A lot of people who write tales of grand, mythic, sweeping epic things seem to feel compelled to end them with the disintegration of all of the things that make them grand and epic and sweeping. Magic fades; the legendary folk go into the west; the world is left a safer place for the Ordinary Folk who remain, perhaps, but without any of the things that made it so marvelous a place to get lost in for a series of books or films or what have you.
I’ve never understood why this is, really; adult me figures it must have something to do with the way that people who are old enough to write things have had some time to internalize the concept of entropy, and perhaps that if one is telling a just-so story about how things came to be the way they are one must eventually come to the point where…well, things become the way they are, which is almost invariably less vivid and exciting than the way they were.
Kid me, on the other hand, was regularly driven insane by this. Why on earth would you conjure such wonders only to kill them all off? (Or worse, pull off the mask and reveal that, surprise, you’ve been reading about Jesus all along, like some sort of hyper-sanctimonious episode of Scooby-Doo. I have never quite forgiven C.S. Lewis for that.)
Why did everyone seem to think that the right and proper way for the world to be was a place without any magic in it, where all there was to look forward to was laundry and paperwork and grocery shopping every week forever? It was maddening.
Is maddening, I guess; a good part of me still feels that way, and believe me, if I ever found a door into Somewhere Else I would be off like a shot, especially the way things are now.
All of which is sort of a roundabout response to having started Gotterdammerung, which we did last night. I say “started” because it’s a Project – this one’s long, guys. And it’s very much of the “and now the mythic world crumbles” school, beginning as it does with the three Norns first prophesying an end to it all before losing their gifts of prophecy forever in the first scene. (They also imply that the world tree, Yggdrasil, is dying – and, moreover, that the reason for that death may be in part because of that spear Odin crafted out of it. You know, the one that got shattered last opera. Nice job breaking it, Odin – again.)
Notably, from that point forth there is almost nobody onstage representing the powerful, legendary forces that have driven literally everything else up to this point: the vast majority of the cast are assorted mortals. We’ve got Siegfried and Brunnhilde, of course, who spend WAY longer than is strictly necessary seeing each other off before he, inexplicably, leaves her on her mountain to go questing, leaving her the Ring as a token of his love.
We’ve got three scions of the Gibichung clan, descended from a king local to…wherever this is. Gunther, oldest son, is advised by his half-brother Hagen that really, it’s about time he and his sister Gutrune got married. Problem: How to find partners for them both that will increase their prestige? No worries, Hagen’s got an answer: see, there’s this legendarily amazing woman named Brunnhilde who’d be perfect, and this hero named Siegfried who’d make a great partner for Gutrune.
The part where the proposed partners for these folks are already in a relationship with each other doesn’t seem to matter a bit to anyone, so this rapidly turns into a breathtakingly awful plan straight from Reddit’s “Am I the Asshole?” wherein Hagen reveals that he’s got a potion that will wipe all of Siegfried’s memories of Brunnhilde and make him fall in love with her instead. She is…a lot more fine with this than I would be.
(Reddit verdict: Everyone sucks here.)
Anyway, this being the Ring Cycle the plan is put into play immediately and goes off without a hitch. Siegfried shows up, trustingly drinks the potion, forgets all about Brunnhilde and goes absolutely wild for Gutrune, so he’s all about it when Gunther proposes they head to this mountain and pick up this Brunnhilde chick, whoever SHE is.
So…yeah. Brunnhilde gets a visitation from her sister Waltraute, one of the very few representatives of the mythic folk in this part of the story. She gets to tell us all what’s going on with the gods: Odin has apparently just straight given up (which may I guess explain why we haven’t seen him on stage at all). He’s ordered what remains of the now weak and fading Yggdrasil chopped down and piled all around Valhalla, ready to burn, and is now just sitting on his throne brooding about the impending end of everything. All he has said on the matter is that if only the ring were returned to the Rhinemaidens, all would be well and Valhalla could yet be saved.
But of course Brunnhilde cannot bring herself to part with Siegfried’s love token, so she tells Waltraute in no uncertain terms to fuck off – and then is promptly given cause to regret it when someone who sure looks a lot like Gunther (actually Siegfried, wearing the Tarnhelm) shows up, claims her as his bride, and rips the ring right off her finger.
Back at the Gibichung hall, we learn that the probable force behind this asshole plan is…Alberich, who apparently swore off love but not sex: he’s Hagen’s father, and there’s some manipulation going on behind the scenes to get that pesky ring back. There will certainly be plenty of distraction going on, what with the double wedding and all – Siegfried to Gutrune, and Gunther to an extremely depressed Brunnhilde.
…Well, an extremely depressed and enraged Brunnhilde, once she spots Siegfried and realizes he seems not to know her and is apparently totally willing to just let her be married off to some asshole – and, moreover, is still wearing the ring that was taken from her. (Siegfried may be ensorcelled but he’s still not very quick on the uptake.)
Well, Hagen needs that ring back, and Brunnhilde’s feeling pretty vengeful, so when he proposes a little old fashioned murder she’s into it, revealing that although she did cast a number of protections on him before sending him out into the world, she didn’t cover his back. All righty then, no problem: arrange a convenient hunting accident and vengeance will be hers (and the ring, doubtless, Hagen’s.)
I’m sure everyone can see where this is going, though we left off there last night.
It occurs to me that the Ring hasn’t actually DONE much here besides be a MacGuffin – at least, not onstage. Sure, we hear that it’s supposed to grant world-dominating power, but it couldn’t even let Brunnhilde keep herself from being violated when push came to shove. Shouldn’t it be seen to…do…something, before all of this is over?