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Thread: Gotterdammerung ... and (again) comic elements in the Ring cycle

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    Default Gotterdammerung ... and (again) comic elements in the Ring cycle

    Last night's Gotterdammerung at the Met was everything I hoped and more. To quickly score the four operas: Siegfried was the least exciting and satisfying for me, Rheingold and Walkure tied ... and yes, Gotterdammerung brought it all home for me. I have never seen any other Brunnhilde live, but as far as my unsophisticated newbie eyes and ears can tell, Christine Goerke nailed it. A couple of photos on my Insta here ... https://www.instagram.com/asheresque/

    I'm recording a podcast episode about the Ring cycle this week with a friend of mine named Bud Parr who also (separately) attended this season. (My podcast is "Lost Music: Exploring Literary Opera" - https://litkicks.com/LostMusic). I'm going to save most of my effusive enthusiasm there ... I also plan to tip my hat during this recording to the Wagner experts in this forum for all the help you gave and the answers to my questions, especially Woodbird I mean Woodduck, as well as everybody else. So I'm not going to say too much about my overall impressions here, but I do want to circle back to a question I asked months ago about comic elements in the Ring cycle.

    Even though I was familiar with the Gotterdammerung story and had watched one video of it before going in yesterday, I was surprised by how much of this particular opera (not the other three) turns on sexual innuendo of an ambiguously comic nature. In fact, it wasn't until last night that I finally pieced together why Wagner's convoluted plot takes some of the turns it does. I now realize that this is necessary to setup a massive double entendre that provides most of the storyline in Gotterdammerung. This sexual double entendre, as I now understand it, involves a far-fetched but fascinating series of steps:

    1) Siegfried braves the fire and claims Brunnhilde's love (in opera #3) and the two of them are both sexually and emotionally enraptured with each other for some period of time.

    2) Siegfried forms an alliance with Gunther and stupidly drinks the potion that makes him forget Brunnhilde ever existed. He now falls in love with Gutrune.

    3) Siegfried puts on the magical Tarnhelm and goes back to Brunnhilde, now disguised as Gunther, to win and claim Brunnhilde's love a second time, but now for the purpose of bringing her back to marry Gunther, while he will marry Gutrune. Here, there is a clear case of fictional ambiguity as Siegfried announces that he will sleep alongside Brunnhilde on the mountain but will not have sex with her, as his sword will lie between them. This is ambiguous because we are not meant to believe him. I don't know how other opera directors treat this moment, but my impression as I watched Siegfried announce his intention to be chaste with Brunnhilde is that Siegfried was lying and intended to have sex with her. (It must be noted here the echoes of similar sexual games in Mozart comic operas, such as Don Giovanni and Cosi Fan Tutte, in which male friends seduce each other's lovers in disguise. Siegfried disguising himself as Gunther is definitely a Mozartean trope.)

    4) Here's where everything turns: when Brunnhilde is brought in to Gibichung Hall and sees Siegfried. a major misunderstanding takes place which is tragic in emotional content but yet comic in terms of opera tradition. Brunnhilde remembers her previous ecstatic relationship with Siegfried, and declares that he once seduced her. Siegfried doesn't remember this, and is totally confused, because he *thinks* (incorrectly) that this means Brunnhilde wasn't fooled by his disguise. He think she is referring to the recent time he seduced her on the mountain, because he doesn't remember the earlier time. He even states his confusion, wondering aloud why the Tarnhelm's magic didn't work. His comment here is certainly meant to be comic - comic in the sense of rude sexual innuendo. He thought he got away with an act of sexual conquest, and doesn't understand why his disguise didn't work.

    5) Only later does Siegfried piece together his earlier history with Brunnhilde - though he barely has a moment to digest this understanding, as he is stabbed in the back by Hagen.

    So, the entire plot of Gotterdammerung turns upon a Mozartean sexual comic situation. And the energy of this situation motivates the action up until the very end when Brunnhilde proves her moral superiority by walking into the purifying fire.

