Richard Wagner's 'Ring Cycle'

Richard Wagner's 'Ring Cycle'
Fafner must be vanquished in “Siegfried,” the third opera. (Lawrence K. Ho / Los, Lawrence K. Ho / Los)

Los Angeles Opera's "Ring Cycle" clocks in at nearly 19 hours (with intermissions). That's not only a lot of Richard Wagner's music but plenty of love greed, incest and murder. Here, for the uninitiated, is a summary of the four operas.



'Ring' cycle: A graphic last Sunday showing the relationships between the characters in the opera stated that Wotan kills Hagen, when it's actually only Hunding that Wotan kills. —

'Das Rheingold' (The Rhine Gold)

Before the curtain Wotan — the God of the gods— has hired two giants, Fasolt and Fafner to build Valhalla, a castle for the gods.

Alberich, a dwarf, rolls up to the bottom of the Rhine river and finds three women, well, actually Rhine River Nymphs, swimming and singing and (oh, yeah) naked. When they discover the dwarf peeping at them, these Rhine Maidens decide to have some fun teasing him. Just when he's at the end of his rope, he is mesmerized by the sun glowing off of the gold at the bottom of the river. The Rhine Maidens tell the dwarf that whoever renounces love and forges a ring from the Rhine Gold will have the power to rule the world. Enraged, Alberich renounces love, takes the gold, forges the ring, then returns to his home and enslaves his fellow dwarfs.

Wotan gets word of Alberich's featand, along with his fellow god Loge, finds him and takes the ring by tricking him into turning himself into a frog. They take the ring from Loge-as-a-Frog, pay the giants with it and recover the god Freia, the original charge for the castle. Then, because of the curse Alberich placed on the ring, one of the giants kills the other. After all that, Wotan and his fellow gods enter Valhalla at the end of "Das Rheingold."

'Die Walküre' (The Valkyrie)

Before the curtain, Wotan has fathered the Valkyries, a race of super female warriors, and Brünnhilde is his favorite. Disguised as a human, he has also had a set of twins, Sieglinde and Siegmund, who are to produce the hero who will recover the ring from the Dragon Fafner. Sieglinde finds herself in a forced marriage to Hundin and meets her twin brother for the first time when he seeks refuge after getting into a fight with some "folks" who turn out to be Hundin's "folks."

Hundin gives Siegmund shelter for the night with the understanding that they have to fight in the morning. During the night Siegmund and Sieglinde fall in — and make — love leaving her pregnant with the hero to come, Siegfried.

When Brünnhilde helps Siegmund instead of Hundin in the fight, Wotan himself shows up, shatters Siegmund's sword, allowing Hundin to kill him, then Wotan kills Hundin for gloating. Meanwhile, Brünnhilde has taken off to hide Sieglinde and the shattered sword. Eventually Brünnhilde has to face Wotan, who is ready to kill her, for real, but decides instead to put her to sleep on a rock surrounded by fire where only a true hero can rescue her.


Before the curtain, Sieglinde has died giving birth to Siegfried, who is rescued and raised by Alberich's brother, Mime, with plans to kill him after he recovers the ring and the gold from Fafner, who is now a dragon.

Mime hates Siegfried, whose favorite pastime is to torture him. After years of asking about his family, Mime finally tells him about his mother, Sieglinde, her death and the shattered sword that she left him. Although he has forged many others, Mime has not been able to forge the pieces of Notung into a sword.

Siegfried easily forges the sword, finds and kills Fafner the Dragon and recovers the ring and the gold. He discovers Mime's plan to kill him when a little birdie tells him — he gained the ability to understand animals after accidently tasting the blood of the Dragon —- and he kills Mime. The bird also told him where to find Brünnhilde, whom he discovers on the rock surrounded by fire, falls in love with, and rescues. Oh, and technically, she is his aunt. On the way to her, Wotan approaches Siegfried, they fight and Siegfried shatters Wotan's spear, taking away his power.

'Götterdämmerung' (Twilight of the Gods)


Bored with his life and his wife, Brünnhilde, Siegfried seeks new adventure and finds it in the land of the Gibichung where he encounters Gertrune, Gunther and their half-brother Hagen, the son-of-a dwarf named Alberich. In an elaborate scheme Siegfried disguises himself as Gunther in order to win Brünnhilde for Gunther in exchange for Gertrune's becoming his wife — he has fallen in love with her through a love potion. This is all concocted by the son-of-a-dwarf Hagen to retrieve the ring as mandated by his father Alberich in a dream.

Hagen kills Siegfried during a hunt by stabbing him in the back, the only place left unprotected by Brünnhilde's magic because she knew he would never run from a battle. Then he kills Gunther over the ring.

The Rhine Maidens appear and reveal to Brünnhilde the truth behind the ring and her role in its journey. Her hatred for Siegfried disappears, and she takes the ring from his finger, orders a pyre to be erected and rides her horse into the fire. The waters of the river rise allowing one of the Rhine Maidens to finally recover the ring, promising a new beginning and an end to the curse.

Hinds, an associate professor of playwriting at UC Riverside, is the author of "Keep Hedz Ringin'," a hip-hop adaptation of Wagner's "Ring Cycle."