Anthony Negus
Longborough Festival Opera Orchestra
5 June 2022
Opera House Longborough
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
SiegfriedBradley Daley
MimeAdrian Dwyer
WotanPaul Carey Jones
AlberichMark Stone
FafnerSimon Wilding
ErdaMae Heydorn
BrünnhildeLee Bisset
WaldvogelJulieth Lozano
Stage directorAmy Lane (2022)
Set designerRhiannon Newman Brown
TV directorDanny Holland
The Guardian

Heft and heroics as Longborough again proves its Wagner chops

With a strong cast including Bradley Daley, Paul Carey Jones’s Wotan and Julieth Lozano’s delightful Woodbird, any weaknesses in the staging were more than compensated for

Need Wagner have made Siegfried quite so objectionable? Thomas Mann called him a “buffoon, god of light, and anarchistic social revolutionary all at once”, but it’s not just simply buffoonery, rather innocence tarnished with insolence and the petulance of an overgrown child who’s a bully. Yet in Longborough Festival Opera’s new production, the third stage of its Ring Cycle, directed by Amy Lane, the suggestion is that, brought up by the appalling Mime (Adrian Dwyer), he couldn’t be otherwise. A case of nurture contaminating the nature-boy, who learns better things when out on his own in the wild.

All of this can make the first act an attempt at reconciling disparate elements, while at the same time wondering whether Siegfried has a voice which will last the night. Bradley Daley had the requisite stamina and heft, and, appropriately, seemed to achieve his most convincingly impassioned sound when forging the magic sword and fired with the idea of finding Brünnhilde. Julieth Lozano’s delightful Woodbird – drawing on some of the vibrancy of last year’s Cunning Little Vixen and with a streak of rusty red in her hair to boot – is a talisman for Siegfried and, as the first female voice in a long haul, also for the listener. This relationship is nicely handled, notably by conductor Anthony Negus bringing out delicacies in the score, played with finesse by Longborough Festival Orchestra. A special shoutout for the player of Siegfried’s horn-call.

For all that it’s Siegfried’s journey and his opera, it’s the role of the Wanderer – Wotan in self-imposed exile from his Valhalla home and in disguise – whose presence is key. Paul Carey Jones, silver-maned and bearded, moving with a dignified grace unimpeded by a heavy floor-length overcoat, was in most impressive form. His clear and expressive projection of the words brought significance to every twist and turn of the Wanderer’s reasoning – with himself as much as those he questions – and the burnished tone was often glorious, particularly in the third act scene with Mae Heydorn’s Erda.

In terms of the production, the moments when the background visuals – of the rushing Rhine or the woods – are in tandem with the music work better than the rather ramshackle stage set and props. But the singing and acting, including Mark Stone as Alberich and Simon Wilding as the dragon Fafner, helped overcome reservations. And in the turmoil and ecstasy of Brünnhilde’s awakening by the enlightened Siegfried, with Lee Bisset’s rich soprano soaring, Longborough’s reputation – and with it that of Negus – for honouring Wagner was once more underlined.

Rian Evans | 31 May 2022

Fearlessly heroic: Siegfried gets the Longborough Ring back on track

Longborough Festival Opera proper began on its present site in 1998 with Wagner’s Das Rheingold. Nearly a quarter century on, it is over halfway through assembling its third Ring cycle. No wonder this little country house on its ‘green hill’ in the north Gloucestershire Cotswolds has been dubbed the English Bayreuth – not bad for a theatre with its roots in a chicken shed. Key to the festival’s Wagnerian credentials has been the music directorship of Anthony Negus, a conductor and repetiteur who has spent much of his career assisting many of the conducting greats but who is now enjoying his own Indian summer as one of the most sought-after Wagner conductors in his own right. His musical shaping of this season’s new production of Siegfried was one highlight among many of a very rewarding afternoon and evening in Longborough’s intimate 500-seat theatre.

This Ring cycle, like so much else, has inevitably taken a kick from Covid. Das Rheingold was launched successfully in 2019. Die Walküre, due in 2020, was postponed for a year but made it to the stage last year in a ‘concert staging’ compromised by having to make do with reduced orchestral forces and a socially distanced presentation. (Seeing it via the short-lived online stream showed it to be compelling viewing and listening nonetheless.) Siegfried, though, is the real thing again.