    My comments here are not meant to diminish Wagner's amazing work - I absolutely loved it, was blown away - and when I compare Wagner to Mozart I mean that as a compliment to Wagner. But I do want to circle back to the earliest question I asked in this forum (I was then pondering the characters of Wotan, Fricka and Loge) about whether or not the Ring Cycle had Mozartean comic elements. Gotterdammerung answered the question for me in the affirmative.

    And, since Mozart is my #1 favorite, this only makes me love Wagner more. What a stunning four nights of opera I have just survived. Thanks all. Comments on my conclusions welcome, and I hope you will all listen to my podcast about Wagner when it comes out in a couple days!
    Last edited by marceliotstein; May-12-2019 at 16:08.

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    Some original thinking there, Marc. I like it. Not so sure I agree with it, though...

    When Siegfried tells the assembled Gibichungs that he was faithful to Gunther and laid his sword between himself and Brunnhilde in the cave, Brunnhilde cries out,

    "You cunning hero, see how you lie!
    You basely call upon your sword!
    I know well its sharp blade, but I also know the sheath
    in which it rested on the wall -
    Nothung, the faithful friend -
    as its master wed his beloved."

    I think this is a pretty good literal translation of the German. It may be on account of other, so-called "singing" translations that Brunnhilde's words have sometimes been taken to mean that Siegfried raped Brunnhilde the night he captured her for Gunther and is now lying about being true to his oath. But there's nothing in her claim to indicate that she is referring to that night and not to his earlier relationship with her.

    What makes you think otherwise?
    Last edited by Woodduck; May-12-2019 at 18:27.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    Some original thinking there, Marc. I like it. Not so sure I agree with it, though...

    When Siegfried tells the assembled Gibichungs that he was faithful to Gunther and laid his sword between himself and Brunnhilde in the cave, Brunnhilde cries out,

    "You cunning hero, see how you lie!
    You basely call upon your sword!
    I know well its sharp blade, but I also know the sheath
    in which it rested on the wall -
    Nothung, the faithful friend -
    as its master wed his beloved."

    I think this is a pretty good literal translation of the German. It may be on account of other, so-called "singing" translations that Brunnhilde's words have sometimes been taken to mean that Siegfried raped Brunnhilde the night he captured her for Gunther and is now lying about being true to his oath. But there's nothing in her claim to indicate that she is referring to that night and not to his earlier relationship with her.

    What makes you think otherwise?
    Thanks, Woodduck. Well, I was hoping you would ask that question and I've got my answer ready. I believe that the entire debate about what Siegfried did or didn't do to or with Brunnhilde is meant to be understood as double entendre, and on two levels, which makes it a quadruple entendre. To explain the two levels, let's realize that Brunnhilde is speaking to an audience in two senses: there is an entourage (or chorus) on stage, and there is also presumed to be an audience in the opera house. For both reasons, Brunnhilde has reasons to deliver a double entendre. It's a sort of "winking" moment when one thing is said and another is meant. Or is it? This is drama, and drama thrives on ambiguity - therefore, I would not claim to be sure that Siegfried and Brunnhilde had sex during his second visit - but I am sure that the audience is meant to wonder whether or not they did.

    I would compare this to the movie "Casablanca", where everything turns on the question of whether or not Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) and Rick (Humphrey Bogard) make love during the elapsed time in the hotel scene. The movie is perfectly ambiguous. It lets the watcher decide. I'm sure that Wagner had the same thing in mind about whether or not Siegfried and Brunnhilde had sex during this second visit. It's also intentionally ambiguous whether or not she was a willing participant. (Because I could not enjoy an opera that celebrates rape, I personally like to believe that their sexual chemistry was mutual - their characterizations seem to show this - and that they were both willing participants).

    Does that help explain my reasoning?
    Last edited by marceliotstein; May-12-2019 at 18:38.

