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Longborough Festival Opera kicks off

Hoping for blue skies as the opera season at Longborough kicks off with Tristan und Isolde
Hoping for blue skies as the opera season at Longborough kicks off with Tristan und Isolde

Preston Witts looks ahead to this year’s Longborough Festival Opera

THE increasingly prestigious Longborough Festival Opera gets under way with its 2017 season on Thursday with a revival of its highly-acclaimed 2015 production of Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde.

When it was staged two years ago it received huge plaudits from the critics, with the festival’s resident Wagner specialist, conductor Anthony Negus, consolidating his growing fame as an interpreter of the German maestro’s music dramas.

In fact, Mr Negus is held in such regard that Michael Tanner, the opera critic of The Spectator and a Wagner expert himself, has referred to the conductor’s impact on this idyllic Cotswold opera venue as the most significant element in ‘the Longborough phenomenon’. In 2013 Longborough staged the whole of Wagner’s four-opera Ring Cycle and — with Mr Negus at the helm — furthered its claim to be in the forefront of Wagnerian performance on an international scale.

Lee Bisset stars as Isolde and Peter Wedd as Tristan, a singer Mr Tanner described after the 2015 Longborough production as “the finest Tristan since Siegfried Jerusalem” (the distinguished German tenor who is now aged 77).

Tristan und Isolde is on Thursday, 8th June, Saturday, 10th June, Monday, 12th June, and Wednesday, 14th June. It starts at 3pm and finishes around 9pm, and includes one interval of 30 minutes and a dining interval of 90 minutes. The director is Carmen Jakobi.

The three other operas during the two months of the festival are Fidelio by Beethoven, The Magic Flute by Mozart and Orfeo ed Euridice by Gluck. Fidelio — Beethoven’s only opera — will be staged on Saturday, 24th June, Tuesday, 27th June, Thursday, 29th June, and Saturday and Sunday, 1st and 2nd July. The conductor is Gad Kadosh, and the director Orpha Phelan, with Elizabeth Atherton playing Leonore and Adrian Dwyer as Florestan.

Orpha Phelan and Madeleine Boyd, who won the Best Opera Production for Thomas Ades’s Powder Her Face at the Royal Danish Opera in 2016, are making their debuts at Longborough with a post-apocalyptic vision of Beethoven’s drama about corruption and illegal imprisonment.

Negus will give Longborough audiences the opportunity to hear him for the first time conduct an opera outside the Wagner repertoire when he takes over the baton for The Magic Flute. He will conduct all of the performances except one — on Sunday, 16th July — when his place will be taken by assistant conductor, James Henshaw.

In this production — directed by Thomas Guthrie — Tamino will be played by Julian Hubbard, Pamina by Beate Mordal (except on 16th July when Samantha Clarke takes on the role), Papageno by Grant Doyle, Papagena by Sarah Gilford, the Queen of the Night by Hanna Dahlenburg and Sarastro by Jihoon Kim.

The dates for this production are Thursday, 13th July, Saturday, 15th July, Sunday, 16th July, Tuesday, 18th July, Thursday, 20th July, and Saturday, 22nd July.

The final opera — part of Longborough’s Young Artist programme — is Gluck’s musical version of the tale of Orpheus, one of the best known Greek myths. It is regarded as an enormously influential opera that helped to inspire many works that followed it, including The Magic Flute and Fidelio.

Conducting Orfeo ed Euridice will be Jeremy Silver, with Hannah-Liisa Kirchin as Orfeo, Nazan Fikret as Euridice and He Wu as Amor. The performances will be on Saturday, 29th July, Sunday, 30th July, and Tuesday, 1st August.

All of the operas, apart from Tristan und Isolde, begin at 5pm and have a 90-minute dining interval.

Longborough is so on-the-ball that it has announced the programme for 2018 even before the 2017 has begun. Next year the Wagner offering will be The Flying Dutchman (with Negus conducting, of course), and the three others will be La Traviata by Verdi, Aradne auf Naxos by Richard Strauss and The Coronation of Poppea by Claudio Monteverdi.

In an interesting observation recently on the growth of country house operas, Longborough’s co-owner and director, Lizzie Graham, said she believed the trend was due to a British love of picnicking.

“In a way it is a mystery when you think what much of our weather is like,” she said.

“But it is about how we do summer. If it rains we just put up our umbrellas.”

That’s not to say that Longborough’s audiences are left entirely to face the elements. There are under cover waiter-service dining facilities as well as a marquee offering buffet meals. There is also a marquee provided for picnickers in the event of rain — for a small fee. In other words, you don’t have to picnic in your car if you don’t want to…

For the full programme and to book tickets visit lfo.org.uk

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