Much of the success of Amy Lane’s stage direction is down to her collaboration with stage designer Rhiannon Newman Brown, lighting designer Charlie Morgan Jones and the projected video by Tim Baxter, who between them bely the theatre’s lack of fly tower or stage machinery in creating plenty of atmosphere and scenic variance. Her directing sometimes over-eggs the gestural repertoire of her singer-actors (though it’s preferable to the stand and bark school of opera staging), but there is always plenty of insight and fascinating detail in the way she gets the characters to interact, whether it’s Mime and Siegfried in a relationship that, as my guest for the evening noted, bears some resemblance to Steptoe and Son, or Siegfried and Brünnhilde’s very different pairing-up in the closing scene.

One of the most intriguing instances of these relationships, though, is that between the Woodbird and Siegfried in Act 2, with the anthropomorphised bird acting as a rather moving recorder of the unfolding story (she is constantly scribbling in a notebook) as well as a seductive lure to get the hero on track to his destiny. The bird is there in Act 3 too (despite having supposedly been frightened off by Wotan’s ravens) delivering Siegfried to Brünnhilde’s mountain-top, while the god himself is re-enacting the putting to sleep of Brünnhilde in her spear-surrounded encasement. Not having seen Lane’s Rheingold, I suspect several such details will only clarify their meaning when the full cycle is shown together as a whole in 2024.

Bradley Daley’s Siegfried may not have had the widest tonal range, but he had all the notes, singing strongly and clearly right until the end, for all the role’s cruel demands, not least Wagner’s unkindness in pairing him up with a soprano who comes in fresh-voiced for only the last forty minutes of the evening. Here, Longborough regular Lee Bisset made a compelling Brünnhilde, her tone bright and communication vivid.

Paul Carey Jones’ Walküre Wotan was a masterclass in failing anger-management, but for the character’s guise as the Wanderer, observing events without being seen to shape them, his portrayal takes on a more looming, shadier form yet without compromising vocal power and projection of the text. Adrian Dwyer’s bright and breezy Mime was refreshingly free from the kind of vocal contortions that dog more caricatured assumptions of the role, while his brother Alberich was sung with terrific menace and bite by Mark Stone. Mae Heydorn’s apparition as Erda made its mark, as did Julieth Lozano’s silvery Woodbird, and Simon Wilding’s very human portrayal of Fafner and his demise made up for the lack of him being shown as a dragon.

But finally, we return to Negus and his gifted orchestra. Each of the three acts unfolded in a seamless arc, with equal definition given to the music’s forward momentum and its creation of atmosphere, and with the players recessed under the stage the balance with the singers – who are helped by their close proximity to the audience – proved ideal. Roll on Götterdämmerung next summer…

Matthew Rye | 31 Mai 2022

Happily concept-free but with ‘Good Ideas’

With a lapse of three years between Das Rheingold and Siegfried, and with only a semi-staged Walküre in between, it’s been hard to stay tuned to Amy Lane’s Ring production at Longborough.

Here, for instance, is Mime in his cave (rather well, if shabbily, furnished in Rhiannon Newman Brown’s bric-à-brac set), struggling to mend the sword which we haven’t seen broken, for the young Siegfried, of whose all-important parentage we as yet know nothing (Adrian Dwyer’s Mime and Bradley Daley’s Siegfried pictured below). Here, later, is Brünnhilde asleep on her mountain-top for reasons we haven’t witnessed, though the music keeps “reminding” us and the Wanderer tells us about it at least twice in the course of the drama.

More in fact than any of the Ring operas, Siegfried is a work of flashbacks. Wagner originally devised it because friends told him Siegfrieds Tod (alias Götterdämmerung) would be incomprehensible without it, so the explicatory element was built in from the start. It’s a device that can, at its worst, hold things up, but that more often provides moments of repose, relaxations in the dramatic pace, and that enabled Wagner to develop his supreme command of transition and continuity. Scene from Longborough RingYou can even hear these techniques evolving in Siegfried, between the second and third acts, which were divided by 12 years in which Wagner composed Tristan and Die Meistersinger. The start of Act 3 – Wotan on the mountain path in an altercation with Erda (Mother Earth, but alas also his mistress) – is one of the greatest passages in 19th century opera, a marvellous fusion of psycho-drama and pure symphonic power. Without the 12 years, Wagner might not have managed it.

These thoughts pop up here not least because Anthony Negus’s conducting of Wagner has matured to the point where he seems to have the discourse of this kind of music completely under his thumb. One might quarrel (very gently) with this or that tempo – this Act 3 start was, for me, on the slow side; but there is never a moment with him when one feels in the slightest degree uncomfortable about the linkages and relationships at the heart of this intellectually complex and emotionally draining music.

