The final piece in the jigsaw has clicked smoothly into place, and next year we will marvel at the whole picture, when Martin and Lizzie Graham’s dream of presenting a complete, full-orchestra’d ‘Ring’ cycle at their amazing little theatre high in the Cotswolds will finally come true.
After successive instalments annually of this epic operatic vision we reached its denouement last Tuesday with ‘Gotterdammerung’, possibly the most flawed of the four episodes in terms of structure and adherence to Wagner’s own aims, but certainly a satisfying conclusion to all the cycle’s farrago of family-relationships, acquisitiveness, deception, and far-reaching vacillation between god-like decree and human frailty.
The ever-present star in this gradual unfolding has been the remarkable orchestra, talented players in their own right drawn from some of the region’s greatest ensembles (including the CBSO), and in this undertaking conducted by the guru-like Anthony Negus. Negus learned his Wagner at the knee of Reginald Goodall, who until the very end of his life was neglected as a Wagner conductor but who unfolded such riches in his final two decades and who is now revered as one of the greatest-ever.
Negus has inherited Goodall’s instincts for pacing, for ebb and flow and detail (though his performances come in at a much swifter tempo than those of his mentor -- this was all over in six hours, including two lengthy intervals).
Director Alan Privett’s production is minimalist and highly intelligent, communicating all the ramifications with a clarity we rarely encounter in bigger houses, complemented by Kjell Torriset’s designs and Ben Ormerod’s resourceful lighting. Netting and webs are much to the fore (allusions both to the weavings of fate and to the majestic Rhine which is always such a background force), and the constant presence of three silent observers, manipulating the webs and shifting the sparse scenery, is a Longborough house-motif which always works.
Among the visual pluses is the sight of the Norns, obelisk in stature as they look down on the world. A minus is the Tarnhelm, such an important element in the work’s theme of transformation and deception, but here looking like a Hallowe’en-mask of Homer Simpson. A directorial minus is the puzzling initial appearance of Gunther (Eddie Wade giving the role so much presence) in a wheel-chair, later crossing his legs expansively within the chair, and subsequently dispensing with it altogether.
His sister Gutrune is winsomely portrayed by the wonderful Lee Bisset, making the most of what little she has to do, and their half-brother Hagen is too attractively rendered by Stuart Pendred, snarling certainly, but too genuinely smiley for the dastard he is.
So we come to the principal, ill-fated duo. Mati Turi is the appropriately boyish Siegfried, his voice almost ‘bel canto’ instead of ringingly overbearing, his acting more developed than some exponents would have in their head to deliver – and as his Brunnhilde, aunt, lover and bearer of his flame into immolation, Rachel Nicholls is just simply extraordinary.
This slight figure has the emotional and vocal power to make us focus on the character as a real personality. Her unflinching attack on these hours of unceasingly draining delivery was moving in itself, with a journey from post-coital ecstasy to ‘suttee’-like self-sacrifice which was engrossing throughout.
I have no doubt Nicholls’ determination will have carried her through the three subsequent performances, all within a week.