Das Rheingold

Original Title: The Rape of the Rhinegold
Prologue in One Act to Der Ring des Nibelungen
Libretto by the composer
Time: Legendary
Place: The Rhine, and surrounding country
First performed in Munich, 22 September 1869


Wotan, ruler of the Gods (baritone)
Donner, God of Thunder (baritone)
Froh, God of the Rainbow (tenor)
Loge, Demi-god of Fire (tenor)


Fricka, Goddess of Marriage (mezzo-soprano)
Freia, Goddess of Youth and Love (soprano)
Erda, Goddess of the Earth (contralto)


Woglinde (soprano)
Wellgunde (mezzo-soprano)
Floßhilde (contralto)


Alberich, King of the Nibelungs (bass-baritone)
Mime, brother of Alberich (tenor)


Fasolt (bass)
Fafner (bass)


Though its music is continuous throughout, Das Rheingold is in four scenes. A good third of the more than ninety motifs which are embedded in the musical texture of The Ring are contained within this prologue of an opera. The first scene is set in the Rhine, the primordial depths of the mighty river being portrayed by the orchestra's double basses with a long sustained E-flat at the bottom of their range, a note on which is built a chord of E-flat major as horns and bassoons join in. Slowly a flowing rhythm is built up in the entire orchestra, denoting the calm, majestic course of the river. Towards the end of this remarkable orchestral prelude of 136 bars based on a gently flowing nature motif, the curtain rises on the depths of the Rhine. Steep rocks arise from the bed of the river, above which the flowing water can be discerned through a greenish twilight. Three mer-maids or Rhinemaidens, Woglinde, Wellgunde and Floßhilde, guardians of the Rhinegold, can be seen swim-ming playfully around the rocks, engaged in carefree banter with one another. The gold cannot as yet be glimpsed in the dim light of pre-dawn, but Floßhilde warns her sisters that they must take more seriously their task of guarding it.

The frolicsome games of the water-nymphs are interrupted by the gruff voice of the Nibelung, Alberich, arising from the depths. (The Nibelungs are a race of ugly dwarfs who live underground in the realm of Nibelheim, beneath the Rhine.) The hideous Alberich hopes to seduce one or more of the Rhinemaidens, but his advances are met with mocking laughter. Again it is Floßhilde who reminds her sisters that they have been warned to be on their guard against such a foe, but even she joins with them in teasing the strange creature whose flattering words cause the nymphs such amusement.

When Alberich exclaims that his arms would love to enfold one of their slim forms, Floßhilde is relieved. 'Now I can laugh at my fears, for our foe is in love,' she tells her sisters. Woglinde swims down to Alberich who, out of his element in water, is having difficulty in clambering up the rock face. She teases him by eluding his grasp whenever he thinks he has caught her. Next, Wellgunde calls to him, and Alberich turns his attention to her, only to be told, when he gets close to her, that he is a hairy, hump-backed horrid, black, scaly dwarf with whom she will have nothing to do. Floßhilde in turn murmurs caressingly to Alberich in phrases of a convincingly seductive quality, and the Nibelung exchanges tender words of love with her. He realizes he is being mocked again only when Floßhilde professes to be enamored of what she calls his toad-like form and croaking voice. Driven to a frenzy by their taunts, Alberich lusts after the Rhinemaidens even more strongly. As he stares up from below, wondering how to seize any one of them, his attention is suddenly diverted by the sun breaking through the waters, revealing at the top of the highest rock a dazzlingly bright gleam of gold. and the orchestra enunciates the motif of the Rhinegold in a brilliant flourish of trumpets. The Rhinemaidens greet the sight of their gold, singing a beautiful and rapturous trio as they swim around it. When Alberich asks them what it is that gleams so brightly, he is mocked again for being so uncouth as never to have heard of the Rhinegold.

The Rhinemaidens communicate their delight in the gold, at which Alberich retorts that, if it is merely something for them to play with, it is of no interest to him. Incautiously, the nymphs now reveal the wonders of the gold. Wellgunde informs Alberich that the man who could fashion a ring from the gold would win for himself the entire wealth of the world. Here, softly in the woodwind, an adumbration of the ring motif is heard. Floßhilde reminds her sisters that they have a duty to guard the treasure, and not to chatter about it, but Wellgunde points out that the gold is perfectly safe, since only he who forswears the delights of love can attain the magic power to fashion a ring from it. Since everything that lives desires love, no one would forswear it. 'Least of all that lascivious gnome there,' cries Woglinde, and the Rhinemaidens yet again pour their scornful laughter upon Alberich.

