Siegfried: Longborough Festival Opera - Review of the Reviews

Written By The Wagnerian on Wednesday, 27 July 2011 | 12:59:00 am

Yes, it's that time again. The critics have digested their picnics, metabolised their no doubt unhealthy consumption of alcohol (I will write an ode to the expense account one day - or failing that, to the liver of a journalist) returned their rented evening wear to Moss Bros (why are most arts reviewers male?) and faced off with their editors about word limits (not something that I would envy - as readers of my more than verbose ramblings will attest). Emerging from darkened, smoke filled rooms, copy in hand (well in the 21st Century they are more likely to have pressed "send" on their Apple Note Books, but you know what I mean) the votes are in. Rising majestically from their royal seats, togas flung nonchalantly to one side (although not to far to one side one hopes), thumbs posed - up or down?

But, before we start, the usual words of warning: Perception and information processing is not uniform across all individuals (after all, isn't that what makes us "individual" and why Buddhists spend so much time in meditation?). Each reviewer is influenced, as I know you are aware but is so easy to forget, by their past present and even perhaps future experiences, a repository of all those little quirks , likes and dislikes, physiological and psychological perfections and indeed imperfections. Look for patterns in reviews is my motto - look for patterns and therein may lay some resemblance of the "truth" - whatever that may be. One might also notice that the Times and the Telegraph are conspicuous by their absence. This is no doubt because they are simply slow typists (I know from twitter that the Telegraph descended on LFO yesterday) I was going to wait but alas my own "none review" is growing impatient to be typed - and I wished to do this first. Also, there is both enough quantity and quality already here to do - although it would have been nice to add Michael Tanners thoughts over at the Spectator. Perhaps later. So, with that in mind, onward to the judges.


Production

Given the limited budget that LFO operates under and the size of the stage there was bound to be some disagreement about the staging one supposes - but then in opera productions - especially Wagner - there is never likely to be agreement.

Nicholas Wroe at the Guardian (NW-G) enjoyed the simplicity of the sets saying: "Kjell Torriset's set contrasts hard scaffolding with the softness of fabric, Guy Hoare's lighting adds depth, and the balance of stark simplicity against the richness of the score, with all its psychological and metaphorical allusions was always artful." Of the "Norns" (every present at LFOs ring cycle) he was equally impressed and indeed found them central to the production: "Key to the integrity of this staging is the role of the three Norns, the mythological spinners of the thread of life: an almost constant presence in head-to-toe black, subtly choreographed by Suzanne Firth, observing and assisting, moving props and scenery, they point up the centrality of the emotions with great economy of line"

Over at the Stage George Hall (S-GH) was equally impressed although not as enamoured with the Norns: "Alan Privett’s staging, designed by the Norwegian artist Kjell Torriset, has some sparse, limited sections - the three additional actors, dressed like stage attendants in a Noh production, can seem intrusive. Yet scene after the scene realises the essential meaning of the work in a semi-traditional, simple way. The entire third act is a triumph."

At The Arts Desk, Stephen Walsh (AD-SW) finds "'Nature, such a crucial aspect of Wagner’s dramaturgy, is nowhere to be seen' He goes on: Like many modern directors, Privett (with designer Kjell Torriset) rejects the great outdoors in favour of quasi-interiors littered with bric-a-brac, not all of it obviously relevant to the plot in hand, so that an already cramped stage becomes an obstacle course of gantries and scaffolding, criss-cross ramps, and in the first act a huge furnace door, far downstage, which also oddly enough serves as an entrance and exit." He wasn't keen on Fafner either: "Fafner the dragon, grandly sung by Julian Close, trundles on atop a cherry-picker scaffold tower, a most disappointing adversary for our eager young hero"


At the other stage - Whats On Stage - Simon Thomas (WOS - ST) considered the staging merely "functional" and even went as far as to suggest the second act was "semi-staged" (What would he have made of the Wagner Brothers "New Bayreuth Style"?). But then suggests that: "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"! Going on to say: "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" So he might have liked the the Wagner Brothers productions after all.

