Longborough Festival Opera – Wagner’s Siegfried conducted by Anthony Negus

Siegfried – music drama in three Acts to a libretto by the composer [second day of Der Ring des Nibelungen; sung in German with English surtitles]
Siegfried – Bradley Daley
Mime – Adrian Dwyer
The Wanderer (Wotan) – Paul Carey Jones
Alberich – Mark Stone
Fafner – Simon Wilding
The Woodbird – Julieth Lozano
Erda – Mae Heydorn
Brünnhilde – Lee Bisset
Longborough Festival Orchestra
Anthony Negus

 Amy Lane – Director
Rhiannon Newman Brown – Designer
Tim Baxter – Video
Charlie Morgan Jones – Lighting
Emma Ryott – Costumes

Reviewed by: Peter Reed

Reviewed: 1 June, 2022
Venue: Longborough, Moreton-in-Marsh, Gloucestershire, England

There were two things in Amy Lane’s new production of Part Three of The Ring that delivered much with almost casual simplicity. The staging is part of Longborough’s unfolding cycle – Rheingold appeared in 2019; there was nothing in the Covid blight of 2020; an orchestrally scaled down, socially-distanced semi-staging of Walküre last year; Götterdämmerung due next year; then all four, including the first full staging of Die Walküre, in 2024. Longborough does not things by halves, and its 500-seat theatre seems to expand magically to meet whatever demands are made of it.

The first ace up Lane’s sleeve was her direction of Bradley Daley in the title role, as a wild-child-man and, it is hoped, saviour of the world, for whom his grandfather Wotan’s love is compromised by desperate ambition. Daley has sung in Ring cycles in his native Australia and in Germany, and here he gave Siegfried a plausible, goofy optimism. He was also particularly good at registering Siegfried’s can-do heroics as an unawareness of fear, and his callous rejection of Mime the result of a dysfunctional childhood without boundaries. 

Then in Act Three, when both the character and Wagner’s style as it were grew up, Lane’s staging unequivocally showed how fear and boundaries made a man out of Siegfried. Daley’s heldentenor is imposing, with the necessary range if not much variation of tone, which worked well for the forging of the sword that will slay Mime and Fafner, less well for expressing the mysteries of love and desire, when at the end of a very taxing sing, his pitch tended to wander. Yet Daley was a convincing bearer of the ring away from gods and monsters towards an equally malevolent and conflicted earthly realm.

The other ace was Julieth Lozano’s Woodbird, directed as an ambiguous Sibyl, recording the story as it unfolds, so it becomes fixed as myth and, eventually, as Wagner’s music-drama. Lozano sang and acted with terrific verve, and there were several moments that suddenly became intensely moving.

And all the singing was strong and vividly characterised. Paul Carey Jones’s Wanderer was a fine, sonorous counterweight to Daley’s Siegfried, releasing all the desperation and gravity of the top god’s situation in the sequence of dialogues with Mime, Alberich and Erda, and his final encounter with Siegfried instantly got right to the heart of the tragedy that mobilises the entire cycle. Adrian Dwyer sang and acted Mime with admirable clarity and a complete absence of the grotesqueries often associated with the role, and even made him a bit sympathetic. Sung with force and trenchant, dark tone, Mark Stone’s Alberich was every bit a worthy adversary to the Wanderer, and Simon Wild as the ring-guarding giant transformed into a “wilde Wurm” was oddly compelling as Fafner, hobbling around on calipers, his original physicality presumably destroyed by his dragon-reassignment. In her one scene, Mae Heydorn’s Erda anticipated with impressive grandeur the end of the gods, setting the tone of the whole of Act Three.

Then at last Siegfried confronted the character who is his nemesis. Lee Bisset played Brünnhilde with her characteristic ardour, candour and generosity – she reminds of Gwyneth Jones in the role – all of which softened the staging’s rather clumsy way of getting Brünnhilde on the stage, all set to be aroused by love’s first kiss. Slightly less clumsy was the cage of eight spears (the Valkyries’ perhaps?) protecting the former goddess, which otherwise made a strong point when Siegfried dismantled it.

The Wanderer, Mime and Alberich were dressed as vagrants on their way to something by Beckett, and the stage detritus in Acts One and Two was very much the stuff of life on the edge. Tim Baxter’s projections gave the staging considerable depth, were skillfully manipulated, and conveyed a particularly Germanic, naturalistic romanticism that worked very well.

Behind all this was the profound understanding Anthony Negus brings to Wagner’s music, with an almost palpable rapport between singers and orchestra. As in their earlier Siegfried (in 2011), I wondered why he played down the impact of the Act Three Prelude, one of Wagner’s great extended passages for orchestra, but he and his players were wonderful in the nature music – and Daley was at his best here – and his pacing and increasing abandon of the Act Three love-duet set up Götterdämmerung very satisfactorily.

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