This was notwithstanding one or two problems in the orchestral playing at Monday’s first night. The intimate Longborough theatre (and what a joy to be back here in a full house) can sometimes cast an unwelcome light on the chamber-music aspects of Wagner’s wind scoring; and it can have an unexpected effect on balance as well. So I found myself hearing details I hadn’t heard before, and wasn’t sure I was meant to hear quite so prominently. Though the playing was mostly excellent, the sonority wasn’t always at its most generous. But all such doubts were put to bed by the final act, superbly played and sung, and wonderfully clear, with the voices where they belong but often are not in the Ring, at the top of the sound.

With one exception the cast carries on from Rheingold, and the production, practical, sensible, sometimes a bit stodgy, does so too. The exception, Paul Carey Jones’s Wanderer (ie. Wotan, pictured below), is one of several stars of the evening, vocally commanding, a forceful presence, if inclined here and there to trivialise with commonplace gestures unsuited to the Top God – even Top God on the way out. Mark Stone’s Alberich is equally thrilling, a worthy match, and Adrian Dwyer’s Mime, though camped up to a somewhat wearisome degree, is a clever portrait, sung with great character. Mae Heydorn is an Erda who, once again, makes fine capital out of her too brief appearance. Siegfried 1New to The Ring, of course, is the title role, sung here by the Australian tenor Bradley Daley. He’s a mixed bag, a fine, ringing Heldentenor, not quite so assured in the lyrical episodes of the Forest Murmurs, but terrific in the last act opposite the Brünnhilde of Lee Bisset, herself a consummate artist whose intelligence and musicianship are clearly infectious. Bisset’s voice is perhaps a shade less steady than in the past, but it still has those lovely dark colourings that lend such depth to her portraiture. She also moves beautifully, which alas cannot quite be said of Daley, a lumpish presence not much helped by Emma Ryott’s jumper-and-jeans costume.

Lane’s staging, like her Rheingold, is mercifully concept free, though punctuated by what one might call Good Ideas. The Act 2 Woodbird (Julieth Lozano) sidles on already, tail-suited, at the end of Act 1, then turns into a sort of muse for Siegfried, like Offenbach’s Nicklausse, fawns over him, scribbles mysteriously in a notebook, leads him hand-in-hand up the mountain, etc. Back to your tree, I say. I prefer Simon Wilding’s Fafner as a Handicapped Dragon-Tramp whose crutches Siegfried steals before cradling the poor dying creature in his arms, a bonding touch between killer and killed that would have pleased Janáček.

Of course nothing can redeem Siegfried himself, a disagreeable yob who gives courage a bad name. Nothing, that is, except Wagner’s music.

Stephen Walsh | 31 May 2022

Longborough’s Siegfried benefits from generally clear storytelling and solid musical values

In my recent review of Richard Jones’s Samson et Dalila at Covent Garden I was reminded of the great furore over his Ring cycle at Covent Garden in the 1990s, and how at a public event the director responded to a question of what it was supposed to ‘mean’ with ‘Well, what does it mean to you?’ Since then – but I guess also from the first time I ever watched opera – I have wanted what I am seeing to resonate with me on some level or other. This is especially with a developing Ring where there is also the hope that in the journey through the operas there will be something of ‘the great idea’ to be discovered. I searched for this in vain through Stefan Herheim’s new Ring for Deutsche Oper Berlin (available on Marquee TV) and it is still too early to conclude what meaning, if any, Amy Lane at Longborough wants us to gather from what she is putting on stage in her ongoing new cycle. However, I appreciated – especially when this performance took off in the final act – the beautiful video backdrops and generally clear storytelling that were a highlight of this Siegfried which held my attention throughout, along with its solid musical values.

Siegfried is often derided as the least popular of the four Ring operas, yet, revealing my perversity, it has always been my favourite. Lane’s Ring is juddering to its completion in 2024 having been blighted – as so much has – by the pandemic. There was a fully-staged Das Rheingold in 2019 (review here) and Die Walküre was a socially-distanced semi-staging and we really have no idea how the errant Valkyrie, Brünnhilde, was put to sleep on her rock as punishment for defying her father Wotan’s authority. She will be awoken by the ‘hero that knows no fear’ and he is Siegfried, the result of the incestuous relationship of his parents Siegmund and Sieglinde which is the subject of Die Walküre. Not only does Siegfried not know fear, but he also does not know love either and it takes the awakened Brünnhilde to arouse that in him during Wagner’s blazingly transcendent finale.

