Great effort at Longborough deserves a standing ovation

Longborough festival Opera, Die Walkure, Siegfried and Gotterdammerung, June 18 to 22.

Tuesday, 25th June 2013, 9:59 am

Congratulations, Longborough! What an achievement – a complete ring cycle fully deserving of the standing ovation by a full house on Saturday evening. This great effort continues with two further cycles in the next two weeks.

The formula at Longborough is very simple - spend the limited resources with care, use Ben Ormerod’s lighting plot talents creatively and require designer Kjell Torriset to provide innovative stage sets. Support this with what must surely be one of the very best ‘scratch’ orchestras ever assembled and here is the base on which to build an astonishing achievement, a culmination of several years of putting the building blocks in place.

The illumination of Die Walküre’s war-crying Valkyries as they stride tempestuously across Torriset’s singer-friendly stage space is stunning. Jason Howard’s Wotan and his stormy relationship with Rachel Nicholls’ Brünnhilde is engrossing. Andrew Rees put every ounce of effort into singing Siegmund in Act 1, only to run out of steam before making a remarkable recovery in Act 2. Sieglinde, his sister, in the hands of Lee Bisset, is simply terrific in supporting her sibling. Act 3 is highly charged as Brünnhilde attempts to persuade Wotan to forgive her for her disobedience. Alison Kettlewell, too, delivers wonderfully as Fricka.

Two new Siegfrieds make their Longborough debuts – Hugo Mallet, adapting to the demands of playing the stroppy, sometimes angry, rebellious young man – can be forgiven a few late entries. His was a solid performance in one of the challenging Wagner roles; there is a shortage of competent Siegfrieds who can act.

It was surprising to see Malcolm Rivers returning as Alberich; he had not impressed last year as the voice is not what it used to be. In contrast, a very pleasing surprise is Adrian Thompson’s cunning Mime, fearful of Phillip Joll’s Wanderer warning that he would fall prey to the just wrath of one who had never shown fear - Siegfried. Ormerod’s lighting of the oven as the spear is forged, and Torriset’s clever ropes depicting forests, stand out. So too, the Niebelungs, shadowing the action throughout, help the drama flow.

Götterdämmerung brings the cycle to a weighty conclusion. The more mature, responsible Siegfried, now in the hands of Jonathan Stoughton, has ‘grown up and knows a woman!’ Enjoying his first full cycle in the pit, Anthony Negus achieves a remarkable output from his 70-plus players – gorgeous oboe and clarinet playing, confident brass, including Wagner Tubas, and shimmering strings led enthusiastically by Katharine Gittings. This effort from below stage gives encouragement to those on stage, where Rachel Nicholls continues to excel with visceral savagery, but must avoid forcing her fine voice; it’s not needed in this Longborough venue.

With the return of the Rhinemaidens to secure their long-lost gold, Ormerod’s fiery crimson glow appears, spreading and increasing to a dazzling brilliancy as Valhalla is engulfed in the leaping flames. Thus ends one of the greatest stories by one of the greatest composers.

In his review of WNO’s excellent Lohengrin in Birmingham, the Spectator’s Michael Tanner observed that ‘alas, not many of the Wagner celebrations will be as impressive’. He needs to attend one of the two remaining cycles at Longborough.

Clive Peacock