Review: Das Rheingold @ Longborough Fesitval Opera
by Stuart Martin
Photo credit Matthew Williams-Ellis
Summer has definitely arrived, and this means the beginning of the opera festival season in the UK. All across the country there are a number of festivals that appear throughout the summer in some of the most beautiful locations, producing stunning opera. The opera festivals in the UK are a lovely event to attend as it’s more intimate than say an opera at ENO or Royal Opera House and the lovely country settings, the black tie formal dress code, the picnicking, it’s just a lovely way to spend an afternoon, it’s an experience, not just an opera.
Longborough Festival Opera, located in the Cotswalds is a monument to Wagner in particular and this year they begin a new cycle of Wagner’s epic Ring Cycle with the first instalment- Das Rheingold. Das Rheingold is quite possibly the most perfect opera ever: 4 scenes, no interval, 2hrs40, some of the most stunning music ever created, it’s an experience unlike most.
Briefly, the story is about a dwarf called Alberich who steals the Rheingold and uses it to a forge a ring giving him untold power, riches and the possibility to enslave the world. The Gods, led by Wotan have had giants build their new castle in the sky called Valhalla, due to some poor decisions Wotan is in a tricky situation with paying the giants and so goes to Alberich to try and take the ring to solve his problems, drama ensues.
The production is simple but effective, with the back wall projection changing throughout and very effective lighting. The projections work better at sometimes than others, the third scene down with Alberich is phenomenally done (although the end of that scene has an interpretive dance which is quite jarring), whilst the Valhalla scenes, which meant to be a castle, looks more like an industrial park. Throughout the production smashed glass seems to appear on the projection which I don’t really understand either. Overall though, the production is well done and effective, with great costumes, wigs (gold leaf in the hair!) and design.
It seemed to take a bit of time for the performances to kick-off, the prelude, which in my opinion is just a stunning piece of music, was oddly restrictive, quiet, slow, and sadly disappointing, thankfully conductor Anthony Negus increased the pacing and the volume afterwards and did a fantastic job with the remainder. Mark Le Brocq as Loge was one of the standouts for me; he brought energy and genuine enjoyment to the role with a great voice (and a brilliant costume!). The other standouts for me were Madeleine Shaw as Fricka and Mark Stone as Alberich who both brought enthusiasm and very strong vocals to their roles. Darren Jeffrey as Wotan was a bit inconsistent, at points he brought the power necessary for the role but more often he wasn’t able to bring the authority and gravitas required, especially with music such as this. I enjoyed Simon Wilding as the giant Fafner and Adrian Dwyer as Mime who were both exciting and who I’d like to see more of, whilst Mae Heydorn as Erda was a bit of a disappointment vocally.
Das Rheingold is one of the best operas you can see, and Longborough Fesitval Opera is a perfect location and experience. This new production is intriguing and I’m very excited to see what they bring next year with Die Walküre.