The dwarf, however, having been so brutally rejected by the three Rhinemaidens. is not only ready but eager to renounce love if by doing so he can achieve power instead. As he clambers up the side of the rock, the nymphs at first think that he has merely gone mad with lust, but when Alberich reaches the summit he stretches out his arm towards the gold, shouting a curse upon love as he does so. Seizing the treasure, he disappears into the depths with it as the Rhinemaidens lament their loss. Darkness descends, and the scene begins to change, the waves of the Rhine appearing to alter gradually to a cloud formation veiled in mist. The motif of renunciation of love at first predominates in the orchestra, giving way to a confident statement of the ring motif.

The mist slowly disperses to reveal the new scene, an open space on top of a mountain. Lying on a flowery bank, sleeping, are the god Wotan and his consort, Fricka. In the background, a castle with gleaming battlements stands on a rocky peak. Between it and the foreground there runs a deep valley through which the river Rhine flows. As the orchestra's trombones and tuba, with an occasional trumpet fanfare, sound the noble, stately motif of Valhalla, home of the gods, Fricka suddenly emerges from slumber. Seeing for the first time the castle, Valhalla, which has just been built for the gods by the giants Fasolt and Fafner, she calls on Wotan to awaken.

Still dreaming, Wotan murmurs in his sleep of the mighty edifice he has commissioned. Awakening, he gazes with joy and pride at the distant castle, 'Vollendet das ewige Werk' (The everlasting work is completed), he exclaims in an exultant arioso. 'Resplendently soaring above the mountain peak, the stronghold of the gods now stands. A sublime, superb structure, just as my dreams desired it and my will directed it.' But Fricka reminds him of the bitter price to be paid for the castle, upbraiding him for having agreed to reward the giants by giving them Fricka's lovely sister Freia, goddess of youth. Here, as throughout the entire Ring, the appropriate motif is heard in the orchestra, this one a theme to be associated with the concept of the treaty.

Fricka accuses Wotan of being willing to sacrifice anything and anyone in his thirst for power, but Wotan asks Fricka if she had been entirely free from that same thirst when she begged him to build such a stronghold. Fricka is forced to admit that she desired Valhalla as a means of keeping Wotan at home instead of wandering through the world in search of adventure. Wotan, however, has turned what she envisaged as a domestic refuge into a castle with battlements, a seat of power. Wotan's reply is that, even though she might wish to keep him in the castle, Fricka must surely realize that his will to influence the world would still be active. 'All who live', he tells her, 'love to roam and to find variety. I cannot change my nature.'

In answer to Fricka's charge that he is willing to barter a loving woman for a mere symbol of might and dominion, Wotan replies that he has great love and respect for women. Did he not sacrifice one of his eyes as a pledge when he wooed Fricka? She is not to fear now, for he has never had the slightest intention of yielding Freia up to the giants. 'Then protect her now,' Fricka demands, as the tempo quickens and the orchestra sounds a note of urgency, 'for here she comes, hurrying to you for help, defenseless and frightened.' And indeed Freia now rashes in, exclaiming that the giant Fasolt is pursuing her, determined to bear her away with him. A first suggestion of the giants' motif appears in the orchestra.

Wotan asks Fricka if she has seen Loge, god of fire and deceit, on whom he is apparently relying to find a way of extricating himself from the bargain he has made. Fricka is dismayed to hear that Wotan still trusts the god, whom she refers to as a trickster, who has deceived him so often in the past. His dignity affronted, Wotan points out that he has never had to seek help from anyone where simple courage is required. But when craft and cunning are necessary, Loge is the ideal person to give advice. Loge had suggested that Wotan should promise Freia to the giants in return for their building Valhalla, and had assured Wotan that, when the time came, he would find a way out of the bargain. 'And he has let you down,' Fricka exclaims, 'for here come the giants. Where is your crafty helper now?'

