The Many Legacies of Brunhilde: Ancient Shield Maiden, National Symbol, and ‘Fat Lady’ of the Opera | Ancient Origins Members Site


The Many Legacies of Brunhilde: Ancient Shield Maiden, National Symbol, and ‘Fat Lady’ of the Opera

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The Many Legacies of Brunhilde: Ancient Shield Maiden, National Symbol, and ‘Fat Lady’ of the Opera

The Many Legacies of Brunhilde: Ancient Shield Maiden, National Symbol, and ‘Fat Lady’ of the Opera

Richard Wagner’s 19th century opera, Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of Nibelungen), affectionately known as The “Ring” Cycle, may be considered by many as the height of operatic absurdity, with larger than life staging, costumes and voices. The image is so ingrained in the modern consciousness that opera lovers and non-lovers alike associate the opera, specifically the character of Brunhilde, with a heavy-set female opera singer wearing her hair in pig-tails, costumed with horned helmet and armor. As the opera went on to make its mark on popular culture, from featuring in an episode of Bugs Bunny to inspiring a Quentin Tarantino film, Brunhilde became a more visually recognizable figure, which is not always followed by immediate association to her name and her story.

Austrian soprano Anna Bahr-Mildenburg as Brünnhilde (Brunhilde) in Richard Wagner's Walküre. 1898.

Austrian soprano Anna Bahr-Mildenburg as Brünnhilde (Brunhilde) in Richard Wagner's Walküre. 1898. (Public Domain)

Brunhilde is an ancient character who can be traced back to Norse mythology. She is a shield maiden and, mostly due to her presence in German literature and the modern media, arguably the most famous of the Valkyrie. Before being made famous by Wagner, she appears as a character in the Eddic poems and the Volsunga Saga, as well as in the Nibelungenlied (The Song of the Nibelungens), a German epic of the 1200s.


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