Longborough Festival Opera *****


So many times have I reviewed performances of Gotterdammerung and muttered to myself, “just get on with it!” during les mauvais quatre d’heures. Not a bit of it in this enthralling and engaging production of this tying-up of all the loose ends in the final opera of Wagner’s Ring tetralogy. His frequent recourse to back-story (why so, when all devotees will have soaked up the prequels?) is made vivid and gripping in this highly intelligent production by Amy Lane.

Every moment in these five-odd hours (who’s counting?) is invested with interest and involvement, whether it be the communicative body-language of the singers (often revealing their inner psychology), the complementary response of the ever-changing back-projections and lighting, or, and this can never be understated, the amazingly shifting textural web of the remarkable Longborough Festival Orchestra while conductor Anthony Negus unfolds the constant narrative.

The set is a simple one, gently-tiered platforms surrounding a central dais, and that remains static. Upon this all the action unfolds, from the gloom predictions of the Three Norns right through to the collapse of Valhalla, a cataclysm brilliantly achieved through lighting, projection (no need to conjure up a simulated horse for Brunnhilde’s ride into Siegfried’s funeral pyre), and of course Negus’ amazing grasp of the score.

In this opera we have the only choral set-piece of the entire cycle, Hagen’s vassals, sturdily delivered by a combination of professionals and the Longborough Cummunity Chorus. Hagen himself, half-brother of the wilting regal siblings Gunther (Benedict Nelson bringing genuine character to this wimp of a role) and Gutrune (Laure Meloy making as much of this flutteringly nervy, frustrated sister as her part allows), commanded the stage at every moment.

Whether in full flow rallying his siblings and his forces in his determination to wrest the power of the Rhinegold ring, or sullenly self-communing, Julian Close was authoritatively compelling, and almost the focus of this staging.

Bradley Daley made an engagingly gauche Siegfried, though the strenuous vocal heroics proved taxing, but star of the evening was without question Lee Bisset.

Here was a Brunnhilde not in the least statuequely Valkyrie-like, but instead one lithe and lisson, somehow maintaining resources and stamina to bring about such a convincing and moving Immolation Scene, whose gradual reconciliatory conclusion revealed Wotan, the Leader of the Gods who had put all the catastrophe in motion, at last at peace, reconciled with his defiant grandson Siegfried, united through their beloved Brunnhilde.

The prolonged audience silence at the end was more eloquent than any premature whooping, braying and cheering.  Then, at last, came the prolonged and immensely deserved curtain-calls.

Christopher Morley

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