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    Quote Originally Posted by marceliotstein View Post
    Thanks, Woodduck. Well, I was hoping you would ask that question and I've got my answer ready. I believe that the entire debate about what Siegfried did or didn't do to or with Brunnhilde is meant to be understood as double entendre, and on two levels, which makes it a quadruple entendre. To explain the two levels, let's realize that Brunnhilde is speaking to an audience in two senses: there is an entourage (or chorus) on stage, and there is also presumed to be an audience in the opera house. For both reasons, Brunnhilde has reasons to deliver a double entendre. It's a sort of "winking" moment when one thing is said and another is meant. Or is it? This is drama, and drama thrives on ambiguity - therefore, I would not claim to be sure that Siegfried and Brunnhilde had sex during his second visit - but I am sure that the audience is meant to wonder whether or not they did.

    I would compare this to the movie "Casablanca", where everything turns on the question of whether or not Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) and Rick (Humphrey Bogard) make love during the elapsed time in the hotel scene. The movie is perfectly ambiguous. It lets the watcher decide. I'm sure that Wagner had the same thing in mind about whether or not Siegfried and Brunnhilde had sex during this second visit. It's also intentionally ambiguous whether or not she was a willing participant. (Because I could not enjoy an opera that celebrates rape, I personally like to believe that their sexual chemistry was mutual - their characterizations seem to show this - and that they were both willing participants).

    Does that help explain my reasoning?
    I'd say "it's remotely possible," but also "it isn't necessary" and "it's unlikely, unless the two of them were having out-of-body experiences as the result of drinking too much honeyed mead." Wagner may have wanted the audience to feel the Gibichungs' uncertainty about who was telling the truth in this scene, but his libretto gives us no reason to doubt that both characters are being truthful and that they're simply talking across each other in the chaos of the moment.

    I'd say two more things: 1.) it would be out of character for either Siegfried or Brunnhilde to lie; and 2.) characters addressing the audience or acknowledging them in any way is not a part of Wagner's aesthetic. Wagner's dramas are self-contained worlds; they're magic shows separated from the audience by the proscenium and the "mystic gulf" of the sunken orchestra (both carefully calculated features of the Bayreuth Festspielhaus). He wanted his audience to forget itself and be absorbed into a higher, transforming reality where they would not be sorting out intellectual puzzles but would "know through feeling" (his words). Double, triple and quadruple entendres are simply un-Wagnerian.

    The only genuinely comic moment I find in Gotterdammerung is a musical one: when Siegfried is welcomed at the Gibichung hall and hands the horse Grane over to Hagen, the orchestra does a precise imitation of the animal bucking and snorting at being led away by a stranger. Wagner must have spent some time in the stables to pin that effect down so precisely.
    Last edited by Woodduck; May-12-2019 at 19:12.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post

    The only genuinely comic moment I find in Gotterdammerung is a musical one: when Siegfried is welcomed at the Gibichung hall and hands the horse Grane over to Hagen, the orchestra does a precise imitation of the animal bucking and snorting at being led away by a stranger. Wagner must have spent some time in the stables to pin that effect down so precisely.
    Thanks for that Woodduck. That's me off to listen to that little moment!

    I'm curious to see how he scored it.
    Last edited by Barbebleu; May-12-2019 at 19:14.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Barbebleu View Post
    Thanks for that Woodduck. That's me off to listen to that little moment!

    I'm curious to see how he scored it.
    Perfectly, as always.

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    Yeah, yeah, that's a given. Unless of course you are a certain ...............!

    Oops, no names, no pack drill.
    Last edited by Barbebleu; May-12-2019 at 19:23.
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    I have a question. If it's already been answered just direct me to the correct post please.

    When Siegfried is killed and his funeral music plays, I always feel a profound sadness as if much more then just Siegfried has died.
    Almost a spiritual death.
    Maybe something almost cosmic.

    Would very much appreciate your thoughts on this, thanks.
    Last edited by Itullian; May-12-2019 at 21:30.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    I'd say "it's remotely possible," but also "it isn't necessary" and "it's unlikely, unless the two of them were having out-of-body experiences as the result of drinking too much honeyed mead." Wagner may have wanted the audience to feel the Gibichungs' uncertainty about who was telling the truth in this scene, but his libretto gives us no reason to doubt that both characters are being truthful and that they're simply talking across each other in the chaos of the moment.

