Siegfried is often referred to as the ‘scherzo’ of the Ring. And as well as often going at a fair lick, it has its own moments of levity, whether intentional – Siegfried’s attempt to communicate with the Woodbird – or not (“That’s not a man!”). Frank Castorf’s ‘post-dramatic’ approach to the drama adds more levels of irony, not least in his controversial introduction of a family of animatronic crocodiles to the final scene. On one level, this is perhaps his most blatant deflating of one of the sublimest passages of the whole cycle – Siegfried blithely feeding bread, basket and all, to daddy croc, while another swallows the poor Woodbird whole. But it is possible to see method in the madness as a way of indicating that the hero hasn’t after all learnt fear or commitment – he seems to be more interested in rescuing the Woodbird and falling for her easy virtue than accepting Brünnhilde’s offer of marriage.

Stefan Vinke (Siegfried) © Enrico Nawrath
Stefan Vinke (Siegfried)
© Enrico Nawrath

The final curtain drew the first volley of audience boos during this performance of the cycle, but whatever one thinks of that last scene, what came before it brought plenty of food for thought: Siegfried’s ‘bear’ in Act I as a human mime, tethered like a slave and forced to assist in the forging; the showgirl Woodbird in Act II, caged in, as it were, by her vast encumbrance of a bird-of-paradise costume; the encounter between Wotan/Wanderer and Erda in Act III reawakening their libidinous relationship from Rheingold over a meal of spaghetti and wine. These are just a few examples of how Castorf develops his themes of exploitation and consumerism through the cycle. The setting for Siegfried – in another of Aleksander Denić’s breathtaking sets – revolves between a spoof of Mount Rushmore, with the American presidents replaced by Communist icons (Marx, Lenin, Stalin and Mao) and a recreation of Alexanderplatz U-Bahn station in Communist East Berlin. The sweep of history is a major part of the overall concept, and several references are probably only to be understood by native Germans – for instance, a German friend tells me that when Berlin Zoo was bombed in the war, crocodiles escaped on to the underground network and were seen to emerge at Alexanderplatz.

Stefan Vinke (Siegfried) and Ana Durlovski (Woodbird) © Enrico Nawrath
Stefan Vinke (Siegfried) and Ana Durlovski (Woodbird)
© Enrico Nawrath

Siegfried is the point in the Ring where the baton of destiny passes from Wotan to Siegfried, from the gods to humans. And so we bade farewell to John Lundgren’s masterly Wanderer, as vocally commanding and rich an interpretation of the role as one is likely to hear today, and welcomed the arrival of the young hero in the form of Stefan Vinke. As conceived by Castorf as a wild man-child, Vinke ably plays the part, and his singing had both force and stamina – I can’t say, though, that I warmed to his rather monochrome timbre that also robbed the words of their impact. Catherine Foster’s Brünnhilde was glorious in its tonal allure and seeming ease with the dramatic projection of musical line and character. Nadine Weissmann’s Erda was as sumptuous of voice as before, and Albert Dohmen’s Alberich combined menace with passion. Andreas Conrad’s Mime was unremarkable, but Karl-Heinz Lehner’s Fafner roared convincingly (no dragon here) and Ana Durlovski twittered seductively as the Woodbird.

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

The fleet-footed writing in Siegfried suited Marek Janowski’s Wagner style particularly well, and his analytical attention to detail helped to iron over the stylistic gap that can often be felt between Acts II and III (the break during which Wagner wrote Tristan and Meistersinger). Mood and atmosphere were carefully evoked and the passions unleashed with unwavering energy amid searing playing from the Festival Orchestra.