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Or New Zealand. Whomever you count among your Kiwi heroes -- Sir Edmund Hillary, Shackleton's navigator and skipper Frank Worsley, the atomic pioneer Ernest Rutherford, composer Doug Lilburn, singers like Dame Kiri or better still, the great Maori bass, Inia te Wiata (1915-71) -- Auckland's Sir Donald McIntyre merits a pretty astral place among them.

McIntyre's massive, burgeoning, memorable (and still incomplete) career was embarked on in the 1950s with Welsh National Opera and Sadler's Wells, and progressed to a more than ten year dominance at Covent Garden (hot on the heels of Sir Geraint Evans), during which he duly crossed the Atlantic in the early Seventies to render Wotan at the Met, just at the time Bayreuth finally spotted it had Hans Hotter's natural successor on its hands.

McIntyre's riveting and justly acclaimed performance as the king of the gods in the mid-seventies caught the public imagination as surely than Wolfgang Petersen's Troy or fellow Kiwi Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King did this year and last -- and coincided perfectly with the Centenary celebrations, so that it was his Wotan imprimatur that has been immortalised on video and DVD in the Bayreuth's landmark Boulez-Chereau Ring cycle.

Sir Donald McIntyre as Wotan
Sir Donald McIntyre as Wotan

A comedown, then, to move from Bayreuth's cavernous recesses to the, by comparison, tiny stage of Stow-on-the-Wold? Nothing for McIntyre is a comedown. Indeed, almost three decades on, his gift for moving is so astonishing that he makes Longborough's dinky stage feel ten times the size it is. This was the problem for Longborough's first Wotan, the vocally gifted but visually stayed (and much younger) Brian Bannatyne-Scott: he looked the part, Edgar Allen Poe misshapen eye and all, but he seemed (when not battling side-curtains, still something of an exit distraction at Longborough) boxed in by four very closing-in walls : appropriately enough maybe, for the enclosing walls seemed an apt metaphor for Wotan's sore, crowded, dwarf-vexed head.

McIntyre, by contrast, runs a whole Empire. You feel there is a sky there, a world of vistas, and a mysterious subterranean abyss (housing Erda as well as Alberich), all tangibly separated in geographical space, and linked through him.

Colette McGahon as Fricka, Yvonne Barclay as Freia and Donald McIntyre as Wotan. Photo © Stephen Wright
Colette McGahon as Fricka, Yvonne Barclay as Freia and Donald McIntyre as Wotan. Photo © Stephen Wright

You sense too -- almost physically -- the psychological gulf between McIntyre's Wotan and Colette McGahon's impressively forceful Fricka, equally engaging when fretting (in Rheingold) for Yvonne Barclay's Freia; just as you sense the enriching warmth -- intellectual, paternal, not primarily incestuous -- of his closeness to Jenny Miller's Brünnhilde ('Go and look after your mother', he barks, the majesty mingling with the disappointment).

Both the women leads are capable performers whose acting, if sporadically, draws you in: both have almost violent voices -- as the roles demand (think of Nilsson, Gwyneth Jones, Marjana Lipovsek). McGahon has the more in reserve; Miller is more up-front: you can never quite forget that this feisty favourite Valkyrie (the one her Dad always wanted to be a footballer) was, not long ago, a mezzo. Her Brünnhilde is full-tilt. You get it full in the face. Yet her passion for, and commitment in, the part, and the often canny insight of her detailed acting -- she is wholly within the role -- make Miller absorbing, and even fascinating, to watch. Sometimes infuriating; always electrifying.

Jenny Miller as Brunnhilde in full Valkyrie outfit
Jenny Miller as Brunnhilde in full Valkyrie outfit


Copyright © 11 August 2004 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry UK


Read Roderic Dunnett's further thoughts on Longborough Festival Opera's Ring cycle and Donald McIntyre.

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