Longborough Festival Opera – Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre. Photograph: Jorge Lizalde

Longborough Festival Opera – Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre

Wagner

Die Walküre – Music drama in three acts to a libretto by the composer [First Day of Der Ring des Nibelungen; sung in German with English surtitles]

Siegmund – Peter Wedd
Sieglinde – Sarah Marie Kramer
Wotan – Paul Carey Jones
Hunding – Brindley Sherratt
Brünnhilde – Lee Bisset
Fricka – Madeleine Shaw
Gerhilde – Meeta Raval
Ortlinde – Cara McHardy
Waltraute – Flora McIntosh
Schwertleite – Rhonda Browne
Helmwige – Katie Lowe
Siegrune – Carolyn Dobbin
Grimgerde – Katie Stevenson
Rossweisse – Emma Lewis

Longborough Festival Orchestra
Anthony Negus

Amy Lane – Director
Charlie Morgan Jones – Lighting Designer
Lorena Randi – Choreographer


Reviewed by: Curtis Rogers

Reviewed: 3 June, 2021
Venue: Longborough, Moreton-in-Marsh, Gloucestershire, England

The grand scale of a Wagner music drama may seem an improbable undertaking so soon into the gradual easing of England’s Covid-19 lockdown restrictions. But Longborough has extensive experience in presenting the operas of this composer with somewhat smaller forces than is usually encountered, and so this production exacts no significant compromises in scale or artistic standards, compared with what would have been expected even if there had been no pandemic.

This Die Walküre is the second part of Longborough’s ongoing Ring, which began in 2019 with Das Rheingold and of course was halted last year. The one concession to the reality of restrictions – presumably to preserve social distancing among the performers – is that this is not fully staged. Although billed as a ‘concert production’ instead, this is, in fact, a very effective semi-staging, directed by Amy Lane, with choreography by Lorena Randi, and lighting by Charlie Morgan Jones atmospherically conjuring up the different scenes, be it the sullen grey-blue for the sombre opening of Act One, reds and oranges for the flickering fire, and pure white light for the incoming of spring. The one oddity is that, as Siegmund draws an imaginary Nothung from the tree, an arresting flash of light and what looks like his agonised expression and demeanour make it seem as though he is struck down in defeat by a thunder storm, rather than achieving a moment of triumph, unless this is supposed to allude to his death at Hunding’s hands later on.

With no props, except for Wotan’s spear at the very end (ironically underlining the point that by this stage his power has waned irrevocably) it is left to the singers to create drama and incident by their musical and theatrical present alone. They accomplish that very successfully as they negotiate the space on the stage around the orchestral strings, matching the lack of representational sets to make this a gripping, psychological account of the work.

Peter Wedd brings baritonal heft to the role of Siegmund, audibly troubled from the outset, but also reaching up to a solid, foursquare account of his more lyrical music, if not necessarily filled with romantic ardour. As his sister Sieglinde, Sarah Marie Kramer is musically focused and lucid, perhaps a little colourless at times, but compellingly expresses a sense of guilelessness, until both she and Wedd alternate with seamless emotional urgency for the sequence at ‘Winterstürme’.

Lee Bisset is a steely, potent Brünnhilde both musically and dramatically, but she also modulates that with persuasive agility as she argues her case with Wotan and Siegmund during various significant passages in the drama. Paul Carey Jones’s presence on stage as Wotan is somewhat wooden but he commands attention with his clear and robust projection of the music, with the palpable impression already of his being deflated, even defeated, from his first appearance in Act Two. He begins his monologue in that Act with a parlando effect, almost as though he is muttering to himself whilst Anthony Negus in the pit allows the tempo to slacken and become freer at this point, as Wotan disjointedly comes to terms with the situation in a manner that works convincingly in this more intimate performance of the opera. As the two villains of this part of the Ring, Madeleine Shaw is rightly brittle and cutting in tone as she hectors Wotan to do away with Siegmund for his affront to matrimonial propriety, whilst Brindley Sherratt almost entrances for his darkly calm interpretation of Hunding which does not need aggression to strike a note of fear.

Negus sustains the music as though a living, breathing entity which sighs in sympathy with the ebb and flow of the narrative, particularly in the dialogue between Siegmund and Sieglinde in Act One, where as much is said in the purely instrumental lines of the score as the vocal. An orchestra of one to each woodwind and brass part, and 4.4.3.3.2 strings often brings individual sonorities to the fore in a way that theoretically should work against the notion of an integrated Wagnerian ‘endless melody’, but here somehow manages to draw into closer connection those moments when solo or sparsely scored textures emerge from or recede into more densely orchestrated passages. And yet the orchestra also blends to create sufficient force and drama in the context of this auditorium’s dimensions to carry powerfully those passages of heightened tension and drama (not least through the emanation of the more pungent woodwind and brass timbre from the unseen pit below the stage in true Bayreuth fashion) aided by Negus’s command of the larger paragraphs or sections of Wagner’s score. Mention of Bayreuth also brings to mind the nice little detail that, as there, so each Act here is heralded from the balcony by a little fanfare consisting of one of the leitmotivs from the opera.

This is a Wagner performance that stands out on its own highly creditable terms, and not in any way as a necessary concession to pandemic conditions.

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