Mark Ronan (MR) at his Theatre Reviews blog is more interested in the performance (not a bad thing) only commenting on the act one staging: "The Act I set with its huge circular furnace door makes a strong impression, and in forging the sword, Siegfried hammered like a percussionist with fine musical effect"
Performance:

Daniel Brenna - Siegfried

It must be said that everyone was unanimous in their praise for this productions Siegfried:

Says WOS-ST: "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."

He goes on: "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"

While over at the Guardian: In Daniel Brenna, Longborough has a young Siegfried of irrepressible physical and vocal energy. Tall and impetuous, his journey from petulant youth towards manhood and love was wholly confident, only less convincing expressive lyrical moments betraying debut nerves. The final scene when he awakens Alwyn Mellor's voluptuous-sounding Brünnhilde to ultimate rapture had a slight gaucheness, only partially implied by Wagner

And more praise over at the Stage:"Vocally, too, this is a remarkable evening. The young American tenor Daniel Brenna looks and acts the callow hero impressively and his tone remains convincing to the close."

And at the Arts Desk? What did you find Mr Walsh?

 "At its head is a young American Siegfried, Daniel Brenna (main picture), who as far as I know is completely new to the British stage. From his first “Hoi-ho” it’s instantly apparent that he’s a Wagner tenor of outstanding promise, a natural with a brilliant, easy top to the voice that half-recalls Melchior, strong projection throughout the range, excellent German and a completely unforced stage presence." 
Lauritz Melchior -"Notung! Notung!"- Siegfried

Wait did you say that Brenna reminds you of MELCHIOR? Now if that were correct... But he is not finished yet: "...it’s great to hear this difficult, taxing music sung so uninhibitedly, and without a trace of exhaustion to the very last phrase of his final-act duet ..."

Melchior? Sorry, still taking that in - give me a minute...

Ok, recovered. Onwards, like Siegfried through the forest of his unconscious. Sorry! went all Freudian there for a minute. Melchior? Still in shock it would seem. Anyway, onto to Mark Ronans perceptions:"It seemed incredible that a mere twenty-something could be singing Siegfried, though Daniel Brenna is in fact in his early to mid-forties despite his brilliant portrayal of a rambunctious young man. His enunciation of the words was so strikingly good that I needed no surtitles — it was as though he were merely speaking, yet with excellent pitch and an admirable heroic tone"

And trust me, this goes on and on with all of the reviewers that I have found. Lets stop there - lest Brenna is snapped up by one of the major (ie those with tons of money) opera houses before he can return for the final part of the Ring - lets call it the "Mellor effect".


Colin Judson - Mime

It seems Simon Thomas' editor over at WOS gave him very limited copy space that ment he had little space left for the rest of the cast: "Colin Judson is a bright, sharply characterized and sung Mime"

Mark Ronan gives himself a little more space

:"Colin Judson was equally superb in his portrayal of the insecure and dissimulating dwarf Mime. Of course he deserves to die in Act II after inadvertently expressing his true feelings, but from a vocal point of view I was sorry to see him go."

However, the Guardian's reviewer only got space for: "All the frustration and angst of Siegfried's relationship with the wily Mime (Colin Judson), and of Mime with Alberich was cleverly handled"

Says This is Gloucestershire in its frankly wonderfully concise review: "Colin Judson, another fine singer, is a convincing Mime with his twitches and other irritating mannerisms."

And finally the Arts Desk: "the Mime of Colin Judson, a clever, witty character tenor, more likeable, maybe, than this slimy, manipulative dwarf should be, brilliantly watchable in his scene with the Wanderer (Philip Joll), voice and face reflecting exactly the ebb and flow of the riddles which will in the end cost him his life"

Phillip Joll - The Wanderer

Philip Joll - a legend among British Wagnerians especially - after all these years what did the press think?

