Götterdämmerung and the Ring cycle

Richard Wagner
Longborough Festival Opera
Longborough Festival Opera

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Lee Bisset (Brünnhilde) and Bradley Daley (Siegfried) Credit: Matthew Williams-Ellis
Norns Mari Wyn Williams, Katie Stevenson and Rebecca Afonwy-Jones Credit: Matthew Williams-Ellis
Mark Stone (Alberich) Credit: Matthew Williams-Ellis
Benedict Nelson (Gunther), Julian Close (Hagen) and Laure Meloy (Gutrune) Credit: Matthew Williams-Ellis

When, in the revolutionary year 1848, Wagner started work on what was to be the Ring cycle, it must have seemed clear to him that the old order was about to crumble. But it was to be a quarter of a century later that he completed the work, and in that time, the young radical had become more pessimistic about the future, more immersed in nationalistic myths from the remote past.

His vision reached its apotheosis in Götterdämmerung, actually composed first but the last in the order of performance. This production, the culmination of Longborough’s 2024 complete cycle, is a reprise of that reviewed last year, but seeing all four operas gives a better opportunity to untangle this parable of riddles about gods and humans, might and right.

Director Amy Lane highlights the battle between fate—written in a leather-bound volume that travels throughout the storytelling—and free will, whether driven by natural goodness or greed. And the standard of righteousness is carried forward here by the women.

They are either all-knowing—Rhinemaidens, Erda, the Norns, or to a greater or lesser degree challengers against oppression or agents of change: Brünnhilde tears pages from the book of fate, the Woodbird directs Siegfried’s steps, Sieglinde deserts an abusive husband, Fricka and Waltraute defy Wotan, even Freia and Gutrune show tendencies to go their own way.

So where does this gently feminist argument leave Siegfried? He is, in this interpretation, more acted upon than acting, a semi-trained animal, a lad who retains a touch of Just Williamness despite the all-consuming love of a woman, who happens to be his auntie. After more than 14 hours of music, Lane resurrects the fallen hero and the now white-haired Wotan to join Brünnhilde, united in death, or rebirth? It’s a fitting uncertainty.

Most of the cast reprise their roles from the 2023 production, but one newcomer, Claire Barnett-Jones as Waltraute, had me on the edge of my seat with her sumptuous, creamy mezzo. Her one solo appearance was for me one of the great discoveries of the entire cycle. Winner of the Audience Prize at the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World in 2021, she will soon return to Bayreuth in the same role and make her debut at Covent Garden—a great career surely lies ahead.

Julian Close again earned some of the heartiest applause for his Hagen, smug, scheming, with a distinctive, resonant bass burr. His exchange with Mark Stone’s wild man of the woods Alberich was riveting.

The superb lighting design by Charlie Morgan Jones, which illuminates the action in every sense, has already been mentioned. Great credit is due also to Tim Baxter for video projection so cleverly co-ordinated that a Rhinemaiden’s wave can send a shower of water heavenward. The team of surtitle providers too deserve congratulation for converting Wagner’s sometimes pompous prose into something more vernacular. "So sexy," a Rhinemaiden calls Siegfried. Well, that explains a lot.

One of the virtues of Longborough is the deeply-set, four-tier pit which allows the orchestra to play full out without drowning the singers. Anthony Negus, a highly demonstrative conductor as could be seen in the side monitors, maintained perfect balance throughout, with the possible exception of slight overplaying in the first act of Siegfried, and mastered tempi masterfully, with flexible, flowing tempi that matched the emotional pulse.

Reviewer: Colin Davison

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