In making all his characters human (even Brünnhilde’s horse, Grane), director Valentin Schwarz eases us across the divide between the usual gods-and-dwarves Das Rheingold and the world of mankind that opens Die Walküre. Hunding's down-at-heels "hut" is a complete contrast to Wotan's realm: tree roots have forced their way through the glass walls and Hunding himself spends much of the time at his fuse box trying to get the electric lighting to work. Most significantly, Sieglinde is already pregnant, but by whom remains a mystery, with Siegmund, Wotan and her husband all potentially in the frame.

Tomasz Konieczny (Wotan), Georg Zeppenfeld (Hunding) and Christa Mayer (Fricka)
© Bayreuth Festspiele | Enrico Nawrath

The relationship that blossoms between the twins is movingly presented as memory of their idyllic childhood together – the spring that dispels the winter storms of the text – while the illuminated box that mystified in Rheingold (a glowing pyramid rather than cone as it seemed then) turns out to be a repository for Nothung the revolver. (There's still one in the Wotans' living room in Act 2, so perhaps it's some symbol of knowledge, or the passing on thereof.) In TV drama style, this first act ends on a cliffhanger, with Hunding about to cosh the fleeing Siegmund with his adjustable wrench as the curtain quickly falls.

That danger temporarily dispelled, Act 2 opens on Freia's funeral. Perhaps she died of a broken heart after her Stockholm Syndrome crush on the murdered Fasolt. Hunding has come in person to petition Fricka about his cuckolding, and eventually leaves satisfied that justice will be done. More interestingly, Schwarz has Wotan and Fricka witness Brünnhilde’s Annunciation of Death to Siegmund – Wotan slinks away when Siegmund rejects his fate, while Fricka is made to witness the consequence of her steadfastness. Then comes a more mystifying action: as Siegmund goes off to battle, Wotan attempts to molest Sieglinde, whether to rape her or abort her baby remains unclear. In the fight it falls to Wotan himself to shoot his own son Siegmund, to his immediate remorse. It lays bare the question as to when he decides he has to stop the succession he has put into play.

Die Walküre, Act 3
© Bayreuth Festspiele | Enrico Nawrath

The start of Act 3 brings some welcome light relief with the Valkyrie sisters shown all bandaged up after cosmetic surgery, a reversal of the usual depiction of the slain warriors they are supposedly transporting, who instead seem to be figures in their glossy magazines. Grane is depicted as Brünnhilde’s personal assistant or "companion", and seems to represent the compassionate side of her character as he sees the fleeing Sieglinde to safety (without any sign of taking Nothung with her, incidentally). Sieglinde has given birth in her flight from the scene of battle, which rather conflicts with Brünnhilde’s revelation of the hero she is harbouring in her womb, unless we are not meant to take the text literally here but rather a plea for her to accept motherhood and the baby she has up to now rejected (Grane again taking on the nursing role here).

The final scene sees Wotan physically crumple under the weight of his own actions, as Brünnhilde and Grane slink off on their own to a rock encased in a glass pyramid and a large screen falls to hide them from view. Fricka comes in with a drinks trolley hoping to celebrate her victory – her clinking of glasses is a neat analogy for the summoning of Loge, though we don't actually get his fire beyond a single candle on the trolley – but Wotan disappoints her and drops his wedding ring into her proffered glass. She has given him Brünnhilde’s wide-brimmed hat, and in true "Next Time…" style he briefly seems to consider what he can do with it and we seem all set for Siegfried.

The Valkyries
© Bayreuth Festspiele | Enrico Nawrath

If anything this was stronger musically than the previous night's Rheingold. Cornelius Meister seemed to have cracked the theatre's acoustic pitfalls with a greater dynamic range, and his shaping of many of the score's more delicate passages was beautifully done. Tomasz Konieczny was a far more interesting Wotan, unconventional perhaps, but incisive. Irene Theorin's Brünnhilde, though, has seen better days, the tone spraying widely under pressure and her text often masked by the vibrato. She was out-sung by the Sieglinde of Lise Davidsen, who put her huge, focused voice to searing effect - what are the odds of her taking on the Valkyrie mantle in time for the next, 150th anniversary Ring in 2026? As Siegmund, Klaus Florian Vogt continues to up his game as a rather unconventional sounding Wagnerian tenor; he even sings his first Siegfried this autumn. Georg Zeppenfeld impressed as ever as Hunding and Christa Mayer's Fricka was a real force to be reckoned with. Mayer also doubled as Schwertleite, and was one among equals in her accomplished Valkyrie coterie.

Plenty more to think about, then, and Schwarz has certainly upped his game in his direction of character. The drama seems to be successfully following its own internal logic through the use of tropes and clichés from multi-episode TV drama, throwing up interesting insights on Wagner’s original by playing around with its own uncertainties. And there's still the hope that what inconsistencies there are in Schwarz's own retelling can still be resolved.