A word of warning: approach this review with caution. It addresses the third performance at Longborough Festival Opera in five days – not to mention the Sitzprobe, dress rehearsal and goodness knows what else – of a notably taxing opera so inevitably, after all that, there were early signs of wear and tear in several voices. With shows shunting up every other day (presumably for reasons of economics) who knows how they’ll be when they reach number seven on 14th June.

Sarah Marie Kramer (Sieglinde) and Brindley Sherratt (Hunding)
© Jorge Lizalde

One singer who’ll need no special pleading is the redoubtable bass Brindley Sherratt, for not only was he on top form as Hunding, Sieglinde’s baleful husband, but he is due to relinquish his role for the last three dates. As Siegmund, his character’s nemesis, Peter Wedd sang with sustained beauty of tone but no great amplitude above Francis Griffin’s exemplary reduction of Wagner’s orchestration.

If Act 1 was absorbing, Act 2 was in another league from the word go, thanks to the biting clarity and acting chops of a couple of gods in Paul Carey Jones (Wotan) and Madeleine Shaw (Fricka). This was singing of the highest quality, from the pinpoint accuracy of their intonation to the power and glory of their vocal projection. I could have listened to them both all night – and in the case of Carey Jones I practically did, such is the size of his role in this second Ring opera. In less powerful hands his lengthy recap from Das Rheingold (“Previously on Der Ring des Nibelungen…”) can easily sag, but here it became a spellbinding piece of storytelling. The Welsh bass-baritone made clear at every turn that this is Wotan’s tragedy above all: a tale of sacrifice born of hubris.

Paul Carey Jones (Wotan) and Madeleine Shaw (Fricka)
© Jorge Lizalde

Lee Bisset as Brünnhilde was a commanding presence throughout and her extended scene with Wedd’s Siegmund in Act 2 proved exceptionally moving, but her voice sounded a little weary and occasionally disappeared into the orchestral texture. (She was flanked by a stellar posse of singers as her fellow Valkyries, with Katie Lowe as Helmwige making a notably brilliant contribution.) In fact, of the women only Sarah Marie Kramer as a jaded-sounding Sieglinde disappointed to any great extent, but fatigue doubtless played its part in her case, too.

Lee Bisset (Brünnhilde)
© Jorge Lizalde

The director Amy Lane will have been frustrated to see her plans for a full production limited to a semi-staging, but she still ought to have achieved something more convincing than this dimly-lit endeavour. Others before her have done so. The biggest shock, given her breadth of experience, was to see so little attention paid to basic stagecraft. Granted, the 16 onstage string players occupied much of the cramped space (the rest of the orchestra was in the pit, all of them socially distanced under the watchful eye of Wagner expert Anthony Negus) but there was ample room to configure what remained with greater nous.

Take the issue of high-vs-low character status. There was nowhere among her trio of horizontal catwalks and rostra that the necessary differentiation could be conveyed. Everyone, gods and monsters, had to enter from the side in weakened profile rather than dominate the eye by facing the audience, while the only downstage slots for the singers were at the edges – the weakest points – next to the proscenium arch. For a director, such matters should be elementary building blocks; here they were completely overlooked.