Longborough Festival Opera proper began on its present site in 1998 with Wagner’s Das Rheingold. Nearly a quarter century on, it is over halfway through assembling its third Ring cycle. No wonder this little country house on its ‘green hill’ in the north Gloucestershire Cotswolds has been dubbed the English Bayreuth – not bad for a theatre with its roots in a chicken shed. Key to the festival’s Wagnerian credentials has been the music directorship of Anthony Negus, a conductor and repetiteur who has spent much of his career assisting many of the conducting greats but who is now enjoying his own Indian summer as one of the most sought-after Wagner conductors in his own right. His musical shaping of this season’s new production of Siegfried was one highlight among many of a very rewarding afternoon and evening in Longborough’s intimate 500-seat theatre.

Bradley Daley (Siegfried)
© Matthew Williams-Ellis

This Ring cycle, like so much else, has inevitably taken a kick from Covid. Das Rheingold was launched successfully in 2019. Die Walküre, due in 2020, was postponed for a year but made it to the stage last year in a ‘concert staging’ compromised by having to make do with reduced orchestral forces and a socially distanced presentation. (Seeing it via the short-lived online stream showed it to be compelling viewing and listening nonetheless.) Siegfried, though, is the real thing again.

Much of the success of Amy Lane’s stage direction is down to her collaboration with stage designer Rhiannon Newman Brown, lighting designer Charlie Morgan Jones and the projected video by Tim Baxter, who between them bely the theatre’s lack of fly tower or stage machinery in creating plenty of atmosphere and scenic variance. Her directing sometimes over-eggs the gestural repertoire of her singer-actors (though it’s preferable to the stand and bark school of opera staging), but there is always plenty of insight and fascinating detail in the way she gets the characters to interact, whether it’s Mime and Siegfried in a relationship that, as my guest for the evening noted, bears some resemblance to Steptoe and Son, or Siegfried and Brünnhilde’s very different pairing-up in the closing scene.

Bradley Daley (Siegfried) and Adrian Dwyer (Mime)
© Matthew Williams-Ellis

One of the most intriguing instances of these relationships, though, is that between the Woodbird and Siegfried in Act 2, with the anthropomorphised bird acting as a rather moving recorder of the unfolding story (she is constantly scribbling in a notebook) as well as a seductive lure to get the hero on track to his destiny. The bird is there in Act 3 too (despite having supposedly been frightened off by Wotan’s ravens) delivering Siegfried to Brünnhilde’s mountain-top, while the god himself is re-enacting the putting to sleep of Brünnhilde in her spear-surrounded encasement. Not having seen Lane’s Rheingold, I suspect several such details will only clarify their meaning when the full cycle is shown together as a whole in 2024.

Julieth Lozano (Waldvogel)
© Matthew Williams-Ellis

Bradley Daley’s Siegfried may not have had the widest tonal range, but he had all the notes, singing strongly and clearly right until the end, for all the role’s cruel demands, not least Wagner’s unkindness in pairing him up with a soprano who comes in fresh-voiced for only the last forty minutes of the evening. Here, Longborough regular Lee Bisset made a compelling Brünnhilde, her tone bright and communication vivid.

Mark Stone (Alberich) and Paul Carey Jones (Der Wanderer)
© Matthew Williams-Ellis

Paul Carey Jones’ Walküre Wotan was a masterclass in failing anger-management, but for the character’s guise as the Wanderer, observing events without being seen to shape them, his portrayal takes on a more looming, shadier form yet without compromising vocal power and projection of the text. Adrian Dwyer’s bright and breezy Mime was refreshingly free from the kind of vocal contortions that dog more caricatured assumptions of the role, while his brother Alberich was sung with terrific menace and bite by Mark Stone. Mae Heydorn’s apparition as Erda made its mark, as did Julieth Lozano’s silvery Woodbird, and Simon Wilding’s very human portrayal of Fafner and his demise made up for the lack of him being shown as a dragon.

Lee Bisset (Brünnhilde) and Bradley Daley (Siegfried)
© Matthew Williams-Ellis

But finally, we return to Negus and his gifted orchestra. Each of the three acts unfolded in a seamless arc, with equal definition given to the music’s forward momentum and its creation of atmosphere, and with the players recessed under the stage the balance with the singers – who are helped by their close proximity to the audience – proved ideal. Roll on Götterdämmerung next summer...