Valhalla or bust: Götterdämmerung at the LFO

Longborough Festival Opera have truly pulled the rabbit out of the hat with their production of the fourth part of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, Götterdämmerung, the mythical tale of a probable Dark Ages hero Siegfried (from the Old Norse Sigurd) and his female co-protagonist Brünnhilde. It is a story of deception, murder, betrayal and impending apocalypse. Although the characters and story are ancient, in his 1870s masterpiece Wagner can be forgiven for creatively straying from the original sources, thus creating his own vision of the narrative.

The Ring Cycle, to some extent, has similarities to the myths of King Arthur which occupied a similar timeframe: the period that followed the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. It is also interesting to note that Wagner’s last work, Parsifal, is, it could be argued, based on Sir Percival, one of Arthur’s knights.

Great British Life: Bradley Daley as Siegfried challenges the Rhinemaidens in the LFO's 2023 production of GötterdämmerungBradley Daley as Siegfried challenges the Rhinemaidens in the LFO's 2023 production of Götterdämmerung (Image: Matthew Williams-Ellis)Great British Life: Lee Bisset as BrünnhildeLee Bisset as Brünnhilde (Image: Matthew Williams-Ellis)In 1981, the film Excalibur portrayed a cinematic interpretation of the legend of King Arthur, directed by John Boorman, which would use large sections of the Götterdämmerung score as its soundtrack. Also noteworthy is that one of the main themes of The Ring Cycle – the concept of a cursed and evil ring which must be taken to a certain place where it is nullified to avert a catastrophe – seems to be used as a basis for the plot of Tolkien’s novel The Lord of the Rings.

Great British Life: Mari Wyn Williams, Katie Stevenson and Rebecca Afonwy-Jones as the intoxicating RhinemaidensMari Wyn Williams, Katie Stevenson and Rebecca Afonwy-Jones as the intoxicating Rhinemaidens (Image: Matthew Williams-Ellis)Great British Life: Longborough Festival Opera's distinctive 500-seat theatre, set in the Cotswold countrysideLongborough Festival Opera's distinctive 500-seat theatre, set in the Cotswold countryside (Image: Candia McKormack)Back in the beautiful surrounds of the opera house at Longborough, sitting solidly in the dreamily idyllic grounds of the Cotswold estate, the video backdrop, with its ominous rolling clouds, crashing waves and sombre landscapes, excellently sets the tone for the performance, perfectly complimenting the deep low brass and strings which are a signature of Wagner’s work. The overall mood was enhanced by the dramatic and, at times, ethereal lighting.

Emma Ryott’s costume design was an eclectic mix of styles, ranging from the diaphanously-dressed Rhinemaidens and their darker sisters the ominous Norns, through to the bohemian, more traditional costumes of most of the male characters. The swishing cloak/coat hybrids of Brünnhilde and her Valkyrie sister Waltraute were a perfect blend of early medieval and dark Gigeresque sci-fi.

The Longborough Festival Opera orchestra, led by Anthony Negus, were faultless yet organic, perfectly interpreting the solemnity, tragedy and majesty of the work with all of its complexities and nuances.

Great British Life: Lee Bisset (Brünnhilde) with Bradley Daley (Siegfried)Lee Bisset (Brünnhilde) with Bradley Daley (Siegfried) (Image: Matthew Williams-Ellis)Great British Life: Laure Meloy (Gutrune) with Lee Bisset (Brünnhilde)Laure Meloy (Gutrune) with Lee Bisset (Brünnhilde) (Image: Matthew Williams-Ellis)As you’d expect for an LFO production, every single performer in this production were of world-class standard, and, just as you think the bar can’t possibly be raised, there are some truly outstanding performances. Firstly, Julian Close as Hagen shone for both his deep, rich bass vocal performance and his capacity as an actor to portray such a complex, melancholic and troubled character. He gave a truly believable and moving performance, which provided a certain gravitas to the overall production that had you questioning your allegiances. Secondly, Lee Bisset as Brünnhilde, an outstanding performer of almost otherworldly talents, dazzled as both a mesmerising, dramatic soprano and charismatic actor of enormous depth. Finally, Mari Wyn Williams, Rebecca Afonwy-Jones and Katie Stevenson were exceptional as Rhinemaidens, capturing to perfection both the enchanting and subtly sinister aspects required for the roles.

Ultimately, any performance of a Wagner work will always be overshone by the genius of the master himself, however on this occasion there were a few other lights shining almost as brightly.

Great British Life: Mae Heydorn, Katie Lowe and Harriet Williams as the NornsMae Heydorn, Katie Lowe and Harriet Williams as the Norns (Image: Matthew Williams-Ellis)Götterdämmerung – The Twilight of the Gods, by Richard Wagner, continues at Longborough Festival Opera until Tuesday, June 6.

Future productions for the 2023 season are L’Elisir D’Amore (June 20-July 1); L’Orfeo (July 11-18); and The Fairy Queen (July 29-August 3). The 2024 season sees Cycle 1 (June 16-22), Cycle II (June 25-30) and Cycle III (July 4-9) of Wagner’s Ring Cycle return to the LFO, with performances of Puccini’s La Bohème running from July 25 to August 3.

Longborough Festival Opera, near Moreton-in-Marsh, GL56 0QF, 01451 830292,,