After the high-octane approach of Das Rheingold, Frank Castorf takes a more conventional approach to Die Walküre. The black gold theme is still there, with a relocation to the Azerbaijan oil-fields across the years from their initial exploitation in the 19th century through the Russian Revolution to their crucial role on the Eastern Front in the Second World War. The use of parallel filmed narratives is much reduced and easier to ignore when it becomes a distraction. But the main story is presented straight and presents a highly emotionally charged depiction of relationships in different states: the burgeoning love between the siblings Siegmund and Sieglinde, the calamitous breakdown of the marriage between Wotan and Fricka and the father-daughter relationship of Wotan and Brünnhilde.

Heidi Melton (Sieglinde) and Christopher Ventris (Siegmund) © Enrico Nawrath
Heidi Melton (Sieglinde) and Christopher Ventris (Siegmund)
© Enrico Nawrath

The humour’s still in evidence, though, with the film of Wotan seducing (presumably) the twins’ cake-gorging mother (she later chooses the most inopportune moment to crash in on the Wotan-Fricka contretemps) and a theme one realises was also there in Rheingold: little prefigurements of the next episode in the cycle. Before it was Loge with his firelighter poised at the gas station in anticipation of the Magic Fire; here it is Wotan taunting Brünnhilde with a bear costume, à la Siegfried with Mime, and the oil-rig’s nodding donkey with red lights for eyes and a revolutionary red flag in its ‘mouth’ making an unmistakeable dragon-in-waiting.

Catherine Foster (Brünnhilde) © Enrico Nawrath
Catherine Foster (Brünnhilde)
© Enrico Nawrath

Again, Aleksander Denić’s set impresses, with a vast wooden barn-like structure surmounted by a drilling rig that evolves as the evening progresses. Adriana Braga Peretzki’s costumes, too, impress, with their exotic takes on central Asian dress for Fricka and the Valkyries, the latter changing into something more Art Deco to indicate the passing of time in Act III.

It really was difficult to find fault with the cast for this performance, beyond a momentary frog in the throat from Christopher Ventris’s otherwise solid Siegmund. Heidi Melton, making her Bayreuth debut at quite short notice after a late change of personnel, occasionally sounded a bit squally up high and under pressure in what was otherwise a very warm and sympathetic portrayal of Sieglinde. Sarah Connolly's consummate artistry made one want to be on Fricka’s side in her argument with Wotan, and Georg Zeppenfeld brought a classy form of rich vocal expression and dark timbre to Hunding. The octet of Valkyries had not a weak link among them.

Swedish bass-baritone John Lundgren’s Wotan was a revelation – one of the most intense and gripping portrayals of the role I can remember, sung with suavity, poise and deep sympathy. The character’s Farewell to Brünnhilde in the final scene has rarely come closer to drawing tears. Brünnhilde herself, the British, German-based soprano Catherine Foster, was every bit his equal – this also was one of the most rounded, fluent assumptions of this role to be heard in recent times, and I look forward with real anticipation to hearing her in the rest of the cycle.

Heidi Melton (Sieglinde), Georg Zeppenfeld (Hunding) and Christopher Ventris (Siegmund) © Enrico Nawrath
Heidi Melton (Sieglinde), Georg Zeppenfeld (Hunding) and Christopher Ventris (Siegmund)
© Enrico Nawrath

Finally, and certainly not to be dismissed in a hurry, is the conducting of Marek Janowski. If one sensed a loss of dramatic impact in Rheingold, it was restored here. Janowski’s tempi are swift, and the first-act trajectory from faltering uncertainty to blazing ecstasy seemed to pass in a flash. But the dramatic pacing is in reality acute, with nothing passed over and with the orchestra figuratively on fire throughout the evening.