On the Rock of the Valkyries
During the night, the Norns recall the past and conjure up the present. The god Wotan once cut a branch from the ash, the tree of the world, to make a spear on which his power and domination relies. He recently returned with his spear broken into pieces. Resigned to his fate, he ordered his warriors to fell the now dried up ash tree and to pile up the wood in an immense funeral pyre around Valhalla, the castle of the gods. One day, as the Norn’s foresee the future, the fire god Loge will destroy Valhalla and the race of the gods with his flames. But the Norns suddenly lose their visionary powers: they vaguely recall the story of Alberich’s theft of the Rheingold and the ring that he cursed before the thread of fate—to which they owe their knowledge—tears. The Norns return to the womb of the earth, their mother Erda.
After daybreak, Brünnhilde and Siegfried leave the cave where they have just spent the night together. Siegfried now longs to be off in search of new heroic deeds, and Brünnhilde does not want to hold him back—nor can she. As a sign of his love, Siegfried gives her the ring that he took from Lindwurm Fafner’s hoard without knowing anything of its power. In return, Brünnhilde entrusts him with her steed. Siegfried makes his way up the Rhine.
The Hall of the Gibichungs on the Rhine
The brother and sister Gunther and Gutrune and their half-brother Hagen reflect on the current state of the Gibichungs. Hagen is worried about the continuation of the line, for Gunther and Gutrune still remain unmarried. He advises that they soon marry: Gunther should free Brünnhilde who is sleeping on a mountaintop surrounded by fire until a hero wakes her. Gutrune, in turn, should lure Siegfried, who is the only one capable of breaking through the wall of fire. A magic potion that obliterates all memory and at the same triggers instant desire is to help. Hagen’s plan—that Siegfried bring Gunther his bride, and in return receive Gutrune’s hand in marriage—meets with the agreement of the two siblings.
Hagen is sure that Siegfried will also come to the Gibichungs on his travels, and sees his suspicions confirmed when he discovers the hero’s boat on the Rhine. Hagen calls to Siegfried and directs him to the hall, where Gunther welcomes him. Gutrune offers him the drink, which instantly causes him to forget Brünnhilde and fall in love with Gutrune. He would do anything to gain her affection. Gunther tells him of his desire to marry Brünnhilde, Siegfried offers his help, and the two swear their blood brotherhood. With this oath, demanding fidelity at the pain of death, the pact is sealed. Hagen keeps out of this, for he is forging plans of his own. While Gunther and Siegfried, who set off immediately, are on their way to the Rock of the Valkyries, he remains to keep watch over the hall of Gibichungs. Siegfried, who suspects nothing, will bring his own bride—and with her, the ring.
On the Rock of the Valkyries
Brünnhilde, whose thoughts are entirely by Siegfried, hears familiar sounds: Waltraute, one of the Valkyries, appears and reports of the sad state of the gods awaiting their end in Valhalla. Secretly, she has made her way to Brünnhilde to ask her for the ring. If the ring were returned to the Rhinemaidens, the world and the gods would be freed of Alberich’s curse. Brünnhilde, however, who at first had hoped for Wotan’s forgiveness, refuses to give her the ring—she could never surrender this token of Siegfried’s love. In desperation, Waltraute returns to Valhalla.
From far in the distance, Siegfried’s horn cries out to Brünnhilde. Full of enthusiasm, she rushes off to meet him, but is horrified upon seeing another man. By way of the magic of the tarnhelm, Siegfried has taken on the form of Gunther, broken through the fire, and taken Brünnhilde as his wife in Gunther’s name. Brünnhilde tries to resist, but can do nothing against Siegfried’s power. He tears the ring from her, and forces her to lie with him in their rocky lair. But as a sign that he does not want to betray Gunther, he places his sword Notung between them.
The Hall of the Gibichungs (same as the start of Act One)
During the night, the Nibelung Albrerich has secretly made his way to his son Hagen. Hagen remains asleep, but hears Alberich and reacts when reminded of his mission: he is to regain the ring that Alberich considers rightfully his. Siegfried must be destroyed in order to regain the ring that lends infinite power. Hagen swears—more to himself than to his father—to complete the task already in progress.
