This production has been cooking for 20 years. It was the reason Martin and Lizzie Graham created their own opera house, converted from a barn in rural Gloucestershire, in the first place. And the expository act was played out with a pathos, beauty and immediacy rarely experienced in epic opera.
Wagner is not normally performed to a crowd of only 450, and to do so makes the experience quite different. It is not chamber – there is a bigger orchestra than that in the pit that has been dug this year – but the music sits on the audience's lap, plays in its hands and wanders into its ears in an almost childlike way. In this instance, this both helped and harmed the cast.
For Lee Bisset and Andrew Rees, as Sieglinde and Siegmund – the doomed duo who fall madly in a love heightened by their discovery that they are twins who were parted in infancy (this is a world of gods, not humans) – it was a gift, their mutual discoveries playing out with an intimacy and naturalism rarely permitted on an opera stage. Bisset was a revelation, her mesmerising voice fired by a passion and vitality that were overwhelming.
Alwyn Mellor, as Brunnhilde, had a harder task; the part calls for a level of feistiness and showmanship that needs a larger forum. Mellor put in a tremendous effort and her vocal entrance alone, staggering in the rising arpeggiated form that Wagner requires from her, was a triumph. But the performance required further delving, more nuances, a greater sensitivity than was apparent.
Brunnhilde is surrounded with orange rods of light as Wagner sends her to sleep on a fire-shielded rock – a test for the hero who can awaken her. It was a piece of stage magic that, for the most part, was missing from the overall vision. That the actors survived, indeed flourished without it, was testament to their talents.
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