Das Rheingold – Wagner – Longborough Festival Opera
It is an Indian summer for Country House opera festivals in the UK. Longborough joins the roster of great productions this year as it opens its season with a tremendous portrayal of Wagner’s Rheingold in Longborough’s second commitment to a new Ring Cycle.
Longborough’s festival, which first opened in 1991, is now in a 500 seater barn, with an orchestra pit designed on that in Wagner’s Bayreuth Festspielhaus and can accommodate around 70 players. It is indeed an outstanding achievement that Longborough has already staged its first Ring Cycle and is now moving toward its second. The Gilberts, who built the barn and own the house, obviously have Wagner and opera in their blood and this Rheingold was indeed a testament to their ambitions of very high quality.
It was indeed simply directed by Amy Lane, who was a staff director at the Royal Opera House co directing with Kasper Holten and she gives us a fairly simple uncomplicated stage design. It brings the main singing to the front of the stage and is never so complicated that it disturbs the action. In conjunction with the Set Designer, Rhiannon Newman Brown, the delicate change in the set to reflect Alberich’s ‘Gold Underworld’ of the Nibelung’s was simple and satisfying, with adequate lighting change to reflect the different scenes by Charlie Morgan Jones.
The costumes by Emma Ryott were straightforward and the backdrop video design was by Tim Baxter. However, it was the mainly all British cast that really held the audience enraptured led by the Wotan of Darren Jeffery. He possesses a stance of real authority, if not quite yet an authoritative voice of substance – he has a very elegant bass baritone qualitative sound. His wife, the Fricka of Madeleine Shaw, was always on top of her role, acting with distinction and projecting beautifully.
The Giants were the Latvian born bass baritone Paul Putnins as Fasolt and the bass Simon Wilding as Fafner, with the Scandinavian soprano Marie Arnet as Freia and the mezzo Mae Heydorn as Erda. All sang well.
This leaves the two stars of the show. The tenor Mark Le Brocq was an outstanding Loge in the style of our very own Game of Thrones Lord Varys. In this respect, whilst he was always vocally secure it was his portrayal of the role as the skilled manipulator and commander of informants that stood out.
However, perhaps the most rounded portrayal was that of the Alberich of Mark Stone, who was outstanding vocally and visually, with his eyes frightening the audience as he cursed all with the loss of the ring. His portrayal with his deep baritonal quality is undoubtedly destined for a bigger stage.
The Orchestra, under the direction of the Conductor and Music Director Anthony Negus, was on inspiring form, soaring to great heights, as Alberich lay on stage in a fit, as the gold helmet and ring were taken by Wotan. They produced an unexpected quality of sound that summed up the splendour of this first opera in the Ring Cycle.
This performance leaves us all breathless for next year and Die Walkure, the next opera scheduled in the Ring Cycle.