Freia calls unavailingly upon her brother gods, Donner and Froh, to come to her aid, since her brother-in-law Wotan appears to have abandoned her, but neither of these gods appears and Fricka unhelpfully comments that all of those who had betrayed Freia have now gone to ground. Accompanied by their appropriately heavy, clumsy but menacing motif, the two giants now arrive upon the scene. Fasolt, as spokesman for the building firm of Fasolt and Fafner, points out that, while the gods were wrapped in slumber, he and his brother had toiled untiringly to build the massive fortress Wotan had commissioned. Valhalla is now completed, and it is time to pay. When Wotan disingenuously asks them to name their fee, Fasolt reminds him that it has already been agreed. They have come now to take Freia home with them.

'Has this contract made you crazy?' Wotan asks. 'Think of some other fee, for Freia is not for sale.' Fasolt warns Wotan against treachery, pointing to the marks of solemn treaty on the god's spear, while his more brutish and quick-tempered brother, Fafner, exclaims that they have been swindled. Fasolt, the more philosophical of the two giants, attempts to reason with Wotan. 'Your power', he explains to the god, 'is limited and well-defined. You are what you are only by the strength and surety of your contracts. You have more wisdom than we, but I will curse your wisdom and defy you if you do not know how to honor an agreement. A stupid giant thus advises you, Oh wise one. You would do well to heed him.'

Wotan now accuses the giants of having pretended to take in earnest what he had proposed only as a jest. 'Of what use is this lovely goddess to you louts?', he sneers. Fasolt adopts an aggrieved tone in response to this, but Fafner takes a stronger line. Freia may not be worth much to the giants, he admits, but her absence will certainly injure the gods, for it is only by eating the golden apples which Freia alone can provide that they are endowed with eternal youth. Deprived of the apples, the gods will grow old and weak. Murmuring to himself that he wished Loge would hurry up and arrive, Wotan brusquely orders the giants to think of another fee. They, however, are adamant. 'No fee but Freia,' Fasolt insists, as he and Fafner move towards her.

Froh and Donner now enter in haste, Donner wielding his hammer, warning the giants to leave Freia alone. Violence is averted only when Wotan reminds Donner, and himself as well, that his spear gives protection to the pact. Free now feels completely forsaken, and Froh rails at Woman's cruelty, when suddenly the arrival of Loge (tenor), to music representing his magic fire, alters the situation. Loge has examined the fortress, and assures Wotan that it has been well and sturdily constructed by the giants. This is not what Wotan wishes to hear. He reminds Loge that he, Wotan, is his only friend among the gods, the rest of whom distrust him. Loge had advised Wotan to agree to the giants' request for Free by way of fee, and had assured him that, when the time to pay came, he, Loge, would find a way out of the bargain.

Loge denies that he made any such promise. He had merely agreed to give the most serious thought to the question of how to evade payment. The other gods now make their disgust with Loge quite clear, but Wotan counsels patience, for he knows that Loge's advice is all the more valuable when he delays in giving it. The crafty god of fire and deceit explains that he has not been idle, but has been searching throughout the world to find something which the giants might find preferable to the beauty of Freia. Wherever there was life, in the elements of water, earth and air, he had asked what might be prized above the delight and beauty of woman. A gentleness and warmth steal into the music at Loge's first mention of 'Woman's delight and worth'.

Everywhere, Loge's question was derided. But he did, at last, hear of one human being who had forsworn love and thus cared nothing for 'Weibes Wonne und Wert'. (Here the orchestra offers the Rhinegold motif in a minor key, followed by the renunciation motif.) The Rhinemaidens had told Loge their sad tale of how AIberich had robbed them of the Rhinegold, which he prized above the love of women, and Loge had promised them that he would pass on to Wotan their appeal to the god to help them recover the gold and restore it to its rightful place in the Rhine. 'You are mad, as well as malicious,' Wotan tells Loge. 'You see what trouble I am in, myself. How can I possibly help others?'

Fasolt and Fafner are interested to hear of this gold, for Alberich has often harmed them - they do not specify exactly how - and they are curious to know precisely why the gold is of value to him. Loge reveals that, although to the Rhinemaidens it is no more than a toy, if it were fashioned into a ring it would bestow supreme power upon its owner.

At this, even Wotan begins to be interested in the gold, and Fricka inquires if it would serve equally well as an adornment for women. Loge tells her that a wife could ensure her husband's fidelity if she wore the jewels which already the Nibelungs are forging from the gold. But he explains that the knowledge to fashion a ring depends upon the renunciation of love.