    I'd say two more things: 1.) it would be out of character for either Siegfried or Brunnhilde to lie; and 2.) characters addressing the audience or acknowledging them in any way is not a part of Wagner's aesthetic. Wagner's dramas are self-contained worlds; they're magic shows separated from the audience by the proscenium and the "mystic gulf" of the sunken orchestra (both carefully calculated features of the Bayreuth Festspielhaus). He wanted his audience to forget itself and be absorbed into a higher, transforming reality where they would not be sorting out intellectual puzzles but would "know through feeling" (his words). Double, triple and quadruple entendres are simply un-Wagnerian.

    The only genuinely comic moment I find in Gotterdammerung is a musical one: when Siegfried is welcomed at the Gibichung hall and hands the horse Grane over to Hagen, the orchestra does a precise imitation of the animal bucking and snorting at being led away by a stranger. Wagner must have spent some time in the stables to pin that effect down so precisely.
    Well, I agree with you that my interpretation isn't necessary. And I definitely acknowledge your greater experience with Wagner studies.

    But I remain sure that there is a strong insinuation during the amazing confrontation scene in act two of Gotterdammerung that Siegfried and Brunnhilde are shocked and embarrassed for reasons that they are not coming clean about. I see this not only in the libretto but in the acting. I have now closely studied two performances - the Christine Goerke Brunnhilde live at the Met last night, and the Bayreuth 1979 with Gwyneth Jones. Both amazing performances - I couldn't be more moved by these stunning scenes.

    In both these performances, there are looks of shock and embarrassment on the faces of both Siegfried and Brunnhilde. There expressions and gestures contradict their words. This is a clear case of dramatic layering, which is after a common technique in theatre. It's not necessarily the case that they are concealing the truth from the audience in the theater - rather they are concealing the truth from the large crowd of observers in the scene. This is basically a spontaneous public trial, and they are both swearing oaths. The looks of distress on their faces as they do so indicates that they may both be hiding secrets.

    This is just a suggestion, again. But the suggestion is being clearly made by the actors on stage. I'm not imagining it. I don't know what the original Wagner performances were like, but this scene was being played for sexual innuendo last night live at the Met. When Siegfried tells Brunnhilde to take him to her chamber, then holds up his sword and announces to us as he walks jauntily forward that "this sword shall be a barrier between us" (or whatever exactly he said) the obvious interpretation is "sure, Siegfried, tell us another one".
    Last edited by marceliotstein; May-13-2019 at 14:11.

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    Quote Originally Posted by marceliotstein View Post
    Well, I agree with you that my interpretation isn't necessary. And I definitely acknowledge your greater experience with Wagner studies.

    But I remain sure that there is a strong insinuation during the amazing confrontation scene in act two of Gotterdammerung that Siegfried and Brunnhilde are shocked and embarrassed for reasons that they are not coming clean about. I see this not only in the libretto but in the acting. I have now closely studied two performances - the amazing Christine Goerke Brunnhilde live at the Met last night, and the Bayreuth 1979 with Gwyneth Jones. Both amazing performances - I couldn't be more moved by these stunning scenes.

    In both these performances, there are looks of shock and embarrassment on the faces of both Siegfried and Brunnhilde. There expressions and gestures contradict their words. This is a clear case of dramatic layering, which is after a common technique in theatre. It's not necessarily the case that they are concealing the truth from the audience in the theater - rather they are concealing the truth from the large crowd of observers in the scene. This is basically a spontaneous public trial, and they are both swearing oaths. The looks of distress on their faces as they do so indicates that they may both be hiding secrets.

    This is just a suggestion, again. But the suggestion is being clearly made by the actors on stage. I'm not imagining it. I don't know what the original Wagner performances were like, but this scene was being played for sexual innuendo last night live at the Met. When Siegfried tells Brunnhilde to take him to her chamber, then holds up his sword and announces to us as he walks jauntily forward that "this sword shall be a barrier between us" (or whatever exactly he said) the obvious interpretation is "sure, Siegfried, tell us another one".
    I'm afraid this is only obvious to you. If Wagner had wanted it to be obvious to the rest of us, he'd have done a much better job of implying it. Listen to Act 1 of Tristan und Isolde to see how he handles he unstated and the insinuated. Wagner is deep and complex, but he isn't cryptic or coy.
    Last edited by Woodduck; May-13-2019 at 03:29.

