Longborough Festival Opera, Moreton-in-Marsh, Gloucestershire
The casting of the central role in Siegfried, a headache for any opera company these days, is a considerable challenge for a small house like the Cotswolds-based Longborough Festival Opera. What a coup if they could not only cast it but unearth a new tenor who will go on to shine in the role around the world. They might just have done that.
American tenor Daniel Brenna bounds on in Act 1 and bounces around like a chubby schoolboy, showing so much youthful exuberance that you can’t help wondering if he’ll last the night. But, apart from showing signs of wear at the very end of this first performance, he certainly stayed the course.
The paradox of the role is that the voice needs maturity, which Brenna’s bright, sweet sound will gain over time but, in the meantime, how refreshing to have a Siegfried who actually looks as though he could be Brünnhilde’s nephew rather than her father. His acting needs some attention (far too much teenagerish flouncing and grimacing which fails to convince) but a new, genuinely youthful Siegfried has arrived and it’s something to be celebrated.
Alan Privett’s production is strictly functional, beginning with bare scaffolding combined with a burnished disc which harks back to the industrial setting of Patrice Chereau’s 1976 Bayreuth cycle. The forging consists of some generalised business with a bucket, followed by lots of miming and then Brenna exuding so much energy bashing the hell out of a scaffold bar that he’d be excused if he took the rest of the night off and went for a lie down.
The second act can only be described as semi-staged, with a web of ropes, a couple of rostra tipped over and a dragon consisting of scaffolding on wheels with material flapping around for wings. It very nearly works and when, to be fair, does Siegfried’s dragon ever quite convince? The opening of the final act is the most pleasing visually, with a raked platform that slides apart to let out an eerily effective Erda (German soprano Evelyn Krahe).
Philip Joll is a vintage Wotan and his Wanderer sounds in surprisingly good shape, with strong support among the lower voices from Nicholas Folwell as Alberich and Julian Close’s Fafner. Colin Judson is a bright, sharply characterized and sung Mime and Allison Bell chirps impishly as the Woodbird.
Alwyn Mellor, so impressive as Isolde at Grange Park earlier in the season, is a fresh voiced and attractive Brünnhilde. I had reservations about the ever-present Norns in last year’s Die Walküre, slinking around moodily in black, and they still seem to add little value beyond their function as ASMs, hooking, pulling and handing props.
Anthony Negus draws luscious playing from the orchestra, especially in the love duet, which leaves the audience as fresh and invigorated at the end of the six hours as at the beginning. There are plenty of challenges ahead for Longborough, with Götterdämmerung next year, and full cycles in 2013, but for now Siegfried contributes enjoyably to a somewhat Wagner-lite year.
- Simon Thomas