Hearing this, Wotan turns away in ill-temper, but Loge continues his line of thought. He points out that neither Wotan nor Fricka would have been likely to renounce love, and in any case they arc too late. Alberich has already done so, and now he has the ring. However, since the ring has been forged by the loveless Alberich, it can be easily won now without one's having to curse love. When Wotan asks how, Loge answers, 'By theft.' His suggestion is that what a thief stole should simply be stolen from the thief. 'How can possessions be more easily acquired?' he asks, cynically.

Loge warns Wotan that Alberich is full of guile, and that any plan to wrest the ring from him would have to be very carefully worked out if the gold is to be returned to the Rhinemaidens. However, Wotan repeats that the Rhinemaidens are no concern of his, and Fricka, speaking as the guardian of wedlock, adds that she wishes to know nothing of that watery brood, for they have, to her sorrow, lured many a man away with their seductive sport. As Wotan now considers how best to act in the light of what he has learned from Loge, the other gods fix their eyes on him in mute suspense. Meanwhile Fafner, who has been conferring quietly with Fasolt, has come to the conclusion that the Rhinegold is more desirable than Freia. He tells Wotan that he and Fasolt will be satisfied to have the Nibelung's gold in payment, instead of Freia.

In exasperation, Wotan asks how he can give them what he does not possess, but Fafner merely informs Wotan that he and Fasolt will depart with Freia now, and return that evening with her. If the gold is not waiting for them, however, they will leave again, taking Freia with them forever. Fasolt and Fafner now leave, dragging the helpless Freia after them, while Loge, aided by the orchestra's descriptive account of their journey, narrates the giants' swift progress down to the valley, through the ford across the Rhine, to the boundary of the giants' domain, Riesenheim. A pale mist, which is gradually becoming more dense, has begun to fill the stage. Pausing in his narrative, Loge glances at his fellow gods, only to find that they have already begun to droop, the bloom fading from their cheeks and the light from their eyes. Freia's absence is, it seems, having an immediate effect. Loge realizes that this is due to the fact that the gods had not that day eaten Freia's apples, which are even now beginning to wither on the branches of the trees. Her absence hardly affects Loge, for he has always depended less on Freia and her apples, being only half as godlike as the others. But without her, he warns Wotan, the race of gods will die.

Roused to action, Wotan decides to descend immediately to Nibelheim, with Loge as his guide and counsel. Brushing aside Loge's question as to what the Rhinemaidens are to be told, he makes it clear that the return of Freia is what immediately concerns him. When Loge asks if they will take the route through the Rhine to Nibelheim, Wotan replies guiltily, 'Not through the Rhine.' He and Loge begin to descend through a sulphurous cleft in the rocks, Wotan assuring the other gods that they will be back by evening with the gold.

The sulphurous vapor issuing from the rocks now spreads over the entire scene, until the gods are lost from view. Wagner's stage direction requires a black cloud to arise from below, soon to clear and reveal a rocky chasm which continues to rise so that the theatre seems to be gradually sinking into the earth. The orchestra describes at length the journey of Wotan and Loge as they travel down into the lowest regions, the music at first taking on a hammering rhythm which represents the incessant toil of the Nibelungs as they slave to pile up treasure for Alberich. Soon the orchestra gives way to the sound of eighteen tuned anvils tapping out their incessant rhythm. As the clang of the anvils dies away, a subterranean chasm appears which fills the entire stage and seems to open into narrow clefts on all sides. This is Nibelheim.

Alberich enters, dragging his brother, the dwarf Mime, from a side cleft. Mime has been given the task of forging from the gold a Tarnhelm, or magic piece of headwear which will enable its wearer either to become invisible or to assume any shape he desires. Alberich berates his brother for not having yet completed his task, and the cringing Mime, who has actually finished making the Tarnhelm, which he was planning to keep for himself, is now forced to relinquish it. Seizing the Tarnhelm, Alberich puts it on his head and, as the orchestra's muted horns sound an appropriately mysterious motif, makes himself invisible and begins to give Mime a beating. After exulting in his new-found power, and gloating over the fact that his fellow Nibelungs are now his slaves forever, Alberich departs.

Wotan and Loge enter to find Mime lying among the rocks, groaning with pain. Loge greets Mime gaily. 'Hey, Mime, you merry dwarf. what is it that torments you so?' he asks. He and Wotan listen, amused, as Mime complains to them of the treatment he has received from Alberich. The Nibelungs, Mime tells them, used to be a race of carefree smiths, creating ornaments and trinkets for their women, and forever laughing as they went about their work.

