For over four minutes at the end of the performance, the creative team behind the current Bayreuth Ring simply stood in the footlights and let the mixture of applause and very vocal opposition break over them. Taken as a whole, the production probably deserved both bouquets and brickbats: it was by turns infuriatingly indulgent, interestingly provocative, visually beautiful, puzzling and rewarding. The director Frank Castorf’s take on Götterdämmerung was considerably less anarchic than his Siegfried, although the reworking of the ending clearly raised some hackles (and heckles). The cast last night was rightly exempted from any of the audience’s strictures: all the singers were warmly applauded, with the conductor Kirill Petrenko again the hero of the hour, or rather, the six-hour-and-twenty-minute run-time of the final instalment of Wagner’s tetralogy (intervals included).

Allison Oakes (Gutrune), Stephen Milling (Hagen) and Alejandro Marco Buhrmester (Gunther) © Bayreuther Festspiele | Enrico Nawrath
Allison Oakes (Gutrune), Stephen Milling (Hagen) and Alejandro Marco Buhrmester (Gunther)
© Bayreuther Festspiele | Enrico Nawrath

Most of the multi-sided set for Götterdämmerung was seemingly Berlin-based: one side showed a building wrapped in the manner of Christo’s German parliament project, another a fruit-and-veg shop next to a Döner kebab shop. A third narrow elevation showed a tenement-style staircase, with a ground-level room which was at times a voodoo temple, at others a homeless squat. The fourth side was a German chemical plant, with oil barrels stacked in front. Castorf and his stage designer Aleksandar Denić ignored Chekov’s famous injunction that if you show a gun you need to use it at some point, for these barrels were not used to ignite the Valhalla-consuming fire at the end. The coverings on the presumed Bundestag were eventually dropped in Act III, to reveal “The New York Stock Exchange”, although whatever political point was being made wasn’t followed through.

The costume design by Adriana Braga Peretzki for the Norns counter-intuitively paired vividly coloured party dresses with bag-lady outer coverings. Anna Lapkovskaja (also the Rhinemaiden Flosshilde) was an especially compelling First Norn, while Claudia Mahnke also did double duty on the night as Second Norn and Waltraute. Although she was thoroughly excellent in the latter role, I wondered whether it lay a little low in her range at times for ideal comfort.

Stephen Milling, who wowed me as Marke in a Berlin Tristan last year, was an outstanding Hagen. Not only was his voice thrilling and, when needed, vast, he also captured the formidable menace of his character better than most others I’ve seen. His Watch Song was delivered from inside an iron grill, but this only intensified the impression of restrained malevolent power. In the first flush of reformist zeal, Wagner banished the chorus from the early Ring operas, but following Hagen’s rallying cry, the vassals have a brief but memorable scene, which the men of the Festival chorus delivered with gusto.

Catherine Foster (Brünnhilde) and Stefan Vinke (Siegfried) © Bayreuther Festspiele | Enrico Nawrath
Catherine Foster (Brünnhilde) and Stefan Vinke (Siegfried)
© Bayreuther Festspiele | Enrico Nawrath

The quest to make Siegfried as unpleasant as possible continued in this opera: aside from his very physical altercations with the Rhinemaidens, he was shown randomly beating up a homeless man who objected to the liberties he was taking with his girlfriend. One could only admire the prodigious vocal stamina of Stefan Vinke while becoming more and more alienated from his character, even after he was clubbed (not speared) by Hagen. Catherine Foster as Brünnhilde convinced me more here than earlier in the cycle: as vengeance-seeker she was utterly compelling, and her big final scene was masterfully controlled. Early in the Prologue, a small camp-stool collapsed under her: whether intentional comedy or accident was hard to say, although if the latter, she deserves massive kudos for not letting it throw her, either metaphorically or literally.

Both the Gibichungs were impressive: Allison Oakes (who earlier in the cycle played Freia and Gerhilde) was perhaps the most emotive actor on the stage this night, and made Gutrune a much more impressive and multi-faceted character than one might have expected. As Gunther, Alejandro Marco-Buhrmester was in good voice, although the emotional changes he was required to undergo (sometimes sleaze, sometimes betrayed husband) did not ring particularly true.

Stefan Vinke (Siegfried), Julia Rutigliano, Mirella Hagen and Anna Lapkovskaja (Rhinemaidens) © Bayreuther Festspiele | Enrico Nawrath
Stefan Vinke (Siegfried), Julia Rutigliano, Mirella Hagen and Anna Lapkovskaja (Rhinemaidens)
© Bayreuther Festspiele | Enrico Nawrath

As in Das Rheingold, the Rhinemaidens were ladies of the night, although their urban incarnations here in Act III were far more dangerous than those we saw in the little Texan whorehouse. They were first seen dumping the corpse of Patric Seibert (the ubiquitous non-singing actor) in the trunk of their car, then seducing Siegfried and pursuing Brünnhilde with inexorable determination in her final scene. Their antics never interfered with the delights of their part-singing, which was always perfectly tuned and crisply articulated.

Perhaps predictably, we were deprived of a big, cathartic ending to go with Wagner’s sublime music. Even though Brünnhilde doused the stage with gasoline, raising hopes of a big conflagration, she eventually just handed the ring to Wellgunde and walked off stage. The Rhinemaiden later dropped it into a tiny brazier. As Hagen stood there in frozen horror, the video streamed a sequence in which his body was launched with full honours onto a picture-perfect lake. Why the villain would be the one to achieve this post-mortem honour is just one of the unsolved puzzles of this irritating but rich production, which will probably linger longer in my memory than many other more sympathetic shows.