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Meet the Characters

Any drama from the classic repertoire benefits from several commented editions. Traditionally, they explain not only the springs of the main and the secondary intrigues, but also the meaning of the characters. In case of Shakespeare, Molière or Beaumarchais, they rarely have to appeal to Jung, Freud or Levy Strauss to enlightenment. Most of the time, acute mind and classic "psychology" are sufficient. The characters are presented neither as psychoanalytical entities, nor as socio-political symbols.

They are characterized individualities that nevertheless represent common or exceptional kinds. Naturally, one can apply this conventional typology to the characters of the Ring; moreover this is a usual approach of commentators from Alfred Ernst to Holman, including the extreme sensibility of analysis by Stéphane Goldet. We to present the characters in a way as synthetic as possible and we avoid most of the learned or audacious hermeneutics. We shall comment on the characters in the order of their appearance.

  Rhinemaidens   Alberich
•  Fricka •  Wotan
  Freia •  Froh
•  Donner   Loge
  Giants   Mime
  Erda   Siegmund
  Sieglinde   Brünnhilde
  Walkyries   Siegfried
  Gunther   Gutrune
  Hagen   Vassals

The Characters of " Das Rheingold "

Read Synopsis

Woglinde, Wellgunde, Flosshilde.

These three Rhine maidens were the targets of uncountable speculations. J.J.Nattiez assimilated them respectively to music, to dance and to poetry. Flosshilde, the most careful and wise of the naiads, who is destined at the end of the Ring to brandish the Ring, is the verb, the poem. Her importance reflects that of the "Wort" with regard to the "Ton".

At the time of the writing of the "Rhinegold", that is when he was under influence of his ideas expressed in Opera and Drama, Wagner would have used the girls of the Rhine as metaphor of three factors of the drama.

This interpretation is in a crass contradiction with "girls of fortune" or "whores" interpretation. Now, the relationship between a prostitute and her "client" is exactly the opposite of that between the nixes and Alberich. The sex-worker girl tries to extort some gold from her pray in exchange for her charms. In Rhinegold, the presumed "whores", not just refuse the charms to their prey, but do everything to drive him crazy and urge him to ransack them!

The most known and doubtless the most successful graphic representation of ondines is that by Arthur Rackham. They appear as born from the liquid element, and the Art Nouveau graphics of the draftsman marvellously express them by their shapes and curves. To a certain extent they are very close to the person of Loge. The same fluidity, the same contradictory attitude, the same irony, and especially the same perversity.

These creatures are inclined to play. For them everything is subject to mockery and naughtiness. Their laughter is hard and cruel. Alberich is hurt in the deepest of his the pride by their aggressive " ha-ha-ha-ha ". This laughter is transformed into a real roar of jubilation when the sun of dawn illuminates the summit of the cliff. It is the famous cry: "Rheingold! Rheingold!" The gold shines like the sun in the stream. The Rhine maidens identify it with the splendours of nature.

More than other characters the Rhine maidens are described by music. From the beginning of the tetralogy they introduce the famous apology of desire, the longing and the seduction, the inflection 6-5, the major-dominant sixth. This inflection is one of the most important constituent motives for drama. When orchestrated, it gives the famous "Rheingold", in minor, the universal complaint. Wagner demonstrates repeatedly the relationship between seduction and complaint, by oscillating as by play from one to another. Their theme is inseparable from the image of the undulating waves, the latter coming from the theme of the Rainbow.

The Rhine maidens represent the virgin nature, prior to the destructive effects of civilization. Wagner expresses this "primitiveness", by the verb (archaic forms), the images (the nautical evolution), the sound (the pentatonic, later found in the song of the bird; the Chinese pentatonic mode was considered primitive in the XIX-th century).

One of the keys of the behaviour of the Rhine maidens is their age. You do not need too much imagination to understand that they are very young, almost children. Their way to express themselves and to move around proves it; the music is even more eloquent. When the third naiad mocks Alberich, the trio swims to the tune of childish circle dance.

You have to be stone deaf to see them as very mature pipe smoking ladies, laying on a Victorian couch, and not to roguish kids. Even if they are endowed with this premonitory gravity which one meets in exceptionally gifted children!

Siegfried and Brünnhilde are systematically over aged in practically all the stage settings, for an evident practical reason: without the playback, how is it possible to have actors in the adolescent physical appearance endowed with a voice of grown-up singers?

This problem does not arise for the less binding roles of the Rhine maidens. But there is another crippling handicap: the censorship. The usual image on illustrations shows the girls courted by a deformed and libidinous old man, can pass if need be thanks to the effect of distance of the graphics.

But let us try to imagine the dramatic art of Chéreau associated to the prints of Rackham! Alberich repeatedly buries his head under the skirt of mature ladies endowed with generous bosoms who embrace him without ambiguity.

What is already dirty would become unbearable with a deformed dwarf and nubile girls described by Donnington! The director has no other choice but to make the nixes older if he wants to protect from the violent eroticism of the scene.

For example Harry Kupfer represented the Rhine maidens in Bayreuth as sex symbols of porno comic strip, with high heels boots and leather clothes. Let us not forget that Wagner on the eve of his death declared his tenderness for the girls of waters. Their play with the pretenders was aimed only at distracting them from the main part: the gold, by focusing on the secondary: sex.