general manager of the Wiesbaden Opera. Kipnis was released from custody and he was engaged by the Hamburg Opera. He made his operatic debut in 1915, singing three Johann Strauss songs as a “guest” in the party scene of the operetta Die Fledermaus. In 1917, he moved to the Wiesbaden Opera, having gained invaluable stage experience. He sang in more than 300 performances at Wiesbaden until 1922, when he joined the Berlin Staatsoper

International career

The following year Kipnis visited the United States with a touring Wagnerian company. For nine seasons, between 1923 and 1932, he was on the roster of the Chicago Civic Opera. In 1927, at the Bayreuth Festival, he appeared as Gurnemanz in Wagner’s Parsifal under Karl Muck and recorded the Good Friday Music under Siegfried Wagner. He also appeared at the Salzburg Festival.

Kipnis was under contract with the Berlin Opera until 1935, when he was able to break his contract and flee Nazi Germany. He appeared for three seasons as a guest performer with the Vienna State Opera in 1936–1938. Just after the Anschluss, he left Europe and settled permanently in the United States. By the time he was finally signed by the Metropolitan in 1940 he had appeared in most of the world’s major opera houses.

Kipnis was regarded throughout the inter-war years as being one of the greatest basses in the world. He was praised for the beauty of his smooth and mellow voice and the excellence of his musicianship.

Kipnis showed signs of vocal deterioration during the 1940s, and he retired from the Met in 1946. He made his last concert appearance in 1951. Since his debut in 1915, he had sung at least 108 roles, often in more than one language, and his performances in opera and oratorio numbered more than 1,600. He died in Westport, Connecticut in 1978, aged 87.

Richard Wagner
(1813–1883)

Richard Wagner is best known for creating several complex operas, including ‘Tristan and Isolde’ and ‘Ring Cycle,’ as well as for his anti-semitic writings.

Who Was Richard Wagner?

Richard Wagner was one of the world’s most influential — and controversial — composers. He is famous for both his epic operas, including the four-part, 18-hour Ring Cycle, as well as for his anti-semitic writings, which, posthumously, made him a favorite of Adolf Hitler. There is evidence that Wagner’s music was played at the Dachau concentration camp to “re-educate” the prisoners. Wagner had a tumultuous love life, which involved several scandalous affairs. He died of a heart attack in Venice on February 13, 1883.

Early Life

Wilhelm Richard Wagner was born on May 22, 1813, in Leipzig, Germany. Wagner’s parentage is uncertain: He is either the son of police actuary Friedrich Wagner, who died soon after Richard was born, or the son of the man he called his stepfather, the painter, actor and poet Ludwig Geyer (whom his mother married in August 1814).

As a young boy, Wagner attended school in Dresden, Germany. He did not show aptitude in music and, in fact, his teacher said he would “torture the piano in a most abominable fashion.” But he was ambitious from a young age. When he was 11 years old, he wrote his first drama. By age 16, he was writing musical compositions. Young Wagner was so confident that some people considered him conceited.

The New York Times would later write in its obituary of the famous composer, “In the face of mortifying failures and discouragements, he apparently never lost confidence in himself.”

Acclaimed Works

Wagner attended Leipzig University in 1831, and his first symphony was performed in 1833. He was inspired by Ludwig van Beethoven and, in particular, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, which Wagner called “that mystic source of my highest ecstasies.” The following year, in 1834, Wagner joined the Würzburg Theater as chorus master, and wrote the text and music of his first opera, Die Feen (The Fairies), which was not staged.

In 1836, Wagner married the singer and actress Minna Planer. The couple soon moved to Königsberg, where Wagner took the position of musical director at the Magdeburg Theatre. There, also in 1836, Das Liebesverbot was produced, with Wagner writing both the lyrics and the music. He called his concept “Gesamtkunstwerk” (total work of art) — a method, which he frequently used, of weaving German myths with larger themes about love and redemption.

After moving to Riga, Russia, in 1837, Wagner became the first musical director of the theater and began work on his next opera, Rienzi. Before finishing Rienzi, Wagner and Minna left Riga, fleeing creditors, in 1839. They hopped on a ship to London and then made their way to Paris, where Wagner was forced to take whatever work he could find, including writing vaudeville music for small theaters. Wagner was part of the quasi-revolutionary “Young Germany” movement, and his leftist politics were reflected in Rienzi; unable to produce Rienzi in Paris, he sent the score to the Court Theatre in Dresden, Germany, where it was accepted. In 1842, Wagner’s Rienzi, a political opera set in imperial Rome, premiered in Dresden to great acclaim.

The following year, The Flying Dutchman was produced to critical acclaim. Considered a great talent by this time, Wagner was given the Prussian order of the Red Eagle and appointed director of the Dresden Opera. In 1845, Wagner completed Tannhäuser and began working on Lohengrin. In 1848, while preparing for a production of Lohengrin in Dresden, the revolutionary outbreak in Saxony occurred and Wagner, who had always been politically vocal, fled to Zurich.

Unable to enter Germany for the next 11 years due to his political stances, Wagner wrote the notoriously anti-semitic Jewishness in Music, as well as other criticisms against Jews, composers, conductors, authors and critics. He also wrote Opera and Drama and began developing what would become his famous Ring Cycle, which consisted of four separate operas tied together by leitmotifs, or recurring musical themes which link plot elements.

The Ring Cycle was ahead of its time in that it combined literature, visual elements and music in a way that would anticipate the future of film. Film composers, including John Williams, were inspired by Wagner’s use of leitmotifs. His work would later influence modern film scores, including those of the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings film series.

After meeting and falling in love with Mathilde Wesendonck, the wife of Otto Wesendonck, Wagner was inspired to write Tristan and Isolde. His interest in Wesendonck, coupled with other events in his life, eventually led to his separation with his wife, Minna.

In 1862, Wagner was finally able to return to Germany. King Ludwig II, a fan of Wagner’s work, invited Wagner to settle in Bavaria, near Munich, and supported him financially. Wagner didn’t stay long in Bavaria, once it was discovered that he was having an affair with Cosima, the wife of the conductor Hans van Bülow, and Franz Liszt’s illegitimate daughter. Bülow, who apparently condoned the affair, directed Tristan and Isolde in 1865. Wagner and Cosima had two children together before finally marrying in 1870.

The first two operas of The Ring Cycle, Das Rheingold and Die Walküre, were presented in Munich in 1869 and 1870. The Ring Cycle was finally performed in its entirely—all 18 hours—in 1876. Wagner completed his last opera, Parsifal, in January 1882, and it was performed at the Bayreuth Festival that same year.

Death and Legacy

Wagner died of a heart attack on February 13, 1883, at age 69, while vacationing in Venice, Italy for the winter. His body was shipped by gondola and train back to Bayreuth, where he was buried.

In the 20th century, Hitler was a fan of Wagner’s music and writings, only making Wagner’s legacy more controversial.

New York Times writer Anthony Tommasini wrote of Wagner in 2005: “How did such sublime music come from such a warped man? Maybe art really does have the power to ferret out the best in us.”

Citation Information
Article Title
Richard Wagner Biography

Author
Biography.com Editors

Website Name
The Biography.com website

URL
https://www.biography.com/musician/richard-wagner

Access Date
March 24, 2021

Publisher
A&E Television Networks