It was this final act that won me over to this Siegfried. Anthony Negus, Longborough Festival Opera’s music director, reflected on the twelve-year gap in Wagner completing the opera and how, ‘In that act, a whole new atmosphere comes into being: vividly in the marvellous prelude, and we hear it, too, in the scene between the Wanderer and Erda.’ Negus and his 60-strong orchestra sounded transformed after the second interval, not that they were in anyway ‘bad’ before that but it was all rather more routine than we have come to expect from them. Perhaps Alfons Abbass’s reduced score was the problem, however the same number of musicians in Act III sounded twice the size of those we had heard before. This third act was conducted with considerable passion, transparency and consummate authority. Whilst there was no doubting Negus’s deep understanding elsewhere in this opera, there seemed something of a matter-of-fact briskness to it, though conversely some of the more narrative passages lingered more than I expected them to.

Set and Props designer Rhiannon Newman Brown populated Mime’s dwelling with eclectic odds and ends including a flipchart where Mime draws where the sword Nothung came from, an armchair, an anvil, oil drums, amongst much else. At the end when Siegfried sings ‘So schneidet Siegfrieds Schwert!’ he just swings about the sword he has forged and nothing else happens. How difficult could it have been for him to cleave in two the rotary line that Mime and Siegfried’s washing was on? At the end of the first act a slight figure in evening dress appears and totally confuses many in the audience – clearly not au fait with the opera – who didn’t realise the act was actually over. That was the Woodbird of course.

In Act II there is more of a suggestion of a rocky landscape though Fafner is totally misconceived as someone physically impaired and with crutches. He is guarding the gold that includes the ring and Tarnhelm (his top hat) that Siegfried claims when he kills him. The Woodbird appears to be Siegfried’s Nicklausse-like muse who is constantly scribbling in a notebook and whether what is written there is what’s happening, or whether something already written is being followed, is unclear. It was slightly reminiscent of the way Herheim uses Wagner’s scores in his Berlin production.

In Act III Erda, ‘the world’s wisest woman’ and Brünnhilde’s mother, makes a magical appearance at the back, but Longborough’s restricted stage means that Brünnhilde cannot simply be discovered sleeping on her rock and is lead in by the Wanderer to lay down on it surrounded by a cat’s cradle of spears.

As I mentioned earlier, Tim Baxter’s use of projected imagery (still or moving) makes more of these stage pictures than might be there otherwise. These are so many and varied that I can only give a hint about them all; there are the forest settings for the caves Mime and Fafner live in, trees, a bear, a dragon’s green scales, mountaintops, the waters of the Rhine, sunrises and sunsets, and ending with a blazing sun followed by a starry sky during the last few moments of the opera. Emma Ryott’s costumes at times had more than a hint of J R R Tolkien to them with Alberich as a hobbit and the Wanderer (blatantly?) as Gandalf.

Sadly I must – as many would – disagree with Negus when he suggests that Wagner did not want his Mime to sing the role ‘in an ugly way, or as a caricature’. For me Mime is a nastier piece of work than Siegfried and it is clear Mime has only brought him up so he can fight Fafner and get the hoard of gold for himself. No one would want Mime portrayed as the ‘dwarf’ he is constantly referred to as, but Adrian Dwyer looked incongruous and his voice was more suitable for Loge. Nevertheless, his Mime had its moments especially when entertainingly flouncing around in an apron – and sometimes with a chef’s hat – whilst cooking up his poisoned soup.

Three singers in smaller roles were mightily impressive: Mark Stone’s power-hungry and vengeful Alberich, Simon Wilding’s unusually poignant Fafner and Mae Heydorn’s bewildered Erda which she sang with focussed intensity and contralto richness. However, Julieth Lozano was too forthright as the Woodbird and as intriguing as the character was, who actually was this chronicler?

Paul Carey Jones came into his own as the Wanderer in his confrontations with Erda and then Siegfried, at these moments he was at his most dignified and vocally commanding. Lee Bissett sang Brünnhilde with great fervour though her resplendent voice seemed to lack some of the security of previous years, though she sounded as if she was just getting warmed up as the opera finished. I had admired Bradley Daley as Siegmund in a Melbourne Opera livestream (review here) and he didn’t disappoint me here. Any Siegfried who can outsing his absolutely fresh Brünnhilde after so many hours must be doing something right. Daley sang his overgrown man-child with a bright, stentorian top, some grace and an attention to phrasing that came and went (possibly in passages where he was unconsciously saving himself for his big finish).

