Henry James when talking about reviewing books or music or drama was insistent that one must start by accepting “the given”. So when reviewing a Wagner opera at the Longborough Festival Opera, the first given is to remember that you are not at Bayreuth or the Royal Opera House. Longobourgh has its own approach and house style for Wagner and the constraints of a smaller theatre or even a smaller budget than the more august opera houses in no way diminishes the impact, enjoyment, or inspiration of their productions.
Yet again, with a new production of Wagner’s Siegfried, this company provides its audience with a remarkable and thoroughly engaging experience of opera as drama. All the elements of music, scenery, movement, and declamation blend into a seamless whole that rivets the attention. Musically, Anthony Negus leads a committed, idiomatic, and intensely moving interpretation. The orchestra played with real aplomb and the brassier bits blazed while the softer moments lilted. The stage was peopled with singers who are also convincing actors and all of whom were extremely well-chosen for their roles.
Amy Lane’s production struck me by its imaginative and at time adventurously daring approach. For me Lane had created something reminiscent of the Brechtian Alienation Effect, staging things so that you were aware you were in a theatre yet provoked into translating what was happening on stage into its most into its richest effects. At times the staging was done as slightly camp comedy, in the first two acts, and in the third act the staging shifted with the music to create something approaching a spiritual mood of considerable sublimity.
There is nothing solemn about this Siegfried and yet it is completely and at all times serious. The sets and costumes work to suggest the scenes, as does the excellent video aspect designed by Tim Basxter. Unlike many Wagner productions, Amy Lane provokes in us an awareness of the somewhat black comedy of moments. Wotan actually got laughs with his wry, controlled menace and undercutting of both Mime and Alberich the night that I attended. The settings are imaginative, with Mime’s mancave dwelling and the forest outside Fafner’s cave completely evocative of what the libretto asks for.
One of the most imaginative aspects of the staging is turning the Woodbird, who is usually just a voice offstage, into a visible character who overlooks the action from the time that Siegfried rushes off to try out his new sword. Julieth Lozano is a real find in her ability to anthropomorphise her character and also sing the dazzlingly high tesitura. She conveys wisdom and also agency in the way of animals or birds in fairy tales, and the fairy tale approach to some of the action manages also to suggest and conjure the fundamentally mythic inspiration for the Ring operas by the end of the evening. Adrian Dwyer is simply a superb Mime in every way, vocally and dramatically, virtually a comic mime in his physicality, especially in Act II when acting out what he is really thinking about Siegfried as opposed to what he is saying. He is a tall, good-looking, and lanky man with a lovely voice and yet you believe it when Siegfried refers to him as an ugly dwarf.
Bradley Dayley conveyed the idea of the rebellious adolescent Siegfried in his acting, with moments that suggested the more sensitive side that would emerge later. Vocally he started off well and as the evening warmed up so did his voice and some of his singing at the top end of his register was thrilling. The Wanderer, Paul Carey Jones, was a Wotan of real authority, with the sonorous voice and the demeanour for the role along with a slyness that also brought out the moments of real humour in his treatment of Mime and Mark Stone’s mellifluous Alberich. The scene with May Heydorn’s Erda was the highlight it needs to be and the breaking of Wotan’s staff had a real impact.
There was not a weak link in the acting or the singing. And finally, of course, Lee Bisset was awakened by Siegfried’s kiss to hail the sun with a truly thrilling vocal display. Her acting was nuanced and moving and rose to the triumphant, glorious acceptance of the new life of human love and mortality that was now her fate. The blending of her voice with Siegfried’s took the music, as it must, into a whole new sphere. Full praise to conductor Anthony Negus for his control of the score as a complex, complete entity.
All in all this Siegfried gives a splendid experience of Wagner’s work.
- Music & Libretto by Richard Wagner (1813 – 1883)
- Director: Amy Lane
- Conductor: Anthony Negus
- Costumes: Emma Ryott
- Set and Props Designer: Rhiannon Newman Brown
- Cast: Bradley Daley, Lee Bisset, Paul Carey Jones, Adrian Dwyer, Mark Stone, Simon Wildiong, Julieth Lozano, Mae Heydron
- Longborough Festival Opera