Opera + Classical Music Features

Longborough Festival Opera’s 2023 season includes everything from Monteverdi to Wagner

A varied programme that focuses on the 17th and 19th centuries.

Longborough Festival Opera

Longborough Festival Opera (Photo: Matthew Williams-Ellis)

Longborough Festival Opera is the only summer festival of its kind in the United Kingdom to put Wagner at the centre of its operations, and it is hard to imagine a more beautiful setting in which to enjoy the composer’s works. Nestled on a hill in the beautiful Cotswolds countryside, overlooking the Evenlode Valley, the 500 seat converted cattle shed could not feel more intimate, and it proves equally suited to staging works from any century.

Next year Longborough will stage Der Ring des Nibelungen, having introduced each of the individual operas that make it up over the preceding years. It presented Das Rheingold in 2019 and, because of COVID-19, a concert staging of Die Walküre in 2021. It fully staged Siegfried last year, and this year it presents Götterdämmerung, which will be, like the entire tetralogy, directed by Amy Lane, designed by Rhiannon Newman Brown and conducted by Longborough’s Music Director and outstanding Wagner interpreter Anthony Negus

Although the final opera introduces several new characters, the vast majority of those who do appear in the other operas are played by the same performers who have already assumed the roles. Lee Bisset will sing Brünnhilde, having already shone in both Die Walküre and Siegfried, while Australian Bradley Daley, who only made his Longborough debut last year when he took the title role in the third opera, returns to play Siegfried once more. With the three Rhinemaidens, Mari Wyn Williams as Woglinde, Rebecca Afonwy-Jones as Wellgunde and Katie Stevenson as Flosshilde (who has sung the part at Bayreuth), all reprising their roles from Das Rheingold, it is only the part of Alberich that is being taken by someone new, namely Freddie Tong.

Hagen is sung by Julian Close, who has previously sung Fafner for Longborough, and Gunther is played by Benedict Nelson, who played Anfinomo in Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria here in 2021. The part of Waltraute will be taken by Catherine Carby, who sang Brangäne at the venue in 2015, and Gutrune by Laure Meloy, who has performed Brünnhilde in Die Walküre at London’s Grimeborn Festival. The Norns are played by Mae Heydorn, who has previously sung Erda in this Cycle, Harriet Williams, who recently sang Brangäne for The London Opera Company, and Katie Lowe, who sang Helmwige here in Die Walküre and is currently appearing as Freia for English National Opera.

“…the 500 seat converted cattle shed could not feel more intimate…”

Important though Götterdämmerung is to the festival, it still only constitutes a quarter of Longborough’s season as there are also 3 other operas to look forward to. From 20 June there will be 7 performances of L’elisir d’amore, which, with its emphases on both levity and love, would seem like the perfect opera to enjoy on a balmy summer’s day. It will be directed by Max Hoehn, who in 2023 will also be directing Der fliegende Holländer for Lisbon’s Teatro Nacional de São Carlos, designed by Jemima Robinson and conducted by Alice Farham, Artistic Director of Women Conductors. The cast includes Thando Mjandana, who will be making his Longborough debut, as Nemorino; Emyr Wyn Jones, Leporello here in 2019, as Dulcamara; Jennifer Witton, Micaëla here in 2022, as Adina; Arthur Bruce as Belcore, and Haegee Lee as Giannetta.    

Longborough has a long and proud tradition of presenting 17th century works, and last year staged Francesca Caccini’s La liberazione di Ruggiero dall’isola d’Alcina of 1625, believed to be the first opera ever to be written by a woman. It has also been a great proponent of Monteverdi’s operas, having presented L’incoronazione di Poppea in 2018 and Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria in 2021. This year it performs L’Orfeo of 1607 (from 11 July), which is the earliest opera still to be regularly performed. It is directed by Olivia Fuchs and designed by Nate Gibson, who were last seen together at Longborough in The Cunning Little Vixen two years ago, and conducted by Robert Howarth, who in 2021 led Bampton Classical Opera’s performances of Gluck’s La corona. The cast includes Peter Gijsbertsen, who was Don José here last year and Alfredo in 2018, as Orfeo; Aoife Miskelly, who makes her Longborough debut as Euridice, and Caroline Taylor, who was Chocholka and Woodpecker in The Cunning Little Vixen, as La Musica. It will be performed on period instruments by Venetian Baroque specialists La Serenissima

The Emerging Artist Programme is a Longborough initiative to help up-and-coming singers and players. This year it is also represented by a 17th century work in the form of Purcell’s The Fairy Queen (from 29 July). This new production from Longborough’s Artistic Director Polly Graham and designer Nate Gibson will use the dramatic framework from Shakespeare’s text, combining words and music to present Purcell’s beautiful score. A newly commissioned arrangement will blend Baroque with folk music, co-music directed by Baroque violinist and composer Naomi Burrell, and Longborough’s Ring Cycle Conducting Fellow and composer Harry Sever.

The cast includes Eleanor Broomfield as Hermia, Rachel Speirs as Titania and Hippolyta, Suzie Purkis as Puck and Snug, Annie Reilly as Helena, Lars Fischer as Oberon and Theseus, Peter Edge as Lysander, George Robarts as Bottom, and Luke Horner as Demetrius. The production will also feature the Longborough Youth Chorus, who debuted in The Cunning Little Vixen in 2021 and appeared in Die tote Stadt and Carmen last year. All four operas will be performed in their original language, with English surtitles being provided in each instance.

• Longborough Festival Opera’s 2023 season runs from 29 May to 3 August. For further details and to book tickets visit the LFO website.

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