Something one of the Norns sang sent me off on this tangent....
Conventional wisdom holds that Alberich is the villain of Der Ring des Nibelungen. (Wagner seems to have been fairly clear on this interpretation, and on the canonical interpretation of Alberich's ethnicity, but let's ignore his opinion.) But is he really?
Just how much damage did Alberich actually do? Yeah, he set some evil subplots in motion, but most of the harm was done by others, and mainly not at his instigation. If we're going by harm done, then from the destruction of the world ash tree to the destruction of the rule of law, surely the finger of blame must point squarely at Wotan.
And, from a certain perspective, Alberich might even be considered a sympathetic character! Try this on for size: The Rhinemaidens represent the air-headed transnational ruling class, frolicking in the sunshine at Davos (or wherever). Alberich is an ugly, grubby industrial worker who emerges from the mine (or factory), sees the world above ground and the Beautiful People who inhabit it, and aspires to be part of it. They taunt him and mock him until, pushed past the breaking point, he hardens himself against one of their two sources of power and steals the other for his own.
From this point on things get spotty, and there's significant unreliable narration (notably from Mime), but in general terms Alberich seems to be organizing (Mime says enslaving, but he's not to be trusted) the diligent and heretofore peaceful workers for an uprising against the rulers above. Wotan, needing goodies to buy his way out of a contract he hadn't really planned on paying for, crushes the uprising and confiscates the workers' wealth and Alberich's source of power.
And on we go from there. See? Alberich isn't the villain at all; he's the tragic hero of a failed workers' uprising against the beautiful but corrupt ruling class. His long-plotted, and well-deserved, revenge can only succeed through the greed and vanity of the rulers of Earth and Valhalla. The slightest hint of moral strength on their part at any of several key junctures, and tragedy could have been averted.
No, I haven't looked around to see if anyone else has come up with this interpretation. I kind of wish I'd thought of it back in college (not that I had any excuse for writing a term paper about the Ring).
Added: The Giants are also grubby working stiffs whom the rulers regard with nothing but contempt. And, as a reminder that Wotan is not much more trustworthy than Mime:
Fasolt und Fafner, der Rauhen Fürsten,
neideten Nibelungs Macht;
Only that's not how it happened, was it? The Giants wanted to be paid the agreed-upon price for their labors; Wotan refused, saying that the deal had been made in jest; after Loge reported on the accumulated wealth of the Nibelungs, they announced that they'd accept that in payment. As the Wanderer tells the story, he omits his own key role in it.