Opera rocks the Glastonbury that had everything (including some mud and rain)

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The Independent Culture

The Valkyries have never ridden like it before. At the Glastonbury Festival yesterday, the English National Opera performed a slice of Wagner - and it went down a storm.

The Valkyries have never ridden like it before. At the Glastonbury Festival yesterday, the English National Opera performed a slice of Wagner - and it went down a storm.

Despite a midday slot on the main Pyramid Stage, a time when many festival-goers were only just coming to, the music, popularly known as the theme from the film Apocalypse Now, attracted the largest ever live audience for opera in Britain.

What is more, the crowd listened with rapt attention. When a mobile telephone rang, someone even said "shh," for all the world as if the muddy fields of Somerset were Covent Garden.

They cheered as the oh-so-masterful Wotan strode on stage. They booed when he insisted on banishing his daughter Brünnhilde for disobeying him. And when the hour-long performance came to an end, some of the audience were in tears and there were more cries for an encore than for almost any other set of the weekend.

The fact that the lyrics, warning of the gathering clouds and the oncoming storm, chimed with the rain clouds overhead only added to the surrealism - though, thankfully, the rain only spat instead of poured while the orchestra played.

It was "cosmic," Paul Daniel, the ENO's music director, said afterwards.

"What we do is what we did here today, but what changed it is the way the audience listened here. They were listening absolutely fresh," he said. "It's a fantastic justification for doing opera in English [which is ENO's raison d'être] because they were listening to every word and twist in the story."

The ENO's performance proved to be one of the surprise highlights of this year's festival.

Michael Eavis, Glastonbury's founder, may have described last year's festival as "the best ever'' but the 2004 event not only had the same sunshine, safety and stellar line-up - it had the mud as well.

Few Glastonburys before can have matched this one for the sheer breadth of experiences; musical, meteorological, sporting and cultural.

The festival began with the expectation on Thursday evening of an early uplift in the atmosphere, courtesy of Sven Goran Eriksson's team in Portugal. A crowd of 60,000 gathered confidently in front of giant screens either side of the Pyramid Stage only to file away in silence two hours or so later.

But nothing could cast a shadow over the next three days' events.

Friday was a day of glorious sunshine. Groove Armada picked up the pace in the afternoon and Franz Ferdinand let millions at home know what a good time everyone was having as they performed live on Top Of The Pops on the Other Stage.

Then came Oasis. Their first Glastonbury for a decade was probably not as triumphant as their 1994 performance but was still a great festival moment.

This was a Glastonbury crowd like none before, a lucky and dedicated bunch who had spent long hours on their phones and computer keyboards from the moment tickets went on sale. Everyone present knew half a dozen friends at home who would have loved to have been there.

Rainy Saturday finished with Sir Paul McCartney sending the crowds home singing "la la la la la la la ... Hey Jude''.

Sunday lunchtime was Wagner and wine boxes on the grass, and then the rains came in again. Eavis was not worried. It had been a "stormer'', he said.

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