Conceived by Richard Wagner as a prologue to his monumental Ring cycle, this work sets forth the dramatic and theoretical issues that play out in three subsequent music dramas. The confrontations and dialogue in Das Rheingold are punctuated by thrilling musical and dramatic coups, and the entire work has a magnificent sweep. With Das Rheingold, Wagner fully realized his much-discussed system of leitmotifs (musical themes associated with specific things, people, or ideas). This technique is at its most accessible in this opera; in the later parts of the Ring, the number of leitmotifs multiplies, their use becoming more and more ambitious and intricate.
The initial installment of the Ring cycle depicts the original sin of the theft of the sacred golden treasure, the vanity of the gods, the greed of the Nibelungen, the fratricide of the giants, and the building of Valhalla. Bass-baritone Greer Grimsley sings the role of Wotan, the conflicted lord of the gods. Mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton sings her first Wagner role at the Met as Wotan's embattled wife, Fricka.