Longborough Das Rheingold review

LONGBOROUGH TRIUMPHS YET AGAIN IN WAGNER


DAS RHEINGOLD
Longborough Festival Opera *****
You want to hear definitive Wagner in a country-house theatre which has been shaped to accommodate that composer's grandiose visions?
Come to Longborough, nestling in the hills like a Cotswolds Bayreuth, and where the Graham family have just launched their second Ring cycle in ten years. Longborough was the UK's only professional company to stage a complete Ring in 2013, Wagner's bicentenary year, and now has an international renown for Wagner presentation.
Much of this success is due to the way conductor Anthony Negus has coached the 70-strong orchestra -- freelancers who over the years have melded themselves into a unit which phrases and breathes as one -- in Wagnerian style. Under his baton these huge scores have shape and pace, and rhythmic detail which belies any received ideas of Wagner as "heavy".
Such qualities are here in abundance in this new staging of Das Rheingold, curtain-raiser to the whole mythic saga. And just as Wagner's music foreshadows motifs which will colour the entire tetralogy, so Amy Lane's direction points the way forward. One striking image comes right at the end of this opera, the music blazing, the gods triumphantly entering Valhalla, but Wotan, their ruler, has a moment of excruciating awareness of the fatefulness he has unleashed.
The set couldn't be simpler, just two levels linked by steps on each side, enhanced by Tim Baxter's amazing backdrop videos, a continuous unfolding adjunct to the action, lit resourcefully by Charlie Morgan Jones.
Such is the Longborough tradition under Negus that volume and projection are perfectly scaled to this intimate auditorium (but seating 500, no less). The roles are well cast, some portrayals more charismatic than others, and those which particularly caught my attention were Mark Stone's Alberich, twisted both physically and emotionally, Mark le Brocq's Loge, as louche as the MC in Cabaret, and Mae Heydorn's Erda, an arresting Arthur Rackham-ish vision.
But we need unanimity as to how the name of Freia, keeper of the golden apples, should be pronounced. Or did I mishear? Incidentally, the surtitles were deftly synchronised.
*Repeated June 7,9,11 (details on 01451 830292).
Christopher Morley

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