Siegfried: Act Two, Scene One - Outside Fafner's lair: Alberich, the Wanderer (Wotan in disguise), and Fafner transformed into a serpent
What is surely the gloomiest prelude to any act in a Wagner opera or music-drama (a close second being the prelude to Act Two of Lohengrin; the prelude to Tristan and Isolde Act Three can be best characterized as bleak rather than gloomy) sets the stage for a confrontation between Alberich and his nemesis Wotan, in his role as the Wanderer, in the dark forest just outside Fafner’s lair, Envy-Cave. We are introduced to the motif #126, derived from the Giants’ Motif #26a, which in this syncopated variant seems to invoke a heart-beat which misses a beat thanks to alarm or fear:
Prelude: In the depths of the forest. At the very back of the stage is the mouth of a cave. The ground rises towards the centre of the stage, where it forms a small knoll; from here it falls away again towards the cave, so that only the upper part of the entrance is visible to the audience. To the right, a rugged cliff-face can be seen through the forest-trees. It is a dark night, darkest at the back of the stage, where it is initially impossible for the audience to distinguish anything at all. Alberich is stationed by the cliff-face, brooding darkly: [[ #126 ]]; #101 vari, #17 vari [a new vari expressing alarm], [[ #126b ]]; #101 vari; #17; #126; #51; #126; #51; #50; #17/#50; #52; #45/#126; #17 vari; #126; #45?)
Alberich: (#50:; #?: [perhaps a premonition of music heard inT.2.1 when Alberich converses with Hagen?]) In the forest at night I stand guard before Envy-Cave. My ear is cocked, my eye keeps effortful watch (:#50; :#? [possible musical foreshadowing of T.2.1?]).
We hear a new variant of #17, the “World-inheritance Motif” (the embryonic form of the Ring Motif #19), which expresses alarm. As the prelude proceeds we hear the three primary motifs introduced when Alberich cursed his Ring in R.4, namely, #50, #51, and #52, as well as #45, the motif which powerfully underlined Alberich’s demonstration of the power of the Ring over men in R.3. #101’s presence during this prelude recalls Mime’s intent that Siegfried will kill the Serpent Fafner and win the Ring for Mime, thereby depriving Alberich of his rightful power. To grasp the full irony of this, we must remember that Siegfried is actually Wotan’s unwitting pawn, unconsciously under the influence of Wotan’s most craven motifs (embodied by Mime), in seeking out Fafner, and Siegfried’s most heroic deed, the killing of Fafner (fear) and co-opting of Alberich’s power (Ring and Tarnhelm), will be the fulfillment of Wotan’s hopes and dreams. We find Alberich standing before Fafner’s cave, as he must have done from time immemorial, keeping watch for his chance to regain control over his Ring, Tarnhelm, and Hoard, and to exact the Ring