Bayreuther Festspiele 2022; Siegfried Insz. Valentin Schwarz

Well, Wotan literally took his hat off at the end of Die Walküre, but now he’s the boss in Valhalla again. Arrives with Bodyguards in Mime’s Forge, which turns out to be a repurposed Caretaker Hunding’s Cabin. Dragon’s Cave and Brünnhilde’s Feuerfelsen are nothing more than the rooms of the Götterburg, whose atrium with sofa, house bar and staircase is now well-known. The Wotan clan, there is no escape.

Why was the abdication of the father of the gods so impressively depicted beforehand, if it wasn’t meant that way? A new confusion in Valentin Schwarz’ Bayreuth “Ring” or just another dramaturgical inconsistency?

And why, one wonders in terms of singer quality, is there no better Wotan than Tomasz Konwieczny for the Green Hill as the Wagner venue par excellence? Thank God he’s fine again after falling in his chair in Die Walküre, but he can’t get over the ramp in Siegfried. Sings as if behind closed doors, nasally, incomprehensibly.

The body tension of Olafur Sigurdarson (Alberich) or the bold buffo tone of Arnold Bezuyen (Mime), which never tilts into clumsy caricature, he only counters with the same joviality.

Meanwhile, the yob Siegfried doesn’t come with a bear, but drunk in the smithy, riots between Punch and Judy, friends of children’s puppets, the aquarium and the microwave. The pedagogically committed mime (even if he simulates frailty with crutches and a stairlift) waves porn photos around on Siegfried’s 18th birthday, the boy is grown up now.

Andreas Schager is celebrated by the audience (and the direction is met with louder and louder boos), but his range of expression as Siegfried is also limited. Wet bold diction, slightly braced, slightly sharp highs, always the same. Whether he bickers with Mime, forges the Nothung sword – to then pull it out of Mime’s crutch and behead the children’s dolls – or whether he later adores Brünnhilde.

Let’s talk about Valhalla. Domestics and domesticated nature, that is the core of the center of power. Overbuilt rocks, flora locked in glass cases, an artificial open fire in front of which the godfathers of the upper world and the underworld, Wotan and Alberich, declared twins in the opening credits, slouch.

Fafner, on the other hand, the dragon who hoards the coveted treasures, is a ailing senior patriarch whose care team includes the evil Hagen and the little forest bird (Alexandra Steiner with a fluttering, nervous soprano). Siegfried doesn’t have to ram a sword into the dragon’s heart, just pull the walker away, and Fafner (Wilhelm Schwinghammer) falls dead from shock. After Siegfried, this lout, had squeaked and blared particularly shrillly on his self-carved oboe reed – with nature every natural tone is ruined -, first flirts around with the pretty nurse.

Now the two assassinate Mime together, and even with Brünnhilde’s awakening in the third act, Hagen only trolls when things get violent between the two.

Valentin Schwarz likes alter egos, doppelgangers, pairings, soul mates, whether Brünnhilde with her companion instead of the horse Grane or Wotan and primordial mother Erda (again, Okka von der Damerau’s dark velvety alto captivates). Most of the time there are other staff in the background, watchers, envious people, observers. Being a clan member means you are never alone.

Nothing against clever interventions in the original. The additional population of the stage brings with it, above all, arbitrariness. There is constant distraction, new props and silly directorial ideas are brought up. Please, why does Siegfried keep throwing around Asian noodles from the cardboard box? Here Richard Wagner’s tightly woven, coherently mutating tonal flow of speech, there an indecisive, unraveling personality.

That’s also a pity, because stand-in conductor Cornelius Meister and the festival orchestra are stepping up again. They usually take the interludes in a sporty way, with clear accents and contours, and Mimes Esse not only sparks visible but also audibly powerful sparks. At the latest, the fragrant violin unisons and wind solos before the great love duet also ensure that inner tension and concentration that are missing in the scenic.

It is also absent from Brünnhilde, although Schwarz emphasizes the inconsistency of the figure. The Wotan daughter’s 30-year sleep, it turns out, was a beauty sleep. Wotan’s grandson Siegfried unwinds the bandages from his aunt’s face, the lifted woman stands in front of him, blonde and charming. Daniela Köhler’s sometimes shimmering, sometimes radiant soprano vocally convinces more than Iréne Theorin in Die Walküre, she knows how to use her vibrato in a more controlled way. On the other hand, in addition to Brünnhilde, reduced to the loving woman, there is also the warrior, who puts on her old cowgirl outfit for “Shining Love, Laughing Death”. A suspense that Schwarz unfortunately only talks about the accessories and about a short tomboy hip swing when she puts her cowboy hat back on. Psychology? Not necessary when the depravity that has been constant over generations has long been established. The future belongs only to the next couple of gangsters.