Spending a few hours at the Viking Collection at the Swedish Museum ahead of a revival of The Royal Swedish Opera's 2005-2007 production of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen brought home how each age and society creates anew ancient myths to reflect their world view, responding to their particular tensions, struggles and aspirations. Wagner transformed sagas and medieval epics into his own socio-political narrative, like a more modern version of the dreams and visions of the shape-shifting shaman of far Northern Mythology. From the almost cartoon-like Runic carvings of the story of Sigurd Fafnir's Bane to the highly romantic stage interpretations of his works, with the famed Birgit Nilsson, still in the 1950s in chain mail and winged helmet, these stories resonate to this day.

Vivianne Holmberg, Johanna Rudström, Susann Végh (Rhinemaidens), Johan Edholm (Alberich) © Markus Gårder
Vivianne Holmberg, Johanna Rudström, Susann Végh (Rhinemaidens), Johan Edholm (Alberich)
© Markus Gårder

With an unequaled tradition of Wagner performances and world-class singers, the curtain of Staffan Valdemar Holm's production did, in fact, rise on a museum gallery with glass cases full of props, set designs and historic costumes such as would have been seen in the original 1876 Max Brückner staging in Bayreuth. The Rhinemaidens, in plaid dresses and ringlets, scampered around like giddy Dickensian young ladies, teasing and flirting with a very juvenile Alberich, in knickerbockers and Eton-style collar until, almost in a fit of pique, he seizes the gold from its vitrine. With almost Mendelssohnian orchestral accompaniment under Marko Letonja, all glittering woodwind and shimmering arpeggios, this was almost a comedic start to the cycle. Only the sight of fish swimming behind the rear windows set the familiar scene. The same gallery without the display cases, but with the addition of simple furnishing like a heavy executive desk for Alberich in Nibelheim, served throughout with only the view of cloudscapes, fire, storms and the concluding rainbow seen through the windows to relieve the claustrophobic spareness.

Wotan and Fricka first appear in their nightwear and palpably their marriage is still a vigorous one. In the fairly confined playing area, subtly lit to give sense of time and atmosphere, a deftly characterised social – even domestic – drama plays out, void of any cosmic or metaphysical overtones. Their status differentiated by early Victorian frock coats, top hats, crinolines or work clothes, gods, dwarves and giants play out their power struggles, deceit and betrayal as in a novel by Dickens or Balzac.

John Lundgren (Wotan) and Johan Edholm (Alberich) © Markus Gårder
John Lundgren (Wotan) and Johan Edholm (Alberich)
© Markus Gårder

Such an approach needs a tightly characterised ensemble and the Swedish cast were successful in their vivid alertness and interaction. John Lundgren, bullet-headed, youthful and overbearing, gave a world-class performance as Wotan, with a voice powerful and firm and untiring throughout its range, seizing every chance to wheel and deal. Johan Edholm as Alberich, transformed into a hard headed mill-owner, almost matched Wotan in vocal incisiveness and impact, delivering a fearsome Curse.

Katarina Dalayman, a former Sieglinde and Brünnhilde, was an unusually sympathetic Fricka, with an easy top though some unsteadiness in the lower range show that the vocal switch to mezzo roles may still need time to settle. Jonas Degerfeldt was a drily sardonic Loge, a tail-coated flâneur, casually striking a match on the sole of his boot as the gods process with their baggage off-stage into an unseen Valhalla.

Jonas Degerfeldt (Loge), Niklas Björling Rygert (Mime) and John Lundgren (Wotan) © Markus Gårder
Jonas Degerfeldt (Loge), Niklas Björling Rygert (Mime) and John Lundgren (Wotan)
© Markus Gårder

This fairly small house suited lighter voiced singers such as Joel Annmo's fey Froh and Susanna Stern's fresh Freia. Mime was truly sung and not whined by Niklas Björling Rygert, although the vocal steadiness of the two giants, Lennart Forsén and Rasmussen Bodén, didn't quite match up to their stature. The very present, folk-dressed Erda, Katarina Leoson, was notably deep-toned and secure in her admonition.

Letonja led a fluid, well balanced performance ensuring audibility, only lacking real weight in the interludes to and from Nibelheim and during Alberich's curse. The orchestra responded with a plating of warmth and character in their wood-panelled pit. This expository evening gave full evidence of thorough preparation and engagement, giving promise of epic events to come.