The muted palette and clean functional lines of Bente Lykke Møller designs have a definite Scandinavian air, recalling the mysterious rooms of the Danish painter Vilhelm Hammersköi where tense individuals wait expectantly by doors and windows, as Sieglinde does at the start of Die Walküre (Valkyrian). As the curtain rises on Hunding's hut the same basic design format as in the preceding opera is visible; a rectangular room lined with dressers with white crockery on the shelves, and with a high rear window giving onto a storm-wracked pine forest, later giving way to flocks of wild birds flying across the moon as spring entered. The room is transformed into a gentleman's den with billiard table and grandiose paintings for the second act, and memorial hall for the last.

Lennart Forsén (Hunding), Cornelia Beskow (Sieglinde) and Michael Weinius (Siegmund) © Markus Gårder
Lennart Forsén (Hunding), Cornelia Beskow (Sieglinde) and Michael Weinius (Siegmund)
© Markus Gårder

The unified setting in Staffan Valdemar Holm's production emphasises the classical unities with the action plausibly taking place in a brief time frame, focused dramatically on dialogues: Siegmund and Sieglinde; Wotan and Fricka; Brünnhilde and Wotan. Memories are unpeeled in the narrations and significant events happen off-stage. We hear the fight between Siegmund and Hundling, and see the reaction in Sieglinde's terrified response as Brünnhilde bears the shards of Nothung wrapped in Siegmund's bloodied shirt.

Cornelia Beskow's outstanding Sieglinde shone vocally with all the luminosity of a Northern late spring day, with an underlying resonance as she physically blooms in “Du bist der Lenz”, her auburn Pre-Raphaelite tresses cascading freely. Earlier, under her husband's dominance, her passive-aggressive demeanour is clear in her tight-laced rigidity, as she bobs a formal curtsey to him, while threatening him with a bread knife behind his back. As her unkempt twin, Siegmund, Michael Weinius' stalwart Heldentenor thrilled in his cries of “Wälse”, and beguiled with his lyricism in “Winterstürme”. With Lennart Forsén's oppressive squire of a Hunding, all three singers made for a highly charged Act 1.

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

Nina Stemme as Brünnhilde delivered her opening battle cry, in Victorian riding habit brandishing her crop like one of Trollope's racier fox-hunting heroines. Her full-toned vibrant voice no longer quite commands the spear-point sharpness and trills of the cry, yet her stillness and watchfulness during Wotan's narration draws attention. Supremely so in the 'Todesverkündigung', the lofty transcendent sadness and rich nuance of her singing was emotionally overwhelming. Matching her, Weinius was heroically resigned and heart-breakingly tender in his care for his increasingly agitated sister.

John Lundgren (Wotan) and Katarina Dalayman (Fricka) charted every blow in their marital argument. Dalayman, regal and opulent of voice, wheedling and demanding the abandonment of Siegmund, snaps her husband's billiard cue and forces him into a handshake and a frigid embrace of submission. Lundgren's interpretation deepens as he is bound by the constraints of his own actions, his Heldenbariton surmounting with ease even the most violent orchestral outbursts.

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

The 'Ride of the Valkyries' was enthusiastically sung in a wild hunt-ball, the sisters in full riding gear. With Brünnhilde's annunciation of Siegfried's conception, Beskow soared out ecstatically in “Herrstes Wunder”. Stemme modulated her dramatic soprano in an expressive “War es so schmälich” in the final scene, and Lundgren was tirelessly valedictory though unyielding in Wotan's Farewell. The Rhinegold gods entered with the traditional helmet, shield and spear from the museum relics seen at the beginning of the Cycle, as Brünnhilde lies asleep while Loge's flames flicker in the doorways, waiting the arrival of Siegfried.

From the opening storm, the orchestral playing under the baton of Marko Letonja was on an altogether higher level than the previous evening, yielding grandeur, fire and tenderness through well graduated dynamics and tempi. In conclusion, an evening of great Wagner singing making one eager for the next instalments.