Das Rheingold (1851-1854) is the first of four operas that form the legendary cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen, Richard Wagner’s magnum opus. Since the premier in 1876, Das Rheingold and the other parts are recognized as some of the most famous and challenging works in the opera repertoire.
The opera tells the story of the Rhinegold, a mystic treasure that belongs to father Rhine and is guarded by his three Rhine daughters on the bottom of the river until it is stolen by dwarf king Alberich. Alberich forges the Rhinegold to a Ring that gives the bearer unlimited power, and uses the Ring to become lord of the underworld, the Nibelheim. Meanwhile, a long way up, in the realm of the gods supreme god Wotan is in difficulty because of a new palace he had himself built. He does not possess the gold to pay the builders, the two giants Fafner and Fasolt. Angry, the two giants take the love goddess Freia as a hostage until Wotan can pay them. With his companion Loge, Wotan descends into the underworld where he lures Alberich and takes both the Ring and the Rhine gold. Alberich is furious and takes his revenge by cursing the Ring and all its future bearers. Wotan, in turn, loses the Ring to the two giants in exchange for Freia. Then, he sees how real Alberich’s curse is: fighting over possession of the ring, Fafner murders his companion Fasolt. The gods enter their new palace, the Walhalla, while the Rhine maidens mourn their stolen treasure. The curtain falls.