Mark Ronan: "As the Wanderer, Phillip Joll showed power and gravitas, particularly in his Act II dialogue"

The Guardian? "Philip Joll as the Wanderer – the god Wotan in disguise – was always forceful and imposing, if indeterminate of pitch" And yet over at WOS: "Philip Joll is a vintage Wotan and his Wanderer sounds in surprisingly good shape"

Equally, Roger Jones: "The excellent Phillip Joll as Wotan seems to be a cut above the others – he is a god, after all – and his rich baritone voice lends him an air of authority."

And Finally the Arts Desk:

"(Phillip) Joll himself, a voice from the past in this role as far as I’m concerned, turns out to be still in fine fettle, superb especially in his third-act confrontations with Erda and Siegfried – the only music Wagner wrote for the Ring’s ambiguous, Zeus-like hero after picking the work up again post-Tristan and Meistersinger"

Alwyn Mellor - Brunnhilde

To be honest, all of the reviewers said much the same and, like with Brenna, are unanimous in their praise. : 

Says WOS: "Alwyn Mellor, so impressive as Isolde at Grange Park earlier in the season, is a fresh voiced and attractive Brünnhilde"

The Guardian: "...Alwyn Mellor's voluptuous-sounding Brünnhilde..."

Roger Jones: "We have to wait till the end of the opera to glimpse Alwyn Mellor in the role of Brünnhilde, but she is well worth waiting for. Passionate and feisty, the iron maiden demonstrates she is no push-over as she thrills the audience with her top Cs."

The Stage: "British soprano Alwyn Mellor adds further to her Wagnerian reputation with her confident Brunnhilde." 

The Arts Desk: "Alwyn Mellor, who herself sings Brünnhilde with radiant tone and vivid dramatic intensity"

And finally, least it all go to her head, Mark Ronan:
"Alwyn Mellor showed immense power and presence as Brünnhilde, and although Longborough has only 500 seats, she will sing the same role in The Ring at Seattle in 2013, in an auditorium for 2,500.

The Rest Of The Cast: (sorry for the limited space - seems editors are strict about word counts. I shall try to make amends in my future "none review" and address the cast fully.

The Guardian:  "Evelyn Krahe was a very fine Erda and Julian Close a fearsome Fafner"

Mark Ronan: "Nicholas Folwell’s strongly sung Alberich, and when he wakes Fafner, we hear the deep voice of Julian Close who will cover the same role at the Metropolitan Opera next season". "...woodbird in her pretty skirt and flighty movements, delightfully sung by Allison Bell"

"In her Act III portrayal of Erda, Evelyn Krahe’s slow movements and almost ghostly appearance, helped give a sense of power to the role..."

The Arts Desk: "Evelyn Krahe’s Erda admirably statuesque, dark-voiced, but beautiful enough, in a cadaverous sort of way..."  "Nicholas Folwell, also rather well directed, remains one of the best Alberichs imaginable: a dark, virile baritone, remorseless in his exposure of Wotan’s hypocrisies, yet in an odd way vulnerable..."

"the Woodbird is a pretty singing dancer, Allison Bell, not very feathered, though mildly avian in tone and tuning.

The Stage:

"Vocally, too, this is a remarkable evening". "Nicholas Folwell makes a striking Alberich, Evelyn Krahe a resplendent Erda and Allison Bell a delightfully fresh Woodbird"


The Conductor and Orchestra.


The Guardian: "Negus's profound musicianship carries the day and the audience rightly roared its approval' 


"Both words and plot were delivered with a immediacy in itself refreshing and often witty, allowing conductor Anthony Negus to reveal the further motivations and machinations embedded in the infinite layers of Wagner's musical characterisations"


Mark Ronan: "The orchestra of about 65 members played Wagner’s music beautifully under the sensitive direction of Anthony Negus"

The Stage: "What is remarkable about this year’s Siegfried, the third section of the cycle, is just how much is achieved. The 66-piece orchestra, conducted with authority by Anthony Negus, rises ever more confidently to the challenge and is regularly superb"

WOS:  "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."

Conclusion: Over-all high praise indeed, a Ring Cycle to watch closely it would seem. More, when I ramble on for hours - soon. Did some one say Melchior...?


Lauritz Melchior - Mein Lieber Schwan

Links to the full reviews below: