Written notices before Act II of Siegfried cautioned of a loud noise to come, but after this Act, and still more by end of the opera, one felt that the warning was misapplied. Yes, the gunfire as Siegfried dispatched Fafner was indeed ear-splitting, but it was as nothing compared to the spiritual shocks of a production which seemed hell-bent on working against the very idea of narrative integrity. Castorf’s postmodern dramaturgy (he is a known exponent of postdramatic theatre) turned Wagner’s plot into a collage of random juxtapositions and paradoxes, and while there were plenty of visually striking moments, the whole point seemed to be that there was no greater whole, nor indeed much point. As such, the third part of this production of Ring went considerably further than his Rheingold, which merely provided a strong misreading of the tone of Wagner’s drama. Welcome to music [post] drama.

Stefan Vinke (Siegfried), Andreas Conrad (Mime) and Patric Seibert © Bayreuther Festspiele | Enrico Nawrath
Stefan Vinke (Siegfried), Andreas Conrad (Mime) and Patric Seibert
© Bayreuther Festspiele | Enrico Nawrath

Some common motifs in the cycle so far: power is often expressed through exploitation of women (both Wotan in Das Rheingold and Fafner here ran a string of prostitutes); violence will be inflicted on the stage props at some point in the evening; and the dramaturg, Patric Seibert, may end up being the most prominent person in the entire production. His non-singing roles so far include a barman in Rheingold, a soldier who hides in a chicken coop in Walküre, and in Siegfried both the bear in Act I and the waiter in Act III. These aren’t just Hitchcockian cameos either – he was often cynosure of all eyes, as when he headbanged along to Siegfried’s forging song.

As in the previous two instalments, the set designs of Alexander Denić were gorgeous to behold, but rather more enigmatic than before: the opening Act took place against the backdrop of a quarry dominated by a Communist Mount Rushmore, with gigantic heads of Marx, Lenin, Stalin and Mao in place of the US Presidents. But whereas earlier in the cycle the stage rotations just gave another perspective on the same structure, this time the reverse side revealed in Act II was entirely different: an area in front of the Alexanderplatz U-Bahn station in Berlin. These two spaces alternated, with several scenes crossing over from one to the other: the “Forest murmurs” scene began in the urban setting, although the final slaying of Fafner took place in the other. The video projections were mercifully less intrusive here than in previous parts – one ingenious moment during the Act III Wotan-Siegfried confrontation saw their faces superimposed onto two of the Rushmore heads.

Stefan Vinke (Siegfried) and Wolfgang Koch (Wanderer) © Bayreuther Festspiele | Enrico Nawrath
Stefan Vinke (Siegfried) and Wolfgang Koch (Wanderer)
© Bayreuther Festspiele | Enrico Nawrath

This was not a production which made any effort to make Siegfried likable. In Act I, he tore up books and burned them, an act heavy with symbolic resonance (especially from a Berlin-based director), and after dispatching the would-be murderous Mime, he rather gratuitously emptied a sack of rubbish on him. Aside from tiring slightly at the end of Act I, Stefan Vinke was in good voice throughout. As Mime, Andreas Conrad was particularly good at conveying malevolent glee, and needless to say the anempathetic production stopped us feeling any sympathy at his fate. Albert Dohmen was strong vocally as Alberich, although again the production worked against our understanding his character as the primeval antagonist.

Fafner was not a dragon in this production, although an animatronic crocodile on the stage during his first scene provided a nod to the original stage direction (and with hindsight, a foreshadowing of what was to come). Andreas Hörl was deprived of the speaking tube through which the singer usually makes the dragon sound sepulchral, but nonetheless he was able to capture some of this depth of sound unaided. Wolfgang Koch was rather more convincing as the impersonal Wanderer than the stern-but-loving father at the end of Walküre, and the confrontation scene with Siegfried was one of the highlights of the evening. Nadine Weissmann again impressed as Erda (inevitably played as a prostitute here); after her part was finished, she went off-stage, only to return in a blond wig and provide another sort of oral pleasure, this time for Wotan alone. It was particularly ungracious of him to leave her by stuffing the restaurant bill into her top.

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

The ne plus ultra of oddness came in the final love scene between Brünnhilde and Siegfried, during which Catherine Foster demonstrated her lovely, liquid voice to advantage. By the end, the two singers had became a side-show to the antics of a series of crocodiles, who approached snapping and copulating. I’ve always found the Siegfried-Brünnhilde duet less than entirely gripping, so I could sympathise with Siegfried taking more interest in feeding the reptiles than in his partner. Then again, this free hero had already taken the edge off in his tryst at the end of Act II with the Woodbird (the excellent Mirella Hagen, dressed as a Brazilian carnival dancer). If Castorf had épater le bourgeois in mind when creating this production, then the volume of boos at the final curtain suggested that the bourgeoisie had indeed been succesfully scandalized.