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    Surely Siegfried is the epitome of loyalty and his innocence would prevent him from ever betraying his promise to Gunther when he agrees to woo Brünnhilde for him. The medieval code of chivalry, to which Wagner alludes when he makes a point of placing the sword between Siegfried and Brünnhilde, would preclude Siegfried from ever taking advantage of Brünnhilde. I've seen a few productions of Götterdämmerung, live and on DVD, and I've not spotted any sexual innuendo. Maybe that's just me, of course.!

    Honi soit qui mal y pense!

    With regard to the OP, I'm not sure murder and betrayal give rise to many laughs!
    Last edited by Barbebleu; May-13-2019 at 09:13.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Barbebleu View Post
    Surely Siegfried is the epitome of loyalty and his innocence would prevent him from ever betraying his promise to Gunther when he agrees to woo Brünnhilde for him. The medieval code of chivalry, to which Wagner alludes when he makes a point of placing the sword between Siegfried and Brünnhilde, would preclude Siegfried from ever taking advantage of Brünnhilde. I've seen a few productions of Götterdämmerung, live and on DVD, and I've not spotted any sexual innuendo. Maybe that's just me, of course.!

    Honi soit qui mal y pense!

    With regard to the OP, I'm not sure murder and betrayal give rise to many laughs!
    Okay, Woodduck and Barbebleu, I understand your points and I respect the authority both of you have on this. I am honestly a bit puzzled right now why the innuendo came through so strongly to me (watching both the live opera and the 1979 Gwyneth Jones on YouTube) while both of you are telling me the innuendo isn't there.

    Am I the only one who sees a look of guilt on Siegfried's face when Brunnhilde accuses him during their public confrontation? If he had kept his vow of chastity, he would have no reason to feel or look guilty. He would simply think she has gone crazy. Instead, he reacts with fear and guilt as far as I can see.

    Maybe both of these modern productions are taking liberties that other productions do not?

    Maybe I'm seeing things that aren't there?

    Two points in my interpretation's defense. First, I've alluded to in other threads here, I often think of Shakespeare when I watch the Ring cycle. Shakespeare's tragedies and comedies, of course, are packed to the hilt with innuendo and double entendre and double meaning. Why wouldn't Wagner adopt the same theatrical conventions? And doesn't a sophisticated theater or opera audience expect to be intellectually tickled and challenged with ambiguity? Woodduck's statement that double meanings are "un-Wagnerian" seems to me unsupportable. A playwright or librettist who doesn't deal in double meanings is a dull playwright/librettist. And Wagner is not dull.

    Second, how can we possibly not imagine that a lustful, impulsive teenager like Siegfried might proclaim a public vow of chastity and then break it? He is not presented to us as a wise saint-like figure, but rather as an impetuous earthly hero filled with drive and energy. And we already know that the sexual chemistry between Siegfried and Brunnhilde is through the roof.

    With this said, again, I do appreciate the thoughtful answers and I am questioning my own interpretation. I'd love to hear input from any others on this question - do you take Siegfried's vow of chastity when he takes Brunnhilde to bed after his second visit to the mountain on face value, or not?

    Thanks.
    Last edited by marceliotstein; May-13-2019 at 14:39.

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    Can we consider the facial expressions of the singers really an argument? Did Wagner intend the characters to look guilty? It could just be dependent on the interpretation and might not have been Wagner's original intention at all (I don't think that even Wagner had enough time to determine every character's facial expressions for every single scene). Also, I think the way people understand facial expressions is veeery different and such small details (compared to libretto or the overall on-stage action) can be understood in so many ways that it would be an ineffective and rather confusing method of conveying important information in an opera.
    Last edited by annaw; May-13-2019 at 16:35.

