To launch a new Ring cycle is an ambitious undertaking for any opera company. It’s even more audacious when the company in question is Longborough Festival Opera, which is based in a Cotswold barn that has been turned into a 500-seat opera house. With the debut of Das Rheingold, the latest Longborough Ring – not the first Ring for this 29-year-old company – is off to a laudable start.
Central to the production’s success is the presence of the respected Wagner expert Anthony Negus, who conducts the orchestra in a pit set directly below the stage. Negus coaxes a remarkable range of colours and shades from his musicians.
This provides a soft cushion that supports a generally excellent cast of singers. The standouts are Marc Le Brocq, vocally and visually on top form as a dandyish Loge, and Mark Stone, a scruffy but determined Alberich. There are some memorable moments also from Darren Jeffery’s Wotan, Marie Arnet’s Freia and Madeleine Shaw’s Fricka.
The sombre costumes hark back to Wagner’s own time, but the constraints of stiff Victorian clothing make for awkwardness, notably for the frolicking Rhinemaidens, who must be praised, however, for their vocal agility.
The black-painted set, with a cut-out mountain at its centre, the flashing lighting effects and some of the props (the puppet toad inspired a few audience giggles) suggest the have-a-go ethos of many small-scale productions. However, Tim Baxter’s video was a different matter, showing that intelligently deployed can expand a visual universe of opera, perhaps foreshadowing the creative path of the next instalments of Longborough Festival Opera’s new Ring