In a former henhouse, at Longborough, deep in the Cotswold
countryside, a very ambitious Ring cycle is shaping up. What, I asked myself,
would its bombastic, luxury-loving author and composer make of it?
Wagner, who ordered his undergarments from a maker of bespoke women’s lingerie,
feel about designer Kjell Torriset’s simple, effective, but hardly elegant
costumes – of rough cotton rather than the silk the Master liked to feel next
to his own skin?
the man who also built an opera house for himself, with all the then- current
theatrical bells and whistles, feel about the basic, but comfortable
auditorium, and the stage with Ben Ormerod’s excellent, but limited lighting
effects possibilities? And what would the man who called for circles of fire,
dragons and rainbow bridges think about Mr. Torriset’s (increasingly ingenious
and impressive, superb but modest) special effects.
how would Wagner react to the intimate atmosphere of Longborough, where you can
see the singers’ faces from every seat in the house?
What would he make of presenting his Festival opera, his four-day affair, as a chamber
Then it struck me with real force: he’d hate it. For this is
remarkably similar to the way the first productions of Rheingold and Die Walküre were
previewed against his wishes, on 22 September 1869 and 26 June the next year at
the Munich National Theatre, by the command of King Ludwig. But never mind
complaints from the ghost of Wagner, we were seeing these two pieces much as
Ludwig first saw them.
And this is
the way Wagner ought to have wanted
them done, as the emotion he has written into the music itself is best
displayed theatrically as at Longborough and Munich, before a small audience.
This is the best acted Wagner production I have ever seen (and I’ve seen many
more than my fair share). Because the singers know their faces can be read even
by the audience in the last row, they are really giving their all. They are
concentrating hard on what they are doing and saying, and director Alan
Privett’s team has got every singer, even the Valkyries, to pay attention to
the meaning of the libretto, and work out whom they are addressing. They give
us, the audience, the sense that they are singing to someone particular – in other
words, they are creating a drama.
this, but because these are (mostly) fresh, young singers at the start of their
careers, they actually look right. The gods (and Siegmund) are fit, handsome
and virile and the goddesses mostly slim and good-looking. Lee Bisset, who was
a good Freia, turns out to be a spectacularly fine Sieglinde, as wonderful a
singer and actress as she is beautiful. Andrew Rees, her Siegmund, was pushing
his lovely, burnished voice in the first act, but after the interval came back
on with perfect control of his volume and projection.
pit is mostly covered, à la Bayreuth, it is easier for the singers to project
over the orchestra, even when it’s playing at full volume; but it naturally
takes a little time for the singers to adjust to this. When they do, I imagine
they find the conditions at Longborough very good to work with, as they are
kind, especially to young voices.
Jason Howard, seemed in much better voice for the second opera, and happily in
control. Alison Kettlewell’s Fricka is almost beyond praise – and her acting
convinces you that there is a real domestic going on here. It read just like
today’s front pages in the British press.
Rachel Nicholls’ Brünnhilde is amazing – fiery and believable, and acted
so well that I almost believed it possible for a 20-something goddess to care
so much about her honour and not being shamed. Bravo all, and I can’t wait for Siegfried, the opera Wagner delayed, so
that Ludwig couldn’t get it staged as a chamber piece.
those who are privileged to see this Longborough production realise what an
important event they are seeing and hearing.