Michael Tanner

New kid on the block

Plus: the audience at Longborough Festival Opera seemed to enjoy The Magic Flute far more than I did

The new Grange Park Opera at Horsley is amazing, as everyone who visits it must agree. In less than a year a pretty large, comfortable theatre, with excellent acoustics and a large stage, has been erected from nothing, and among the first productions is one of Die Walküre, a demanding work in all respects, and one which, when it is largely successful, as the performance I went to was, provides an exalting and moving experience such as few works can. You probably need to be as difficult and abrasive a personality as Wasfi Kani to bring it off, but there is no doubting that she has.

The ‘creative team’ has as its most important members Stephen Barlow conducting, despite his concurrent work at Buxton; Stephen Medcalf directing, and Jamie Vartan designing the sets. Since the curtain rises as the Prelude begins, one instantly sees that the drama is set in the late 19th century, sharply contradicting the brilliant evocation of the primeval in Wagner’s score — odd too, that the uninvited guest Siegmund should stagger in wearing a vast wolfskin, while a maid who looks as if she has emerged from a 1920s comedy needlessly fusses. The setting is heavy, vaguely similar to the sitting room in Wahnfried, Wagner’s Bayreuth home, with a balcony running round three sides, on which unwanted characters wander, one of them interestingly Hagen’s mother, a figure whose appearance Wagner didn’t envisage.

So much, so bad, though no worse than one expects from a contemporary production. Look, register irritation, then try to forget — though that is made more difficult if these mythological characters are mainly dressed as upper class Wilhelmians, living among cases of stuffed creatures and advanced weaponry. However, as soon as Siegmund opened his mouth it was clear that he would be the evening’s hero.

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