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    Quote Originally Posted by annaw View Post
    Can we consider the facial expressions of the singers really an argument? Did Wagner intend the characters to look guilty? It could just be dependent on the interpretation and might not have been Wagner's original intention at all (I don't think that even Wagner had enough time to determine every character's facial expressions for every single scene). Also, I think the way people understand facial expressions is veeery different and such small details (compared to libretto or the overall on-stage action) can be understood in so many ways that it would be an ineffective and rather confusing method of conveying important information in an opera.
    Let me add to this that Wagner gives his performers plenty of stage directions in his scores, often to indicate their reactions to each other. There is no indication in the score of Gotterdammerung that Siegfried reacts guiltily to Brunnhilde's accusations. If that were the case it would be important for the actors to know about it, and Wagner wouldn't have neglected to specify it in the score, particularly since there's nothing to suggest it in the dialogue. The point of the dialogue as written seems to be that both Brunnhilde and Siegfried are telling the truth as they understand it, and that neither of them swears falsely on Hagen's spear. Hagen, of course, has an interest in affirming that Siegfried has indeed been false, and delivers death to him using that very spear.

    I checked out that scene in the video of the 1979 Bayreuth production, and I didn't think that Siegfried looked guilty when accused, but merely confused and indignant. There was an earlier moment, while Brunnhilde was crying out to the gods, when Siegfried turned slowly away from her and raised his hand to his face as if trying to recall something, perhaps indicating that the effect of the potion was momentarily weakening. But this is not called for by Wagner and is clearly a directorial choice.

    It would be a big mistake to take any production of an opera as a faithful rendering of its composer's intentions, particularly in this age of gross directorial license, and it's arguable that no composer is more egregiously misrepresented than Wagner. With his operas, nowadays, we need to trust what's in the score and be thoroughly skeptical of what we see on the stage.
    Last edited by Woodduck; May-13-2019 at 23:16.

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    Quote Originally Posted by annaw View Post
    Can we consider the facial expressions of the singers really an argument? Did Wagner intend the characters to look guilty? It could just be dependent on the interpretation and might not have been Wagner's original intention at all (I don't think that even Wagner had enough time to determine every character's facial expressions for every single scene). Also, I think the way people understand facial expressions is veeery different and such small details (compared to libretto or the overall on-stage action) can be understood in so many ways that it would be an ineffective and rather confusing method of conveying important information in an opera.
    Well, I've never believed that an artist in any medium owns the right to define interpretations of his or her own work. This is a familiar argument among critics and academics and postmodernists. I am interested in knowing what Wagner intended, but I am even more interested in knowing simply what is the prevailing opinion among Wagner aficionados and experts today. Example: neither Sophocles nor Shakespeare knew about the Freudian interpretations of "Oedipus Rex" or "Hamlet", but that doesn't mean the Freudian interpretations are worthless.

    With this said, though - I appreciate and respect the answers I got here, even though I'm not fully happy with them. I asked a question - do you all see Mozartean comic influences in the Ring cycle as I do? - and I got a resounding "no" here. But I did get some really brilliant commentary and responses.

    I do think my interpretation - which sees innuendo and double entendre especially in Gotterdammerung - looks good on Wagner. I like to think that Wagner was reaching for the same kind of psychological depth and irony found in Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, T. S. Eliot. If I have to accept that there is no innuendo intended in the bizarre Gotterdammerung act two confrontation scenes, that seems to me to make Wagner less fascinating. But I still believe the innuendo is there, even though I can't convince you all, so I'm not letting this reduce my new fascination with Wagner.

    I also found an independent answer to my question on the Metropolitan Opera Guild podcast on Gotterdammerung! Check this excellent episode out:

    https://soundcloud.com/met-opera-guild/episode46

    This directly addresses the question I'm asking, and does so in such a way as to satisfy both sides here. This podcaster says here that some have questioned whether or not Siegfried is telling the truth when he says he will be chaste with Brunnhilde. He then says that he believes the answer is that Siegfried IS telling the truth, which is what Woodduck, Barbebleu and Annaw all seem to agree with here. But the fact that this podcaster mentions the question does validate that I am not crazy for asking it, and that I am not imagining things when I see the actors suggesting it on stage!

    Great discussion. Love this forum. Thanks all!
    Last edited by marceliotstein; May-14-2019 at 02:07.

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