Now, having cunningly wrought a ring for himself from the Rhinegold, Alberich has forced the other Nibelungs to toil for him alone. He, Mime, had been given the most difficult task of all: that of forging a magic helmet under Alberich's detailed instructions. Mime freely admits to Wotan and Loge that it had been his intention to keep the helmet, use it to snatch the ring from Alberich, and thus become his brother's master instead of his slave.

When Loge asks what went wrong, Mime describes how he was outwitted by Alberich's superior cunning, and Loge assures Mime that he and Wotan will help him to free the Nibelungs from their misery. Alberich, now visible again, returns brandishing a whip and driving before him a crowd of Nibelungs laden with gold and silver handiwork which they heap together to form a large pile. Alberich, who has removed the Tarnhelm from his head and wears it hanging from his belt, shouts abuse at Mime and the other Nibelungs, threatening them with dire punishment if they do not keep at work to increase his wealth. Suddenly catching sight of Wotan and Loge, Alberich castigates Mime for having wasted his time chattering to a pair of tramps. Drawing the ring from his finger, he kisses it and holds it forth threateningly. 'Tremble with terror, abject throng, and obey the Lord of the Ring,' he orders Mime and the crowd of Nibelungs, who scuttle away in fear of him. As they run off, howling and shrieking, the orchestral sound reaches a fearsome climax.

Alberich demands to know what Wotan and Loge are doing in Nibelheim, and Wotan assures him that they have come to marvel at the great wonders of which they have heard. Alberich is suspicious, and is by no means won over by Loge's reminding him that, as god of fire, he has been of use in keeping Nibelheim's forges working. But slowly the dwarf is cajoled into boasting of the treasure he is hoarding, At this point the motif of the hoard, rising sequences on bassoons and bass clarinet, is heard for the first time. Loge cunningly remarks that he is impressed by the power of the ring which Alberich wears, but what would happen if it were to be stolen from him in his sleep? Alberich shows him the Tarnhelm and describes its magical properties, at which Loge expresses his skepticism, Alberich is easily persuaded to give a demonstration. Placing the Tarnhelm on his head, he utters the correct words and is instantly transformed into a giant serpent, while the tubas growl an appropriate motif.

Loge pretends to be terrified of the serpent but, when Alberich resumes his usual form, the wily god says that what would be really impressive, and most useful in escaping danger, would be to change oneself into something very tiny which could hide in a crevice. 'Nothing simpler,' replies Alberich, who immediately turns himself into a toad. 'Seize it quickly,' Loge instructs Wotan, who puts his foot on the toad. Loge grabs the Tarnhelm, and suddenly the gods have a squirming Alberich in their clutches. Binding him tightly, they begin their journey back to the earth's surface, dragging their prisoner with them.

The scene changes as before, but this time in reverse order, and the orchestra again describes the journey. The ring motif fades from a deafening fortissimo to a delicate piano, to be followed by the renunciation motif. The anvils are heard for a few bars as the way up to the outer world passes close by the forges where the Nibelungs are toiling. Later, the measured tread of the giants suggests that the arrival of Fasolt and Fafner is imminent or that they are at least in the minds of two of the travelers as they approach the surface of the earth. Other motifs, among them those of Valhalla and of Loge, are passed in review. At last, the landscape of the second scene reveals itself to view, shrouded in the pale mist which had descended upon it after the departure of Freia.

Wotan and Loge emerge from a chasm, dragging Alberich with them. Loge taunts the Nibelung, who responds with curses, while Wotan makes it clear to him that, if he is to be set free, he will have to pay a ransom: the Rhinegold and the hoard of treasure which has been increasing as the Nibelung slaves extract more and more of it from the earth. Alberich denounces the gods as a ravenous gang of thieves, but murmurs to himself that as long as he retains the ring he can bear to lose the treasure, for he will be able to amass it anew, and increase it. He will have learned a useful, if painful lesson from this temporary setback. 'Will you yield the treasure?' asks Wotan. Alberich agrees. 'Loosen my hand, and I'll summon it here,' he replies.

