Longborough’s artistic director Polly Graham was understandably delighted to welcome back audiences, both to the Cotswolds opera festival and the resumption of a staged Ring Cycle, Siegfried. Not so enviable was the task of informing the Wagnerian devotees, hungry to embark on the next stage of the mammoth undertaking that Pauls Putnins would be singing the Wanderer instead of the scheduled singer, Paul Carey Jones, and that while Mark Stone would be acting Alberich the role would be sung by Freddie Tong from one of the boxes. In the event, both men gave delicious vocal performances.
Until we have the final instalment of the Cycle next year it would be a bold observer to try to explain some of the most intriguing aspects of the Amy Lane production, and even then I suspect it may not all be clear. Throughout the unfolding drama characters refer to and write in a book which it would seem contains words and drawings that inform them and the high-profile role of the Woodbird charmingly sung and acted by Julieth Lozano as she also scribbles ferociously in a journal and draws pictures that she shows the innocent man-boy. Is it all the same journal? I need to pay more attention if it reappears in Götterdämmerung. We also a have a basic flip chart with scribbled out drawings of swords that Mime, the Nibelung smith who has raised Siegfried, has presumably made and on which the hero also has a dab at drawing.
The set itself is of course constrained by the Longborough facilities and relies on Rhiannon Newman Brown’s generally functional staging and varied video designs from Tim Baxter.
The characterisations are neatly drawn with a bouncy and naïvely laddish Siegfried from Bradley Daley who juggles sensitivity and stupidity in a robust performance. The opening act is completely engaging thanks to the non-stop energy pack of gesture and action from a rather likable Mime sung with crystal clarity rather than vocal malice by Adrian Dwyer.
When we move to the dragon Fafner is intriguingly portrayed by Simon Wilding not as a savage and powerful beast but an on-crutches hobbling wreck who our hero frankly has little difficulty departing from this world. Alberich is also a nervous, jumpy, dishevelled wild man of the forest.
Lee Bisset and Bradley Daley
Throughout the evening, Pauls Putnins is a warm-voiced, imposing figure as the Wanderer and, in that all-change final act, his meeting with Erda, sung exquisitely by Mae Heydorn, a mystical shimmering emblem of the doomed order.
In that consummate last act we are presented with a Brunnhilde balancing fears with passion from Lee Bisset who vocally iilluminastes the closing of this part of the saga while heralding the next. A powerful performance.
The direction delves into the dark drama, the fears, insecurities, evil and yearning of the players, but it is also refreshingly adept at bringing out the humour of character and situation, whether Mime in apron and cook’s hat (I’m not sure Wagner intended him to be puzzled by a pineapple) or the astounded Siegfriedes realies the sleeping man in a breast plated is not a chap after all (although Wagner may not have intended this to be a laughing moment).
And, yes, it is all in the singing and the music, with this fine cast and always polished conducting, combining sensitivity and energy by Longborough’s Ring Cycle Conducting Fellow Harry Sever, who has been working with the great Wagnerian Anthony Negus (who conducts the remaining performances), the demands of the score are grasped, mastered and honed.
Further performances: June 5 and 7
For further details, booking and the festivals other productions for 2022:
Images by Matthew Williams-Ellis
Polly Graham and Longborough and beyond https://operascene.co.uk/interviews/director-polly-graham-on-longborough-and-further-afield/