8 personal finance lessons from “Gotterdammerung.”

I spent six butt-numbing hours at the movies on Saturday, watching the Metropolitan Opera’s live broadcast of “Gotterdammerung.” Spectacle, pageantry, a buff and bitchin’ Siegfried who turned out to have a down-home Texas accent – it was a very successful day.

The only thing better than opera is frugal opera. In fact, the show didn’t cost me anything:


  • I paid for my $22 ticket with movie theater gift cards that I got for free by using a rewards credit card.
  • The theater is only about three blocks away so I didn’t have to take a bus.
  • During intermissions I left the auditorium (had to – my butt was asleep!) to stretch my legs. I also enjoyed a cinnamon raisin bagel, courtesy of another free gift card.
  • The soft drink I sipped during the show was free, too, thanks to My Coke Rewards – and I was amused to find that large soft drinks = free refills at this particular chain.

People don’t usually attend the opera to learn smart money practices. But composer Richard Wagner passed along some decent personal finance lessons in this soaring (and loud!) tale of greed, betrayal, mortal passion and godly demise.

I say you should take PF tips wherever you find them, whether they’re from the mouth of a once-was-Valkyrie or a malevolent dwarf played by a regular-sized human. (When it comes to opera, the willing suspension of disbelief is a useful life skill.)


How much is enough?

1. Money isn’t the be-all and end-all. Certainly it’s useful. Gunther has a ton of bucks, a swell castle, fancy clothes, and hot and cold running vassals. But he wants more gold and more power. When is enough enough? After your first heart attack? (Although Gunther doesn’t live long enough to earn that infarction. He gets stabbed to death instead, a direct result of his greed.)

2. Don’t make big decisions based on partial information or strong emotion. Brunnhilde is rightly ticked off by Siegfried’s apparent betrayal, and responds by telling an enemy how he can vanquish her strapping former sweetheart. What she doesn’t know is that his bad behavior was caused by a magic spell. So he ends up mortally wounded, remembering as he dies the glory that was Siegfried und Brunnhilde. Oops. So don’t invest in a “sure thing” without checking it thoroughly, or lend a panicked friend money without considering whether you can really afford it.

3. Your kids need to choose their own paths. That venal dwarf, Alberich, urges his son, Hagen, to obtain the magic ring so ol’ Dad can rule the world. This obsession with power infects his son, who decides to get the ring for himself. As you can imagine, this can’t end well.

4. If you go into a line of work you dislike, you probably won’t end up happy. Or even alive. As noted, Hagen is a crafty dude in search of power (read: the ring) but the machinations leave him “pale and exhausted, old before (his) time.” At the end, his focus on money and power leads to a watery grave. Maybe he should have enrolled in community college to learn HVAC instead of letting daddy-o influence his career choice.


You won’t always be young

5. Don’t lie to women. At one point Siegfried tells Gunther not to worry that Brunnhilde is furious at being bartered and betrayed, because “women’s anger fades quickly.” Um, no, it doesn’t – we just get really good at hiding it. Which brings me to the corollary lesson…

6. Don’t lie to men, either. Stretching the truth with either sex to get what you want will likely cost you, whether it’s in the form of lawsuits or physical revenge (a whole lotta that in opera in general).

7. Enjoy your youth, but plan to get old. Siegfried is in the prime of his life and one hell of a street fighter, but he’s also pragmatic enough to mention that his limbs are sturdy “now, while I am young.” Yes, you should have a life but that doesn’t mean spending every dime you earn. Get some kind of individual retirement account going.

8. Plan to die, too. After Siegfried sings his way off this mortal coil there’s a bit of a tussle over the ring. He didn’t specify who should get it because he didn’t expect to die that day. (He should have listened to those Rhine Maidens. They tried to tell him.) Some people don’t expect to die ever – but when they do, they leave a big ol’ intestate mess for their loved ones to untangle. Write a will, already.

Hope I haven’t spoiled the ending for you. But this is opera. You expect a whole bunch of people to die. At least they do it tunefully.

P.S. Free refills of large soft drinks aren’t necessarily a good idea during a show that long.

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  1. Thank you for keeping this post under 6 hours! The world is just one money saving adventure after another for you. Lessons are everywhere for the frugal and so is a flat butt.

  2. I enjoyed the NPR interview, (I LOVED how he said it was hard to memorize the part! Opera singers never say that!) but turned off the radio as soon as the broadcast came on. The only Wagner opera I like is Die Meistersinger. (A life affirming opera that has different life lessons. 🙂 )

  3. Six….hours….in…a…theatre…Forget about my butt, I would have been asleep….I do applaud your creativity though in getting some pretty “pricey” entertainment ….FOR FREE. Pretty cool in my book.

  4. Hi there jestjack. (duttinger from the ms boards here) Hope all is well with you and your family.

    Donna, forgive my ignorance, but is this opera in English? I’ve not heard of it before.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Lynn: Nope, it’s in German — but there are subtitles. The entire Ring cycle lasts 15 hours and stretches over four nights when performed live. I may give this a try when Seattle Opera does them in August 2013.

  5. You are a brave brave woman.

  6. Even when you’re enjoying a leisure activity, you’re on the job! “Frugal opera” sounds like an oxymoron, but the rare smart person finds a way. I have a brilliant friend who managed to save up her pennies for a season ticket in the nosebleed seats at the Chicago Lyric Opera – as much as she loved the opera, this turned out to be a pretty great deal. The true frugal hack was that she told all her friends about how much she liked it, so for her 30th birthday a bunch of us chipped in to get her the next season’s tickets. No free refills on the drinks, however…

  7. I’ve been tempted by many of those live-broadcast events in theatres, have never been to one … yet. Sounds like you not only had a great time, you were very attentive throughout. 🙂 Guessing this was not your first time seeing this particular piece?

    • Donna Freedman

      @Chacha1: Actually this was my first viewing of “Gotterdammerung.” I think I’ll try the entire Ring cycle next-next August, though, to test my mettle. The live broadcast was pretty powerful but there’s something about a live performance that can’t quite translate.
      Imagine how I’ll be reeling after 15 hours in four days. Ach!

  8. Hi Lynn, I hope all is well since we last spoke on the “old ms boards”. Is your son still with you? DW is doing OK since she lost her folks almost 2 years ago. More importantly how are you since your loss? Good hearing from you. -Jestjack

  9. ImJuniperNow

    All I can say is, thank God for WQXR FM radio and their streaming webcasts. Opera at home has many advantages.

    You can wear your own Bride of the Valkyries costume and drink all the soda you want.


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