Longborough Walkure review


Longborough Festival Opera *****
Longborough Festival Opera's legendary reputation in brilliant productions of Wagner operas took on another accolade with this year's amazingly resourceful staging of Die Walkure.
Or rather, semi-staging, which made such a virtue out of Covid restrictions. To a meticulously socially-distanced audience the performance area presented a whole new vista, with the strings of the Longborough Festival Opera Orchestra arrayed across the stage, the woodwind, brass and percussion tucked underneath in the auditorium's famous pit.
And the sound this perforcedly scale-down complement of the wonderful band orchestral manager Philip Head has created over the years was thrilling under Anthony Negus. Sound was bright and forward, detail was telling, and we had the impression of chamber music unfolding (very much a la Siegfried Idyll), and revealing much wonderful solo playing, not least the cello contributions of Jane Salmon.
The cast were forced (wrong word) to the very back of the stage, negotiating a web of risers and walkways, occasionally appearing in corners at the front of the stage, and, forbidden to make physical contact, resorting to eloquent freeze-frames, a body-language almost reminiscent of Kabuki (there have been Wagner productions in the past using that highly stylised mode) and psychodrama, and we were occasional reminded even of the procedures of silent films.
Director Amy Lane, and her expert team of lighting designer Charlie Morgan Jones (his searchlights during the Ride of the Valkyries remain unforgettable), choreographer Lorena Randi, and lucid surtitlist Sophie Rashbrook did a fantastic job within these restrictive conditions, and wow, how did the cast reward them!
Sarah Marie Kramer was a touching, emotionally rounded Sieglinde, Freddie Tong, a refreshingly human Hunding (usually portrayed as a moronic bully-boy to all around him), Madeleine Shaw as Fricka delivered her arguments in rich tones to her errant, vacillating husband Wotan, Ruler of the Gods, Paul Carey Jones, displaying the essential vulnerability of this self-tormenting character, and with some profundo notes expressing both contempt and self-doubt.
The Valkyries were a wonderfully diverse mix of voices, body-attitudes and soaring timbres -- and there was Brunnhilde, surely their little sister and Father's favourite, touchingly but resolutely sung by Lee Bissett, her debut in the role.
But the star of this incredible performance was the Siegmund of Peter Wedd. This is surely the most sympathetic character in the whole of the Ring cycle, whole-hearted, generous of spirit, bursting with selfless love, and perhaps the one we are most loath to lose. Wedd's assumption of the role was intensely physical, such as singing from a squatting position on a reversed chair for minutes on end, his singing always ringing and well-diaphragmed, and an indicator of how much a presence he has become in recent years.
This whole presentation was intensely emotional, both from the practical, logistical angle and from the performance values, and the wonderful ending with Wotan's Farewell brought, I know, the release of tears being shed.
Christopher Morley

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