Jim Pritchard | Longborough, Gloucestershire, 1.6.2022

A gripping Siegfried at Longborough Festival Opera

There’s something wholly satisfying when an opera is allowed to breathe its own magic without overworked directorial interference. This new production of Siegfried – originally planned for 2021 – forms the third instalment of Amy Lane’s Ring cycle, begun in 2019 and intended to appear as a complete traversal in 2024. Lane’s mostly non-interventionist approach avoids concepts or riffs on contemporary mores and gives us Siegfried pretty much exactly as it ‘says on the tin’. Music and action unfold without distractions enabling an immersive experience much enriched by magnificent singing and authoritative direction from Anthony Negus, regarded as one of the finest Wagnerian conductors in Britain today. Once again, Longborough’s Wagner credentials are brilliantly served.

Rhiannon Newman Brown makes the most of Longborough’s modest stage facilities and her sets provide all that’s necessary to conjure cave, woodland and rocky enclosure that define each of the three acts. The whole is atmospherically lit by Charlie Morgan Jones and enhanced by the clever use of video projections by Tim Baxter where images of forests, distant mountains and the Rhine (even the bear in Act One) variously reflect the narrative. There’s plenty to hold the eye in the chaotic cavern: forge, makeshift kitchen and assorted packing cases enable a range of movement for Mime and Siegfried, most effectively when the latter fashions the sword, and an apron-clad Mime, complete with toque, prepares a concoction of fruit and vegetables for his poisonous broth. It’s one of several relationships within scenes where Amy Lane points up felicitous detail, none more happily so than with the Woodbird. Dressed in evening tails, she incessantly scribbles in a notebook as if reporting on or predicting events. One might have reservations about Fafner whose first entrance on crutches (presumably to suggest a four-legged creature) doesn’t quite summon a dragon but, nonetheless, it’s an imaginative stroke. Less convincing is the clumsy encounter when Brünnhilde is ‘discovered’ sleeping on the rock having been led there earlier by the Wanderer.

No matter, since her portrayal by Lee Bissett is one of the most compelling of the evening. Fabulously communicative in voice and movement, she is a natural Wagnerian whose ardent tones soar over the orchestra, her hymn to the sun magnificent. No less captivating is Julieth Lonzano’s chirpy Woodbird, sung with youthful zeal; pleasing to the eye and refreshing to the ear. A richly sonorous Mae Heydorn as the earth Goddess Erda is marvellously matriarchal. While her rear stage position isn’t ideal, her brief appearance provides answers to the question of Siegfried’s uncertain parentage.

Australian tenor Bradley Daley in the title role is heroic in voice, finding his form half-way through Act One and looking much more at ease while forging the sword and interacting with Mime. His is not an especially sympathetic character (just as Mime isn’t) with his three-part mix of ungrateful orphan, innocent at large and uncouth jack-the-lad, yet someone to whom we must respond to with warmth by Act Three when he has matured and discovered some humanity. Somewhat stolid in his portrayal, there’s no mistaking his stamina and there’s still plenty of heft at the end of what is an exceptionally demanding role. Adrian Dwyer’s Mime is a multi-faceted characterisation, at times approaching caricature and almost stealing the show with his blend of campery, menace and skulduggery, drawing our compassion as the underappreciated ‘nanny’ to Siegfried. His ringing tenor never overshadows Daley, and he handles the wide-ranging vocal part with considerable skill.

Elsewhere, Mark Stone’s dark tones impress as the vengeful Alberich and a stentorian Simon Wilding does ample justice to Fafner. But it is Paul Carey-Jones as the Wanderer (Wotan in disguise) who consistently provides an anchor to this production, both imposing in voice and stage presence, a Gandalf-like figure who on each appearance brings nobility and power of communication – notably so with the riddle scene with Mime and his meeting with Erda.

Most crucial to the success of this production is Anthony Negus’s sure-footed direction of the Longborough Festival Orchestra and his control of dramatic tension. Notwithstanding a reduced scoring by Alfons Abbass, this Siegfried was vividly detailed and the transcendent final scene unforgettably moving. Little wonder this 500-seat theatre at Longborough is regarded as England’s Bayreuth.

David Truslove | Gloucestershire 1st June 2022

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