In a whimsical production of Siegfried, director Rosamund Gilmore hit a stride in her attempt to overlay mythical qualities over the struggle for power of the Ring. In this coming-of-age story, Wagner struggled as a composer, consequently going through a transformation after taking an eleven-year-break at the end of Act 2. The production follows the boy Siegfried’s development from a bewildered youngster in a cluttered home to a mature adult who finds his sleeping princess in a vast abandoned palace as the music becomes increasingly sophisticated.  

The beginning of the first act saw a group of dancers gesticulating among the grasses in the back of the stage. Mime’s hut was a series of props in front stage. This afforded an opportunity to highlight the series of interactions between Siegfried and Mime and between Mime and the Wanderer. The time frame was moved to the present day, with Mime riding a bicycle. The second act likewise featured an empty front stage, with a large slanted staircase bridging the two crumbling walls. Fafner appeared from the depth of stage as a giant dummy wearing a suit and a top hat on a red velvet couch flanked by a dozen or so dancers dressed similarly. The forest bird was represented by a white-feathered ballerina, as the singing was done off-stage.   

Most impressive was the third act, in which the Wanderer/Erda scene was in front stage, with the Wanderer sitting on steps of a ruined tower as Erda crawled out, accompanied by three Norns, all four figures entangled in large black lace. The Wanderer/Siegfried interaction was moving and comforting, not confrontational. As the stage lighting changed from misty blue to burning red with the fire music, the stage opened up to reveal the same slanted wall from the end of Die Walküre, with a larger platform holding a sleeping Brunnhilde. The final duet took place on and off the platform, with a dancer Grane present. Only at the very end did the director have one misstep in having the dancers encircling the couple in ecstatic movements.

The first act had some coordination issues between the pit and the singers. Once the Wanderer appeared, however, all was well. John Lundgren’s Wanderer was a perfect realization of the older and wiser Wotan. Wagner gave the Wanderer some of the most beautiful and difficult music of the Ring, and Lundgren sang with authority and dignity throughout, his gravelly baritone displaying remarkable ability for elegant legato. He was a great actor, funny with Mime, ironic with Alberich, vulnerable with Erda and tender with Siegfried. Another standout was Jürgen Linn’s Alberich, masterful as vengeful and scheming brother delighting in the death of his brother Mime. His voice, which seemed muddled and unfocused in Das Rheingold, was here clear and eloquent. Dan Karlström’s Mime was a well-sung and acted, his character tenor perfect for the role. Runi Brattaberg brought the brief role of Fafner great nuance and pathos, and Nicole Piccolomini as Erda boasted resonating low notes combined with penetrating high note.

Tenor Christian Franz has been singing Siegfried over 15 years, which has taken a toll on his ability to sing phrases in legato and soft voice. This is a Siegfried with one voice, a clear, ringing forte. But he knew how to pace the punishing role, and sounded fresh at the end in his duet with Brunnhilde. He opted not to take the final high note, but one could hardly blame him as he gave his all and his acting was convincing – first as a bewildered teenager and then as a tender lover. Iréne Theorin’s Brünnhilde continued to impress, with her gleaming and creamy soprano which turned rich and sumptuous in low range. Her first notes of greeting the sun came as true ray of sunshine, effortless and refreshing. She was tender with Siegfried, demonstrating her thorough understanding of the role in word and acting. In Lundgren and Theorin, we were fortunate to have two gifted singers from Sweden, which continues to produce excellent Wagnerian singers.

The prelude to the third act of Siegfried is a game-changer in the Ring. After taking time away from the cycle, Wagner returned to complete the last several minutes of the second act and embark on a new musical journey of the third act, to be completed in Götterämmerung.  Ulf Schirmer somehow accomplished a near-impossible task of delineating almost a dozen musical themes woven into the prelude. Each theme was clear, being introduced one after the other. He then created a magnificent tableau of all these themes and their variations in one gigantic wall of sound. His emphasis on lower instruments, cellos, basses, horns and tubas continued, giving the music the necessary gravitas and mounting anticipation for the final catastrophe to come.