When Loge unties the rope from his fight hand, Alberich kisses the ring and murmurs a command. He then tells Wotan that he has sent for the gold, and demands to be set free. 'Not until it has all been paid,' is the god's reply. Miraculously, within seconds the Nibelungs begin to emerge from the cleft in the rocks, laden with the gold which they pile up on the ground, while Alberich mutters of his shame that his slaves should see him captured and bound. 'Set the gold down there,' he orders them angrily. 'Don't look over here. Get back to work quickly when you've brought all the gold up, and don't let me catch you idling when I return.' After the gold has all been piled up, Alberich kisses the ring again, and holds it out menacingly. At this gesture, the Nibelungs shriek with terror and rush back into the cleft, accompanied by the orchestral climax with which they had been dispersed by Alberich in the previous scene.

Now that his ransom has been paid, Alberich asks Loge to give him back the Tarnhelm, but the wily god replies that this is part of the treasure, and tosses it on top of the piled-up gold. Alberich calls Loge a thief once again, but consoles himself with the thought that Mime can always be compelled to make another Tarnhelm. He now demands to be allowed to go. 'Are you satisfied?' Loge asks Wotan. 'Shall I set him free?' But Wotan has decided that the ring on Alberich's finger ought also to be part of the hoard, and he now insists on having it. 'Take my life, but not the ring,' Alberich cries in despair, to which Wotan answers chidingly, 'I require the ring. You may do what you like with your life.'

Alberich insists that his life is no more precious to him than the ring, but Wotan accuses him of having stolen from the Rhine the gold from which the ring was made. The dwarf, in turn, accuses Wotan of the basest hypocrisy. 'How gladly you yourself would have robbed the Rhine of its gold if you had possessed the power to forge a ring from it,' he observes bitterly, The argument is cut short by Wotan who, while Alberich is still bound, seizes him and pulls the ring from his finger. 'Now', Wotan exclaims, 'I possess what will make me the most powerful lord of all.' Loge sets Alberich free, dismissing him contemptuously: 'Slink off home. Nothing prevents you. You're free to go.'

Before leaving, Alberich indulges himself in a final outburst of hatred and rage. 'Am I now free, really free?' he asks bitterly. 'Then let me give you my freedom's first greeting.' Since the ring had come to him as a result of his cursing love, so now he curses the ring. 'May its magic bring death to all who wear it. Whoever owns it shall be consumed with care, and whoever does not shall be a prey to envy. All shall desire to possess it, but none shall find pleasure in it. Its owner shall guard it to no avail, for through it he shall meet his executioner!' In Alberich's outburst, two new motifs are heard: a syncopated phrase on cellos, horn and clarinets to represent the Nibelung's hatred, and the curse motif, first sung by Alberich to the words 'As it came to me by a curse, so shall this ring be accursed.'

As Alberich scuttles away, the mist which has lain over the mountaintop begins to clear, and Loge observes that Fasolt and Fafner are approaching with Freia. Through the dispersing mist, Donner, Froh and Fricka appear, Fricka anxiously inquiring of Wotan whether he brings good news. 'By both craft and brute force we carried out our task,' Loge replies. 'There lies what will give Freia her freedom,' he tells Fricka, gesturing towards the gold. Fasolt and Fafner now enter with Freia, and Fricka hastens to her sister, only to be restrained by Fasolt, who will not allow Freia to be touched until he and his brother have received their payment. It is only with the greatest reluctance that Fasolt has agreed to return Freia. To be deprived of her, he asserts, will cause him such pain that, if she is to be banished from his mind, the hoard of gold will have to be heaped so high that it hides her completely from his sight. With the return of Freia, the mountaintop has become completely bright again, and the aspect of the gods has regained its former freshness. However, a misty veil still hovers over the background, obscuring the distant castle, Valhalla. The two giants now stick their staffs into the ground on either side of Freia, so that they give the measure of her height and breadth, and Logo and Froh hastily pile up the treasure between the staffs. Fafner complains that they are stacking it too loosely, and keeps finding crevices which he insists must all be filled. Wotan expresses to himself his awareness of the shame and disgrace he has brought on the gods, which Fricka is, in any case, not slow to point out to him. Finally, Loge announces that all the gold has been piled up. Fafner, however, is not satisfied. He can still see Freia's hair through a chink, and demands that the Tarnhelm be used to stop it up. Loge obliges, but it is now Fasolt's turn to register his dissatisfaction. He can still see Freia's lovely eyes through a crack in the pile of gold. Loge assures him that there is no more gold to give them, but Fafner points to the ring glistening on Wotan's finger.

