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If there's a danger, it's that Sir Donald McIntyre is so head and shoulders above all the others -- well, almost all -- that certain other parts could seem more than fractionally pedestrian by comparison. Vocally, at least. For the other heroes of this staging -- the homely and painstaking Grahams apart -- are the director, Alan Privett, whose perceptive staging seems to grow by leaps and bounds of intelligence with each rehearsal and performance -- just as his Magic Flute, at Longborough two seasons back, put its finger on all the right images; and the projection designer, Laura Smith, whose subtly shifting backdrop (ominous cityscapes for the descent to Nibelheim in Rheingold; strange and intriguing forests through much of Siegfried) retails just enough of the story to beguile you in the most brilliant, direct and economical of ways.

Nicholas Folwell as Alberich, plus Laura Smith's creative back-projections
Nicholas Folwell as Alberich, plus Laura Smith's creative back-projections

Then there's Guy Hoare, the lighting designer, who amid this complex junketing seems to conjure up all the reds, blues, yellows, purples, greens and pinks in exactly the right place and the right order, so that his lighting plot, complete with its own Leitmotifs, narrates a story in itself (witness the eerie, Pelléas-like environ in which the sad demise of Gunther and Gutrune's world is played out in Götterdämmerung); and above all, Longborough's inspiring conductor, Anthony Negus, once Reginald Goodall assistant, now Welsh National Opera wizard, who has evolved his own remarkable, wise and informed Ring reading, and whose management of pace, colouring and (usually) textures amid Graham's increasingly cavernous pit ensured that what Longborough's audiences witnessed was not just great entertainment; it was great Wagner.

Freia, Fricka, Loge and Wotan. Photo © Stephen Wright
Freia, Fricka, Loge and Wotan. Photo © Stephen Wright

So the news that this doughty marital team is to stage a full Ring Cycle beginning in 2006, newly staged and dispensing with the (on the whole) immensely serviceable Jonathan Dove reduced scoring (based on Graham Vick's City of Birmingham Opera performing edition cuts) to make a dash for the entire Bayreuth apparatus -- news that would delight the ghosts of Wieland, Winifred and the much-maligned Great Composer himself -- and that McIntyre, after this quite remarkable marathon -- has agreed to return to the role then, treating us to (amongst other wonders) the whole of Wotan's noble adieu -- is an occasion for clinking the Donnington's Ale mugs (Schumann or Elgar would have set both their main brands, 'BB' and 'SBA', to music), downing a yard and shouting from the rooftops. Make way, soon, for treble -- nay, quadruple -- woodwind, and -- dare one hope? -- serried ranks of Wagner tubas.

There are still Midland folk and Cotswold worthies who have yet to realise what a treat they have on their doorstep. Others further afield are beginning to. For middle-distancers, Longborough's double-weekend arrangement this time round may not have been quite ideal. But the whole Longborough experience, Cotswold stayover and all, is worth crossing the Atlantic for (Washington and Met aficionados, please note); merits Eurostarring under La Manche; indeed, is worth jetting in for from Japan, or Thailand, or Oz.

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Copyright © 11 August 2004 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry UK


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