Interior of a dwelling.
To escape from his pursue, Siegmund, son of the god Wotan and of a mortal woman, has taken shelter in the house where Hunding lives with his wife Sieglinde. The young man tells them the story of his life.
After his mother had been killed and his twin sister had mysteriously disappeared, he wandered with his father through the forest to escape repeated attacks from their enemy, descendants of the Neidinge. But one day his father, too, vanished without trace. Since then Siegmund has lived in sorrowful solitude until, in an effort to save a maiden from unjust marriage, he crossed swords with the girl’s family, but was disarmed and overcome and forced to flee. And so he has arrived at their house.
From his tale Hunding realizes that he has offered hospitality to the hated enemy of his people. Accordingly he challenges Siegmund to a duel to be held the next day, and goes off with Sieglinde. But, after putting her husband to sleep with a potion, the young woman goes back to Siegmund and tells him, that, on the day of her unhappy marriage to Hunding, a wayfarer thrust a sword into the ashtree that grows in the middle of their house. The man strong enough to pull it out of the tree would win a victory.
During their conversation they discover that they are twins, and fall in love. Immediately afterwards Siegmund, with tremendous strength, extracts the sword from the tree trunk and goes off into the forest with his beloved Sieglinde.
A wild and rocky mountain.
Having ordered Brünnhilde, who is his favourite among the Valkyries – his virgin warrior daughters – to side with Siegmund in the imminent duel with Hunding, Wotan encounters his wife Fricka, queen of the gods and guardian of marriage vows.
The goddess, indignant at the incestuous love that unites Siegmund and his sister, demands their immediate punishment. Wotan is unable to obstruct Fricka’s legitimate request. He enjoins Brünnhilde – after expressing his sorrow at the future that awaits the gods – to abandon Siegmund to his fate.
In the meantime, the two young people arrive. Sieglinde is deeply perturbed and collapses into her lover’s arms. Brünnhilde then appears to Siegmund and announces that he is soon to be welcomed into Walhalla, where Wotan summons heroes who have fallen in battle. Siegmund seems not to care about his approaching death, but when he learns that Sieglinde cannot be his companion in theWalhalla, he firmly refuses: rather than abandon his beloved, he will kill her, and with her the child she bears in her womb. Moved by such deep love, Brünnhilde rebels againstWotan’s wishes and resolves to defend the young man.
The duel begins. The Valkyrie intervenes in Siegmund’s favour, but just as he is about to slay Hunding,Wotan – who has suddenly appeared – break his son’s sword and exposes him to his adversary’s fatal blow. Brünnhilde flees in terror, carrying Sieglinde with her. Wotan kills Hunding by the sole strength of his gaze.
On a rocky mountain peak.
The Valkyries bear towards the Walhalla the corpses of heroes fallen in battle. Brünnhilde joins them, bringing Sieglinde with her. Though certain of the severe punishment in store for her, the Valkyrie is determined to save Siegmund’s wife and the child in her womb who will bear the name Siegfried. She does not hesitate, therefore, to show Sieglinde the way to escape, after handing her the fragments of Siegmund’s sword.
When the girl has gone, the Valkyrie faces the wrath of her father. In vain her sisters attempt to intervene in her favour: Wotan repudiates her and condemns her to be a prey to the first man who shall awake her from sleep. The terrified Valkyries flee.
Horrified by this grim sentence, Brünnhilde entreats her father to mitigate the punishment: let her at least be protected by a ring of fire, so that only a fearless hero can reach her. Wotan yields to his daughter’s desperate plea. He puts her to sleep with a kiss and orders Loge, god of fire, to encircle her with his flames.
Synopsis by Alberto Bentoglio, translation by Rodney Stringer