Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Götterdämmerung review – Longborough Festival Opera’s Der Ring des Nibelungen reaches its conclusion

22, 30 June, 9 July 2024


The end of the world, and the beginning of a new one, in the Cotswolds.

Götterdämmerung

Julian Close (Photo: Matthew Williams-Ellis)

Having presented the various operas individually between 2019 and 2023, this year Longborough Festival Opera is staging the entire Der Ring des Nibelungen. The final opera Götterdämmerung, which is directed like the entire tetralogy by Amy Lane, features an excellent cast and proves just as strong as anything that has gone before. Throughout the Cycle, Rhiannon Newman Brown’s set has comprised a semicircle that in Das Rheingold was raised at the back and sloped down to the ground on either side via a series of steps. Die Walküre and Siegfried saw the same structure broken in two and placed in different positions, but Götterdämmerung sees everything come, quite literally, full circle as the sections are joined together once more. This time, however, the semicircle faces out to the audience with the two highest points coming at each end and the ‘dip’ in the middle. During the Prologue the Norns (brilliantly sung by Mae Heydorn, Harriet Williams and Katie Lowe) stand on different parts of it with their ropes having a tangled quality that suggest the roots of the World Ash Tree. These run towards a ‘column’ that stands at the centre of the stage and represents the pine tree on Brünnhilde’s rock from which the Norns now spin.

This Cycle has placed much emphasis on Wotan’s grand plan, with a book that contains it working its way through the operas as various characters defy, and rip pages from, it. Götterdämmerung puts writing even more centre stage, with the start of Act I in the Hall of the Gibichung revealing how it can be used in different ways. Gunther reads a popular magazine that is clearly talking about him, while Hagen (pointedly) sits on Gunther’s throne with a pen and clipboard monitoring everything around him. Gutrune, on the other hand, reads a history book containing the most fascinating stories, so that when Hagen tells her of Siegfried’s heroism she can follow it up in this and become even more intrigued.

Wotan’s own book begins the opera with the Norns who place it on Brünnhilde’s rock at the end of their scene. Siegfried takes it on his journey down the Rhine, and it ends up in Hagen’s hands. Alberich’s son is a manipulative character anyway, but this production makes him even more so than usual. When pandemonium reigns in Act II, as everyone talks at cross purposes and feels betrayed, he strategically flashes pictures from this book to various people to help keep each of them thinking exactly what he would like them to. As the book bearer and primary engineer of events Hagen feels like a ‘new Wotan’, although the production also highlights the differences between the characters. Hagen’s spearpoint, which he, Brünnhilde and Gunther swear on and with which he dispatches Siegfried, has no shaft attached to it. Since that is what all of Wotan’s agreements were notched on, it suggests that Hagen acts in the absence of any rules and thus highlights how he, like Alberich and in contrast to the chief god, stands for unconditional power. 

“…Götterdämmerung sees everything come, quite literally, full circle…”

Götterdämmerung

Benedict Nelson, Julian Close & Laure Meloy (Photo: Matthew Williams-Ellis)

If Hagen feels the dominant force in the opera, it is also because Julian Close’s portrayal of him is so commanding. His powerful bass captivates the listener with its darkness, strength and security, and he skilfully presents Hagen as a figure who has been totally numbed by being born with no love, and with the sole aim of obtaining the ring. He delivers ‘Hier sitz ich zur Wacht’ as if in a trance and when Alberich (Mark Stone in typically good form) appears to him, he is swigging from a bottle, which makes total sense for one who hates his own existence so much.

Lee Bisset is as strong as she has been all week as Brünnhilde, with her captivating soprano delivering the words in the Immolation Scene directly to the audience. Towards its end she places the book that made its way through the various operas on Siegfried’s body, as if to suggest it will burn with him and that from now on nothing is predetermined. Bradley Daley is also as engaging as Siegfried as he was in the previous opera, as he reveals a robust tenor, subtle acting and some heart breaking final lines. Benedict Nelson captures Gunther’s essence very skilfully, as even Siegfried’s initial challenge to fight or be his friend sees him jumping off his throne at high speed. Laure Meloy suggests that Gutrune is something of an innocent who has allowed her romantic notions to be exploited by Hagen. Claire Barnett-Jones feels a more confrontational and less conciliatory Waltraute than is normally seen, and, when this combines with her rich mezzo-soprano, it makes for quite an overwhelming performance. Mari Wyn Williams, Rebecca Afonwy-Jones and Katie Stevenson are highly persuasive as Woglinde, Wellgunde and Flosshilde respectively, while the chorus responds wholeheartedly to Hagen’s ‘rabble rousing’ before becoming a more subtle presence as its members perform a variety of silent roles in Act III. 

One of the obvious strengths of this Ring Cycle has been the playing of the Longborough Festival Opera Orchestra, with conductor Anthony Negus having elicited the most accomplished and frequently powerful sound from it. The unsung hero, however, may well be Tim Baxter, whose video designs have appeared on a framed screen at the back of the stage throughout all four operas. The fact it is easy to forget that a full fifteen hours worth of images have been created reveals just how perfectly pitched they have been, and this Ring Cycle would probably not feel as strong as it does without them. In particular, Baxter’s video and Charlie Morgan Jones’ lighting designs have made the fires that ‘close’ two of the four operas really come alive, so that the ending to Götterdämmerung feels suitably memorable. It would be wrong to divulge exactly how it is presented, but by focusing on the relationships between all of the characters it puts humanity and renewal at the heart of this Ring Cycle right until the very last note.

• Longborough Festival Opera is presenting one further Cycle between 4 and 9 July, two additional performances of Die Walküre on 12 and 14 July, and La bohème between 27 July and 6 August. 

• For full details of all events and tickets visit the LFO website. 


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Götterdämmerung review – Longborough Festival Opera’s Der Ring des Nibelungen reaches its conclusion