27 June 2001
It takes a nutter to make things happen. Take the nuts-and-bolts builder Martin Graham, who has just spliced Götterdämmerung into Longborough Festival Opera's Gloucestershire Ring cycle. "Ring Round the Moon". It's been three seasons now since he bizarrely hoisted the Bayreuth banner above a terracotta-façaded barn. But there has been no blue cheese this year, apart from that eaten in the airy follies dotting Graham's sparsely landscaped Cotswold eyrie.
As Wagner nights enfolded Longborough, Peter Moores launched a venture that might never even have existed without his urging. He's another enabling head-case, who by well-placed sponsorship has achieved more for British opera than any single individual. Last Sunday the 1973 recording of the celebrated ENO English Ring cycle was played on state-of-the-art equipment at the Coliseum in London. The cycle was conducted by Reggie Goodall, a national monument (he premiered Peter Grimes and coached the gamut of postwar Covent Garden principals) retrieved from Bow Street attics to deliver one of the landmark events of not just the new Coliseum company, but the century.
What amazes is how well Longborough bears the comparison. Waltraute (who pleads Wotan's hopeless case with Brünnhilde in Götterdämmerung), is one of Goodall's glories, while Katherine Pring, Rhinegold's Fricka, had the surtitle-glued ENO audience stunned by her clear-edged resonances. Not all of the Coliseum series has aged as well; Pring sounds as fresh as if recorded yesterday. Yet the Irish-born Colette McGahon – cheered to the rafters – gives Longborough's Waltraute the performance of her life, fusing persuasion with passion, penitence with pathos. Norman Welsby's ENO Gunther cuts as much ice as Norman Bailey's 1950s Wotan; Richard Lloyd Morgan, fresh from touring Maxwell Davies's surreal Mr Emmet, hasn't quite changed character, yet his Longborough Gunther is rich, assured, and packs a punch of impotent authority.
Longborough's new Wotan is the German-based Anthony Raffell, whose CV (including Vienna and the Met) reads like a dream-list and who has a vocal and visual stature that his predecessor, Brian Bannatyne-Scott, just missed. Mark Richardson's Hagen is world-class, like his Fafner, while three snide Gibichungs have more impact than the whole ENO chorus. As the dwarfs, Peter Bronder and Nicholas Folwell produced a vicious pairing that makes Goodall's duo (Gregory Dempsey and Derek Hammond-Stroud) sound like Donald Swann crossed with Widow Twankey. Bronder's Mime is one of Longborough's triumphs; Folwell's promising successor, Alberich, needs firmer projection.
There was no such problem with Longborough's Brünnhilde, Jenny Miller, who is slightly recklessly controlled (she needn't try so hard) but is a terrific, involving presence even set against the knife-grinding Rita Hunter. Siegfried (Matthew Elton Thomas) flails, dressed like a grade-three logger from Paul Bunyan, with a vibrato that deflates as it flattens – a poor drip, alas, beside Remedios. Alan Privett's moves, Laura Smith's reined-in back projections and Guy Hoare's lights are at their best in Götterdämmerung, but the heroes – brilliant brass aside – are the conductor Anthony Negus, who worked with Goodall and brings Longborough an equally acute Wagner brain, and Andrew Porter, whose translation (the odd curio aside – "I have braved the dangers baking around your rock" is one) gloriously fulfils one of Wagner's long-cherished hopes.
© - 2001 The Independent