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As the scene begins, Siegfried has just passed through the fire and arrives at the place where Brünnhilde sleeps. Perhaps the first thing we notice is that the background of the Mount Rushmore parody begins to fade and the faces of the Communist heroes become less distinct. This is practical in that it focuses our attention on the principals as well as signifying to us that the socio-political sheer forces, always in operation, will recede from the centre of attention for the conclusion of the act. We notice Brünnhilde now in the foreground in front of the monument, lying motionless and encased in what appears to be large green plastic trash bags. These plastic bags again remind us of the omnipresence of oil-lust as the pollutant of every section of the ‘Ring’, even if, as in this scene, it is not directly on the minds of the characters on stage. It is, nonetheless, inescapable, for it defines all worlds in the cycle. The full power of the trash bag image will only hit in the next segment of the cycle, as the appearance of the plastic disposal wrap here foreshadows the appearance of Siegfried’s shroud, the protective wrapping on Gutrune’s Isetta, and the bags that Hagen lugs around as baggage (i.e. the weight of the sins of the oil-crazed world), all in ‘Götterdämmerung’.

As Siegfried notices the sleeping figure and rhapsodises about who, or what, it might be, the black and white silent film sequence projected in the background shows a woman being dragged through a forest glade, ostensibly against her will, by a powerful male who cannot be identified. We are reminded that Brünnhilde is another one of Wagner’s dreaming women as well as potentially given insight into the mind of Siegfried, as Wagner’s leitmotif system is doing at the same time, a cavalcade of motifs associated with both passing through the orchestra. Is it Brünnhilde’s night terror of being awoken from her ‘magic sleep’ by an unwelcome intruder? Is it a foreshadowing of what will happen to her in Act II of ‘Götterdämmerung’ when she is betrayed by Siegfried in the guise of Gunther? Also, it could well be a projection of Siegfried’s disturbing imaginings of Mime’s treatment of his mother prior to his birth. Alternatively, it could well be Siegfried’s fantasy of how he will overpower this strange new creature before him. All of these interpretations, and others, of this haunting image are possible and completely valid depending on the perspective of the viewer. Each adds dimension to the concept of this production and the characterisations of the principal characters. As he tears open the plastic covers on the figure, his outburst of ‘Das ist kein Mann!’ (That is no man!) makes complete sense in the context of this production in which Siegfried is portrayed, very realistically, in a clinical psychiatric sense, as a ‘soul-murdered’ Kaspar Hauser figure. We understand the Castorf Siegfried as meaning ‘man’ in the sense of ‘mankind’. It is pure Derrida in that ‘man’ is one of those words that can have alternative meanings depending on context; it can mean, literally, a male or it can stand in as a reference to all who are human. This emotionally compromised and severely sensory and socially deprived foster child of the abusive Mime does not recognise humankind. He has only known the creatures of the forest – the surrealistic sex object, the Forest Bird, the brute Fafner and the usurer Mime. This is a new creature, and he quickly runs through the possibility that it might even be his mother. In the Castorf portrayal of the character of this severely compromised Cold War-era wild man, the line comes across not so much as ‘this is not a male’ (and by inference, this must be a female), but, rather, ‘I don’t recognise this as one of my human kind!’. To us, it is poignant and sums up the crisis of this character. If heard as humorous, then, again, no harm is done in the service of a very different appreciation of the production. As we shall soon see in the next segment of this scene, the Castorf team recognises that comedy and tragedy must coexist, and that ‘Siegfried’, in particular, as the ‘scherzo’ of the ‘Ring’, as it is so often called, offers many moments that can be seen as providing comic relief within the vast, all-consuming drama of the cycle.