Loge attempts to convince the giants that the ring belongs to the Rhinemaidens, to whom Wotan is going to return it. Wotan, however, ruins this story by exclaiming that he has no intention of relinquishing the ring. Despite the entreaties of Freia and Fricka, and even Froh and Donner, who exhort him to give up the ring, Wotan is adamant. Fasolt is about to drag Freia away when suddenly the scene darkens, and his brother restrains him. From a rocky cleft in the ground a bluish light breaks forth, in which Erda, the earth goddess, becomes suddenly visible. Erda half emerges from the cleft, stretching a hand warningly towards Wotan. 'Yield, Wotan, yield!' she commands. 'Avoid the curse of the ring. Its possession dooms you irredeemably to utter destruction.'

When Wotan angrily asks who this threatening woman can be, Erda identifies herself. She knows past, present and future. She is the primeval ancestress of the eternal world, whose three daughters, the Norns, were conceived before time began. She has appeared now because of the danger which threatens the world unless Wotan returns the ring to its rightful owners.

Erda's warning makes use of the Rhine motif which was first heard in the opera's prelude. The theme is inverted to become the motif of the twilight of the gods as she mentions the dark day which will dawn for them if she is not heeded. Ignoring Wotan's request that she reveal more, Erda sinks into the earth and disappears as the angry god attempts to detain her. Froh and Fricka with difficulty restrain him, while Donner calls to the impatient giants to wait and be paid. All now look attentively at Wotan, who at length emerges from deep thought to exclaim decisively, 'You are freed, Freia. Come back and restore our youth to us. Giants, take your ring.' He throws the ring on the hoard, and the giants release Freia, who hastens joyfully to the embrace of her fellow gods.

As the giants set about gathering up their gold, a dispute breaks out between them. Fasolt demands his fair share, while Fafner maintains that his brother, having cared more for Freia than for the gold, deserves less. Fasolt appeals to Wotan to adjudicate, but the god turns away contemptuously from them both. Logo advises Fasolt to let his brother have the rest of the gold, but to hold on to the ring. Fasolt duly seizes the ring, whereupon a fight ensues which ends with Fafner clubbing Fasolt to death. Fafner then retrieves the ring and calmly resumes packing the hoard, which he drags down the mountainside as the gods watch, horrified. Wotan admits to himself the power of Alberich's curse as its motif sounds in the orchestra.

Wotan expresses a desire to seek out Erda, in order to learn how to dispel the anxiety which threatens to envelop him. He is instead persuaded by Fricka to lead the gods into their new home, Valhalla, although he observes that he has paid for its construction with unclean money. In a stirring passage, Donner calls upon his thunder and lightning to clear the sky, and as he swings his hammer the mist rises to reveal to reveal a rainbow bridge stretching across the Rhine to the castle, which now gleams resplendently in the sunset. The orchestra paints the serene beauty of the rainbow, and the bridge is described lyrically by Froh. Wotan snatches up a sword which had formed part of the treasure but had been unaccountably left behind by Fafner, and sings in praise of the beauty and splendor of Valhalla ('Abendlich strahlt die Sonne Auge': The sun's eye gleams in evening light) while, at the climax, there is heard on the trumpet the sword motif, which will later be associated with the hero on whom the gods will depend for their salvation. Wotan now leads Fricka, Freia, Donner and Froh across the bridge in slow procession to the castle.

Only Loge tarries behind. He considers that the gods are hastening to their end, and is half inclined to transform himself back into the element of fire. 'I'll think about it: who knows what I will do?' he exclaims as he saunters off, carelessly, to follow the others.

Before the procession of gods can cross over the bridge, the plaintive voices of the Rhinemaidens are heard, bewailing the loss of their gold. Ordered guiltily by Wotan to silence them, Loge tells the Rhinemaidens that they must now bask in the gods' newly found radiance instead of the gold. The Rhinemaidens, however, continue to lament. The entry of the gods into Valhalla proceeds ceremoniously to the accompaniment of an orchestral postlude of great splendor, in which the sword motif, which will play so important a part in the later operas of The Ring, resounds portentously. The radiant and serene rainbow theme is reprised fortissimo as the curtain falls.