Darkness after the downfall of the Nordic divinities: a respectful, even stunned, silence greeted the end of Götterdämmerung (the final opera of Wagner’s Ring cycle) at Longborough. Only when a few people started to clap did the House erupt with cheers and sustained applause.
This gem of an opera house sits deep in the Cotswolds and every year puts on a Wagner opera under the brilliant musical direction of Anthony Negus. It is now 11 years since the previous production of Götterdämmerung, which was followed by a complete Ring cycle in 2013. This one may be even better, and is admirably straightforward.
The problem with performing Wagner, particularly the Ring, at a major opera house is that they bring in some big name director who wants to exhibit his or her clever concept attached to a great opera. We don’t need it, or at least I certainly don’t need it. What one wants is a capable conductor who is highly sensitive to Wagner’s music, singers who can convey the emotions of the characters, and a staging that allows the music to speak for itself. Here we have it, though to give Longborough credit this production needed 130 people to bring it to stage.
Götterdämmerung begins with the Norns weaving the Rope of Fate, and ends with the Rhinemaidens reclaiming the Ring (stolen by Alberich in the first opera of the cycle) and returning it to the great river. In the meantime we witness the clever deception of Hagen (Alberich’s son) as he dupes his half-siblings Gunther and Gutrune, and uses trickery in getting Siegfried (disguised as Gunther) to break through the fire and steal the ring from Brünnhilde. Due to Hagen’s machinations, Siegfried has no memory that he gave it to her as a wedding gift, and the conflict with Brünnhilde leads to oaths contrived by Hagen, who later murders Siegfried.
Finally over his dead body, Brünnhilde realises how she too has been duped, and silences everyone with her demand for a great funeral pyre into which she will ride, bringing an end to the world of the gods as the Rhinemaidens sweep in to retake the ring from her ashes.
Last year I attended the new production of the Ring cycle at Bayreuth, Wagners’s purpose-built opera house in Bavaria. By contrast, Longborough provided a more pleasing experience under director Amy Lane, with video designs by Tim Baxter and clever lighting changes by Charlie Morgan Jones. It avoids the trap of trying too hard and ending up with intellectual incoherence.
For example the disguise of Siegfried as Gunther is very simply accomplished; he wears the same clothing, the magical Tarnhelm is a hat, and his voice becomes a trite monotone. Brünnhilde is not fooled, but nor is she supposed to be, and the whole scene embodied a clarity that is often missing.Mae Heydorn, Harriet Williams, Katie Lowe, Mari Wyn Williams, Rebecca Afonwy Jones, Katie Stevens
The one person who knows exactly what is going on is Hagen, and Julian Close, whose remarkable voice has taken him to the Met in New York for various roles (including Sparafucile this season), was outstanding in this part. Knowing and determined in his quest to regain the Ring, his interaction with his father Alberich (Freddie Tong) gives the appearance that it occurs in an inebriated dream of Hagen. With Lee Bisset singing a fine and intelligent looking Brünnhilde, unlike the standard delivery of this powerful role, we had the ingredients for an excellent performance.
The whole cast contributed extremely well to this compelling production: Bradley Daley made a bold Siegfried, Benedict Neslon was excellent in the thankless role of Gunther with Laure Melloy as his sister Gutrune, and Catherine Carby superb in the important role of Brünnhilde’s sister Waltraute. Fine singing from the Norns (Mae Heydorn, Harriet Williams, Katie Lowe) and Rhinemaidens (Mari Wyn Williams, Rebecca Afonwy Jones and Katie Stevenson).
Although it is sung in the original German, the English surtitles provided an excellent, very clear translation. I look forward enormously to Longborough’s new full Ring cycle next year, conducted by the incomparable Wagner interpreter Anthony Negus.
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