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Magnum in medio

Arts Theatre
07/08/2002 -  and 10, 12, 14 July 2002
Richard Wagner: The Ring
Nicholas Folwell (Alberich/Hunding), Yvonne Barclay (Woglinde/Freia/Woodbird), Elaine McKrill (Wellgunde/1st Valkyrie), Pauline Birchall (Flosshilde/Erda/3rd Valkyrie), Brian Bannatyne Scott (Wotan/Wanderer), Colette McGahon (Fricka/Waltraute), Peter Bronder (Loge/Mime), Jacob Zethner-Moller (Fasolt), Julian Close (Fafner), Richard Lloyd Morgan (Donner/Gunther), Peter Jeffers (Siegmund), Annemarie Sand (Sieglinde), Jenny Miller (Brünnhilde), Catherine Griffiths (2nd Valkyrie), Matthew Elton Thomas (Siegfried), Mark Richardson (Hagen), Cassandra Manning (Gutrune), James Hancock (Gibichung 1), Jonathan Finney (Gibichung 2), Stephen Bowen (Gibichung 3)

Anthony Negus (conductor), Alan Privett (director)

Longborough Festival Opera Orchestra

The Arts Theatre in Cambridge is roughly the same size as the house at Bayreuth, but the stalls were three fifths full for this reduced Ring, in a version by Jonathan Dove that was originally produced for the City of Birmingham Touring Opera. (Each opera is performed on a separate evening. Rheingold and Siegfried come in at just under two hours each, and Die Valkyrie and Götterdämmerung at a little over three hours including a half-hour interval.) The low attendance was probably because seat prices were also about the same as those at Bayreuth and you had to make do with a twenty-three piece orchestra. Nevertheless, the Ring is a Gesamtkunstwerk, which means that you need to experience all its aspects (music, acting, scenery, drama and plot) rather than that you have to get the whole score completely uncut. For most of the audience, the real alternative to seeing this ingeniously staged and well-sung Ring with an occasionally wobbly small orchestra was listening to the CDs again, not schlepping to Bavaria. And considered that way there was much that was rewarding in the Longborough cycle.

Dove's arrangement was impressive both in its selection of material and coherence and in its neat scoring, with a keyboard unobtrusively filling out missing woodwind parts. The orchestra under Anthony Negus gave it plenty of commitment, and sounded remarkably full in the smallish theatre without drowning the singers. There were moments when they sounded desperately creaky, particularly the exposed solo horns and trumpet. But once you'd got your ear in to the much leaner harmonic mix the music was recognisably there if you knew it and perfectly effective if you didn't. Purists and addicts might resent this linear reduction of the sound, but it worked.

The production was also a kind of comic strip version of the full cycle. It seemed to assume that the audience was familiar with the general idea of the operas and concentrated on presenting the idea in concrete forms. The action moved forward from the turn of the twentieth century through the first world war (a powerful context for the Valkyries' corpse-obsession) and Klimt's Vienna to a science-fiction like present. The main sense was of everything going to blazes, with moments of aesthetic interest and emotional grandeur on the way. The singers performed in German and promised titles turned out to be minimal pointers in English to the big ideas of each scene, projected as part of the set. The details all made sense if you could follow them, and there was still something powerful there if you couldn't, which is about as much as anyone can hope for from an opera production.

The singers inevitably carried most of the burden of communicating the work, and they were all splendid. The Rheintöchter were as good as you could hope to her, and the three (sic) Valkyries were impressively forceful. Colette McGahon has the right aggrieved fierceness as Fricka. Jenny Miller was an effortless Brünhilde, apparently young and definitely glamorous with just the right touch of horsiness initially. She suggested the whole range of emotions during Götterdämmerung, from love's young dream through resentment and rage to sacrificial ecstasy, without any obvious "acting".

Brian Bannatyne Scott was a familiar sort of superior bourgeois Wotan, vocally smooth but not particularly forceful and becoming increasingly arch during Siegfried. The other various heavies were more substantial, particularly Nicholas Folwell as both Alberich and Hunding, as butch a pair of giants as you could want and, especially, Mark Richardson as Hagen. Matthew Elton Thomas was a good-looking, amiably stupid Siegfried who again wasn't quite a force of nature, though much of his singing was beautiful. Most impressive of all was Peter Bronder as a comically slimy but still sinister Loge and a wonderfully German, unDisneyfied Mime. Even parents of teenagers could not sympathize with this Mime, though admittedly his Siegfried was less obnoxious than usual when deprived of his bear.

H.E. Elsom



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