A performance of Wagner's Siegfried stands or falls by its titular hero and Lars Cleveman is highly experienced, having sung the role when the production was new, though not originally cast for this revival. Crop-headed in a chain-mail byrnie, like a throwback Viking, he does not conform to Brünnhilde's vision of a childlike hero and laughing boy. His sturdy Heldentenor rang out in the Forging Scene, and he paced himself throughout the rigours of the part, sounding fresh and boisterous in the last act. In the more introspective moments, like the Forest Murmers, his sensitive phrasing and alert use of words embodied his loneliness.

Lars Cleveman (Siegfried) and John Lundgren (Wanderer) © Markus Gårder
Lars Cleveman (Siegfried) and John Lundgren (Wanderer)
© Markus Gårder

As his would-be nemesis, Mime (Niklas Björling Rygert) sang truly and vividly, alternately smug and twitchy as his plans go increasingly awry. The interaction between him and Siegfried from exasperation to dependency, played out at a long kitchen counter with the forge at one end and the range at the other. With the incoming of the new free hero, John Lundgren, as Wotan/Wanderer, was of rock-like strength and majesty. His answer to Mime's third riddle, "Auf wolkigen Höh'n wohnen die Götter" rolled out grandly. In his sparring with Johan Edholm's Alberich, they played off each other with equal stature and it is no surprise that Edholm also sings Wotan in this house. In Lundgren's scene with Erda, imposingly sung by Katarina Leoson, only a certain lack of world weariness and renunciation raised the question why such a vigorous god should be ceding power to his grandson at all.

As Siegfried ascends Brünnhilde's Rock, Loge now somewhat lame, doffs his hat and bows out. Greeting the sun with glowing lyricism rather than steely attack, Nina Stemme deployed all the burnished coppery colours of her voice, with darker undertones, reminding us that she is Erda's daughter. Heroically anguished and movingly tender in “Ewig war ich”, both she and Cleveman brought the duet to a radiant close.

Nina Stemme (Brünnhilde) © Markus Gårder
Nina Stemme (Brünnhilde)
© Markus Gårder

The last words of Siegfried are “lachender Tod” - laughing death- and Staffan Valdemar Holm blends the laughter with darker currents in his direction. Through the fire blackened arches of the hall we do not see a rising sun, but the smoke stacks of a late 19th-century industrial complex, as time has moved on another generation. Mime's forge had been set in the now familiar room, where Wotan's ravens spy and wolves prowl in the forest outside. 

For Act 2, the walls are lined with leaves and there is an expectant audience, elegantly dressed in fin de siècle white summer wear, like characters in an Ingmar Bergman Midsummer vigil. These observers are the woodland birds who flutter distractedly at the goings-on. On a rear stage, lit by flickering limelight, the top-hatted Fafner laughs and bellows through a megaphone like a melodramatic villain, with the dragon in silhouette as a child's cut out. This light-hearted almost farcical theatricality distances us from the Siegfried's brutal killings. The charming soubrette Woodbird of Marianne Hellgren Staykov, dressed as Sieglinde, gave an odd maternal tenderness to her promptings.

John Lundgren (Wanderer) and Katarina Leoson (Erda) © Markus Gårder
John Lundgren (Wanderer) and Katarina Leoson (Erda)
© Markus Gårder

This theatricality continued at the opening of the last act where evening dressed opera-goers are seen gathering through a window in the guilded foyer of the opera house itself. Wotan is now the sidelined outsider, and no longer part of the unfolding events inside.

From the serpentine opening, Marko Letonja conducted with muscular momentum, with rich brass sonority and poetically articulate woodwind. Only the sweeping inexorablity of the Act 3 prelude, with its interweaving themes, lacked cosmic grandeur.

The performance was received tumultuously by the audience, but with a new industrialised century looming, can we expect a cataclysmic ending from one of Alfred Nobel's armaments works to Ragnarök, The Twilight of the Gods?