Thursday, June 18, 2015

Excuse me, but why isn't this man conducting Wagner at Covent Garden and Bayreuth?

Here's my review for The Independent of Tristan und Isolde at Longborough Festival Opera the other day. GO. NOW. Only two more performances, one of which is today.

I'm seeing Tristan again at Bayreuth in August, incidentally, and I challenge their very, very, very celebrated Wagner conductor to do anything with it that is even slightly more powerful, devastating, thrilling, detailed, loving, intelligent, wise and glorious - more downright Wagnery in the very best sense - than Anthony Negus (left)  did the other night. So there. Why isn't this man conducting there, and at the ROH and at ENO and all the rest? Their loss is Longborough's gain - but they are missing out.

Here is his article about his life with Wagner, from Longborough.


Tristan und Isolde, Longborough Festival Opera, Gloucestershire
16 June 2015

Tristan und Isolde, Wagner’s vast paen to love and loss, has reached the intimate setting of Longborough Festival Opera in a thoughtful new staging. But its ultimate marvel is on the podium.

One weird conundrum in the world of classical music is that some conductors who wield enormous power are not especially inspiring musicians, while a few masters of their art, equipped with peerless understanding, remain tucked away working in unlikely corners such as the Cotswolds. Longborough’s music director, Anthony Negus – a disciple of the now legendary Wagner conductor Reginald Goodall – is a Wagnerian maestro of a calibre that should rightfully be heard and lauded at the likes of Covent Garden and Bayreuth. Meanwhile, it is Longborough’s wisdom and good fortune to have him.

Presiding over a reduced-scale orchestra, Negus offers exceptional, profound knowledge of and empathy for this music, letting it fly by building the aerodynamics of its structure – whether streamlining to perfection the lengthy build-ups of tension in Act I, sustaining the hushed ecstasy of the love scene or bringing to life the raw agony of the wounded Tristan in Act III. His placement of details – for instance, homing in on a light-shaft of harp here or a deep-set heartbeat rhythm there – bring continual insights. And he inspires everybody, from Isolde to the bass clarinet, to excel themselves. The musical results are deeply human and emotionally shattering.

Carmen Jakobi directs a staging based in suitable strength and simplicity, set within clean-edged designs by Kimie Nakano and pleasing, rich-coloured lighting by Ben Ormerod. Two dancers – Katie Lusby and Mbulelo Ndabeni – portray Tristan and Isolde’s inner emotions at key moments. This device is overused in opera productions today, yet here they contribute just enough, without interfering – and they are superb dancers. Isolde’s hapless husband, King Marke, is shadowed on stage by the bass clarinet in his monologue. The opera would not suffer without such tricks, but they are judiciously managed.

Rachel Nicholls, singing her first run as Isolde following her triumph as Brünnhilde in the Ring, offers a calm, centred, imperious interpretation; vocally she embraces all of the role’s challenges, from volume and precision through tonal colour to unflagging stamina. With time her performance is bound to deepen, but she sets her own bar high from the start.

As her Tristan, the dark, steely-centred and extrovert tenor tone of Peter Wedd proves an ideal match – indeed, he offers far more convincing acting and more beautiful singing than some one encounters in higher-profile venues. Presenting the anguish of Act III with such devastating intensity is no small feat.

The Norwegian bass Frode Olsen as King Marke is a further highlight; his artistry (including perhaps the evening’s finest diction) as Tristan’s betrayal cuts him deep makes this scene just as heart-breaking as Tristan and Isolde’s own.

Catherine Carby as Brangäne is a warm-toned foil to Nicholls’ bright Isolde; Stuart Pendred is a sympathetic Kurwenal; and the chorus of sailors pulls its weight. Some ragged edges around the actual playing of the orchestra and its off-stage horns are audible, but forgivable.

Two performances remain. Go.