We come now to what may be the most brilliant theatrical stroke of all in this ‘Ring’: the manner in which Castorf provides a solution for how Siegfried learns fear. Castorf translates into modern terms what would be fearful to such an emotionally undeveloped man–child as Siegfried. Our hero is not fearful of threatening men or beasts: he is fearful of commitment to other humans as he has never been taught how to associate in the world of humankind. This will prevent him from forging a mature, stable relationship with a woman, as we will soon see in this opera, and it will make it equally impossible for him to navigate the often treacherous world of other males, as we shall see in the next work. He is anti-social and not only trapped in the socio-political No Man’s Land of the Cold War of his time, but so impossibly trapped in his own inner conflicts that he is unfit for human society of any type; he is a modern-day Kaspar Hauser. The Castorf production demonstrates this in the most dramatic (or, more properly, postdramatic) manner. For the final sequence of the act, the stage turntable revolves to take us back to the Alexanderplatz set where Siegfried and Brünnhilde are getting to know each other, in typically modern fashion, over a few drinks and a meal at a café table. While the orchestra sounds the central theme familiar as well from the ‘Siegfried Idyll’ during the passage beginning with Brünnhilde’s line ‘Ewig war ich, ewig bin ich’ (I always was, I always am), she emerges from behind a portion of the set in a wedding dress and veil. It was the outfit seen before in Act I when the bear/proletariat expressed the desire to form an allegiance with the hero. Clearly, the allegiance that his new-found companion wants to form is the bond of marriage, and, whereas the ‘bear’ was just ignored, Siegrfried starts up from the dinner table in absolute terror of this proposition from Brünnhilde. Furthermore, the traditional orientation of Brünnhilde is made even clearer in that she carries a doll to indicate her desire for children, and with religious iconography incorporated into her wedding costume which resembles the attire seen on the statue of ‘Our Lady of Guadeloupe’. As the wedding-attired Brünnhilde appears from stage right, at the same moment two giant mechanical crocodiles and a smaller juvenile crocodile emerge from stage left along with the reappearance of the Forest Bird, Las Vegas-like attired chorus girl with whom Siegfried had engaged in sexual play in the Act II Forest Murmurs sequence.


There is a tug of war between the two women for Siegfried’s attention, and he is clearly more interested in the casual sex offered by the Forest Bird than by the commitment offered by Brünnhilde. As the act closes during the final duet, beginning with Brünnhilde’s line ‘O kindischer Held’ (You childlike hero), Siegfried begins to feed the crocodiles as if they were pets! In addition, at other moments in this closing scene, the two adult crocodiles are seen copulating. Never have we seen this line characterising Siegfried as ‘childlike’ rendered more tellingly. What he should be afraid of – man-eating giant reptiles – he merely laughs at. Indeed, these reptile monsters do proceed next to attack and eat the Forest Bird, and Siegfried is engaged in pulling his sex playmate out of their jaws while he sings his closing lines of the opera. His priorities are clear; this hero has demonstrated fear, fear of commitment to another human, but he has not matured emotionally during the course of this opera which concerns his development, and this fact, made so clear in this scene, portends both his own undoing in the next opera and the coming cataclysm of society.

Finally, we explore some of the myriad, rich associations generated by the choice of crocodiles, intended to show just how out of sync Siegfried is with ‘normal’ human functioning. This will also serve to highlight, more generally, the concept of this production. First, it should be mentioned that the appearance of these creatures was foreshadowed in several ways previously, and thus their sight, although shocking and also comical, is something that Castorf has already prepared us for, so that their entrance in this act has a degree of inevitability about it. Most noticeably and immediately, in the second act, Siegfried plays in puddles in the Alexanderplatz that have formed in the dinosaur tracks on the floor of the stage. In reality, dinosaur remains are to be found in the vicinity of the Alexanderplatz, as Berlin’s Museum of Natural History houses one of the world’s premier collections of prehistoric reptiles. This is a reference to parallel universes – the past and the present fusing into one. It is also another reference to oil, as the time of the dinosaurs was when this fossil fuel was created in the earth, and man’s attempt to draw it out of the earth is, in one sense, a disruption of the remains of ancient animals. The crocodile is one of the few animals alive today that also belonged to that time long ago. The choice of crocodiles to underscore Siegfried’s lack of appropriate fear is a compelling one, as there are few animals that live on land that are as universally terrifying. Anyone who has been socialised will exhibit fear of such an uncaged beast, and it is significant that such fear is learned. In this context, it underscores the lack of socialisation of Siegfried. As a model for this aspect of Siegfried’s personality, the actual wild man in Wagner’s lifetime, Kaspar Hauser, was, like Castorf’s Siegfried, not afraid of fire and other ‘normal’ stressors when initially challenged with such threats by those that studied him.56The onstage copulating of the animals is also significant, as it signifies the carnal single-minded interests of Siegfried, like his grandfather, in all women, including the Forest Bird and Brünnhilde, and in Gutrune soon to follow. Lastly, the use of crocodiles draws potential parallels with a short story of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, a contemporary of Wagner’s and, like Wagner, a socially conscious and revolutionary artist, entitled ‘The Crocodile’.57


In this 1865 novella of the Russian writer, a civil servant is swallowed by a crocodile and lives so happily in the belly of the beast that he does not want to be rescued. The works of both Wagner and Dostoyevsky were major influences on the Russian Symbolist movement at the turn of the 20th century, and it is fitting that they come together in this heavily ironic Castorf production through the imagery of the crocodile.

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