Siegfried has rushed ahead of Gunther and Brünnhilde. At dawn, with the help of the Tarnhelm he returns to Gibichung Hall and reports to Hagen and Gutrune of their travels and the freeing of Gunther’s bride. Gutrune is afraid of Siegfried, but he seeks to allay her fears. He wants to rest before the boat arrives with Gunther and Brünnhilde; in the meantime, preparations should be made for a double wedding.
Hagen assembles all the men. No expense is to be spared for the celebration, and Brünnhilde is to be received at Gibichung Hall with all the appropriate honors. But if anything were to happen to her, he requests that they delay in carrying out revenge.
Greeted by the assembly, Gunther appears with Brünnhilde, and Siegfried and Gutrune appear as the second couple. Brünnhilde is horrified when she sees Siegfried, who fails to recognize her, at the side of a woman unknown to her. On top of that, when she discovers the ring on his hand, she is convinced that she has been cheated. Before the entire assembly, Brünnhilde accuses Siegfried of unfaithfulness. Siegfried not only considers himself innocent, but he also wants to avoid embarrassing Gunther. Siegfried and then Brünnhilde take an oath on the tip of Hagen’s sword: either Siegfried has kept his word to his blood brother Gunther or has dishonorably betrayed him. It is only with difficulty that Siegfried is able to appease the crowd by urging them to come to the wedding feast.
Brünnhilde, Gunther, and Hagen remain behind. Brünnhilde feels deceived, yet is unable to solve the puzzle. Hagen offers her the power of his weapon. He could avenge Siegfried’s false oath with his spear. Brünnhilde reveals the place on his back where Siegfried is vulnerable. Gunther, who feels both betrayed and guilty of betrayal, is informed of the revenge plan. Siegfried’s death, which is considered unavoidable by all three, is to be disguised as a hunting accident.
Forest on the Rhine
The announced hunt has begun. Siegfried, still without success, has reached the shore of the Rhine. There, he meets the Rhinemaidens from whom Alberich stole the Rheingold to forge the ring so long ago. When the Rhinemaidens see Siegfried wearing the ring, they ask him for it. But when they foretell that he will die later that day, Siegfried refuses their proposal that he exchange the ring in return for forestland. He refuses to be intimidated by their threats; he would rather freely throw away life and limb than surrender the ring.
The hunting party with Gunther and Hagen has reached Siegfried. All sit down to rest, and food and drink is served. Hagen encourages Siegfried to tell of his deeds. Siegfried obliges, and reports of his youth with Mime, the forging of his sword Notung, the struggle with Fafner, and the words of the forest bird that he was suddenly able to understand through the blood of the slain worm. In the midst of the story, Hagen hands him a drink that will return his memory of Brünnhilde. Siegfried, who is becoming more and more engaged in narrating his tale announces how at the advice of the forest bird he reached Brünnhilde on the rock, broke through the fire, kissed the sleeping woman awake, and took her as his wife. Hagen, who had only been waiting for proof of Siegfried’s disloyalty to Gunther, stabs Siegfried with his spear. He struggles valiantly, but in vain, and in moment of his death his thoughts are once again with Brünnhilde. A funeral procession with Siegfried’s corpse makes its way towards Gibichung Hall.
Gutrune, who is waiting there, hears the call of a horn. Suspecting the worst, she is expecting the hunting party. When she takes notice of the dead Siegfried, she immediately thinks of murder. Hagen confesses to the deed: but insists that he has only avenged the false oath taken by Siegfried. Hagen demands the ring that Gunther also sees as rightfully his; after a brief struggle, Hagen strikes down his half-brother. But when he tries to take the ring from Siegfried’s hand, the dead arm rises, and Hagen retreats.
Brünnhilde enters the scene. She takes the ring in possession, which she then wants to return to the Rhinemaidens to break the curse. She orders a funeral pyre to be built for Siegfried and for herself. She sends Wotan’s ravens to Valhalla, to announce the coming redemptive downfall. On their way there, they are to send Loge to Valhalla to set the castle of the gods on fire. Brünnhilde lights the pyre and rides with her steed Grane into the flames. Gibichung Hall collapses in the inferno, but the Rhine, flooding its banks, extinguishes the fire. The Rhinemaidens can be seen swimming in the water, holding the ring in their hands. Hagen, who still wants to take possession of the ring, is pulled down into the watery depths. A fiery glow emerges in the sky: Valhalla is burning, and the end of the gods is at hand.