Cyrena van Gordon (1893–1964) as Brünnhilde in Die Walküre (The Valkyrie).
Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen
Named for a magic ring made of gold taken from the Rhine River, and with a libretto based on Germanic mythology, Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung) chronicles the epic struggles of gods and mortals. The protagonists include Brünnhilde (the leader of the Valkyries) and Siegfried, her lover. Wagner began work on his magnum opus in 1848 with a draft for what he intended to call Siegfrieds Tod (Siegfried's Death); he expanded his concept to include Siegfried's youth and an earlier portion of the story in which the ring first appears. In all, the four operas require more than fifteen hours to perform (a complete Ring Cycle is usually presented on four successive evenings). Wagner finished the work in 1874, twenty-six years after he began, and the first complete Ring was performed in 1876. The costumes for that production, designed by Carl Emil Döpler (1824–1905), featured winged helmets for the Valkyries, a concept echoed in many later productions.