Previously in Bayreuth's new mini-series-inspired The Ring of the Nibelung… Actually, not being Wagner, I don't need to spend half my time recapping, but can instead direct the reader via hyperlinks to my previous reviews of Das Rheingold, Die Walküre and Siegfried and move on to discussing the final drama in the cycle, Götterdämmerung, for which I suppose I should issue a spoiler alert. Though to an extent director Valentin Schwarz does the spoiling by providing a rather damp-squib conclusion to his rethinking of Wagner’s plot.

Stéphanie Müther and Kelly God (Norns)
© Bayreuth Festspiele | Enrico Nawrath

It begins promisingly, though, with one of his more inspired ideas in presenting one of the composer's key pieces of back-narration, introducing the only instance of fantasy in the whole staging. We have moved on a generation from the end of the previous 'episode', and Siegfried and Brünnhilde have finally got round to having a child together. His bedtime story sets off a dream in which the three Norns emerge like glistening sprites from the bedclothes and tell their tale. 

Siegfried, though, seems to have the 30-year itch and is keen to get out from under Brünnhilde’s feet, reluctantly taking the aged family retainer Grane as his servant on his travels. Unfortunately for Grane, the first people they meet are the Gibichung clan, just moving into the vacated Valhalla and revealed to be enthusiastic big-game hunters – the anthropomorphised horse doesn’t survive long in their brutal company. Siegfried, meanwhile, is so over Brünnhilde that he easily falls for Gutrune and doesn’t need a potion of forgetfulness to be persuaded to help Gunther woo his own wife. Gunther also snatches their child, who is now effectively representative of the ring and the love between Siegfried and Brünnhilde, it seems.

Elisabeth Teige (Gutrune) and Michael Kupfer-Radecky (Gunther)
© Bayreuth Festspiele | Enrico Nawrath

Less transparent is Hagen's motivation to bring Siegfried down, beyond his having been snubbed by his brief, one-time friend following Fafner's death and the hero's greater interest in Brünnhilde. One mustn't forget that Schwarz made Hagen a victim of child abduction and grooming from the start and he barely recognises his 'father'-abductor Alberich. Far from tying up loose ends in the director's reconceived plot around the rivalries within an extended famiily, the final stages of the drama begin to unravel like the Norns' rope of fate. One can appreciate the replacement of Hagen's vassals, in what is purporting to be a contemporary drama, with a different kind of gathering – hooded cloaks and Viking-inspired masks suggest a kind of sinister Sons of Wotan secret society. This middle act is also the only real presentation of scenic spectacle in the whole of Schwarz's vision, with effective use of the whole stage depth, lighting and dry ice.

Chor der Bayreuther Festspiele
© Bayreuth Festspiele | Enrico Nawrath

Act 3 begins well, too, with Siegfried having taken his son fishing in the dregs of water still remaining in an abandoned, drained swimming pool, where they are accosted by the now aged, arthritic Rhinemaidens. The hunting party of the original neatly becomes Gunther's debauched stag do, and there's a telling moment when Siegfried finally recognises Hagen as his one-time friend thanks to the knuckleduster he still sports. Hagen kills Siegfried as he spills the beans about Brünnhilde, and then sits brooding to one side as if regretful of his deed. Siegfried himself addresses his dying words in praise of Brünnhilde to the child, again suggesting his symbolic status. 

Albert Dohmen (Hagen), Michael Kupfer-Radecky (Gunther) and Stephen Gould (Siegfried)
© Bayreuth Festspiele | Enrico Nawrath

Then it all goes rather flat. Brünnhilde gives the first part of her oration through a security fence before moving to the front of the stage (a bit of fourth-wall breaking since she doesn't use the observable means of access to the bottom of the swimming-pool, a ladder and a water outlet). She finds Grane's severed head in a carrier bag and spends the rest of her time caressing it like another Salome before lying down to expire next to Siegfried's body. The child having collapsed dead for no apparent reason, Hagen's last attempt to retrieve the 'ring' seems all too insignificant, and he just slopes off to live another day, while a wall of fluorescent lights signifies something but hardly the end of the world.

It was a pity, because so much of Schwarz's conception worked at a detailed level, whether in keeping with the music and text or playfully subverting them, and important themes were introduced that cast light on Wagner’s great music drama. But things remain unanswered – the glowing pyramid, for example, which had seemed so significant earlier on, makes no appearance again after the first act, and the ending made one think of the traditional exclamation to make when one is nonplussed at the end of a long drama series: 'was that it?'.

Iréne Theorin (Brünnhilde)
© Bayreuth Festspiele | Enrico Nawrath

Fortunately, the musical side was as strong as ever, with Stephen Gould a clarion Siegfried and Iréne Theorin in notably better voice than before as Brünnhilde. Albert Dohmen may have lacked the usual dark vocal colour of a Hagen, but presented him with some sympathy for once. Ólafur Sigurdarson capped his fine portrayal of Alberich and Michael Kupfer-Radecky's Gunther and Elisabeth Teige's Gutrune were grippingly sung and wonderfully over the top as characterisations. The trios of Norns and Rhinemaidens were all well balanced. The chorus sang lustily and the orchestra again played magnificently under Cornelius Meister's penetratingly resourceful conducting.