Wednesday 5 June 2024

Getting ahead: Longborough Festival Opera gears up for next year.

Wagner: Götterdämmerung - Lee Bisset as Brünnhilde - Longborough Festival Opera, 2024 (Photo: Matthew Williams-Ellis)
Wagner: Götterdämmerung - Lee Bisset as Brünnhilde - Longborough Festival Opera, 2024 (Photo: Matthew Williams-Ellis)

Thankfully, Longborough Festival Opera’s 2025 season continues under the guidance of their esteemed and long-standing music director, Anthony Negus, who, incidentally, made his conducting début in the German city of Wuppertal (near Cologne) with Tiefland, a musical drama in two acts (with a prologue) by Eugen d’Albert, the son of ballet composer, Charles d’Albert. Maestro Negus has also worked as an assistant conductor at Bayreuth Festival and at Hamburg.

The festival’s audacity has reached new heights, too, as the new season offers a couple of remarkable operas that owe their existence to Wagner’s impact on music: Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande and the UK première of Israeli-born composer Avner Dorman’s Wahnfried: The Birth of the Wagner Cult.

‘I’m delighted that, beyond the Ring,’ enthused Maestro Negus, ‘Longborough’s entrusting me with other ambitious and distinguished works thereby allowing me to continue to grow as an artist. Therefore, I’m proud to be music director of this extraordinary company whose bold spirits and warm heart allows it to achieve great things.

‘I’ve always felt a special feeling towards Pelléas, Debussy’s post-Wagnerian masterpiece, whose drama is powerful yet understated and whose orchestral interludes are imbued with a Parsifal-like atmosphere as well as harmonies that fall under the spell of Tristan und Isolde.

‘We’ve waited a long time to tackle it at Longborough and I feel the time is now ripe to present it and to experience its mystery and subtle beauty in a new staging. Our theatre will serve this piece particularly well.’

Welcoming back to the fold is Justin Brown who’ll conduct Wahnfried, a work which delves into the story of the Wagner family and the politicisation of Wagner’s music in 20th-century Germany. First performed in Germany in 2017, Wahnfried was nominated for Best New Opera at the 2018 International Opera Awards.

A cast of leading British singers is lined up for Longborough’s production that includes Susan Bullock and Mark Le Brocq, coming fresh from his roles as Loge and Siegmund in Longborough’s Ring and Aschenbach in Welsh National Opera’s Death in Venice [see Robert's review].

‘Attending the world première of Wahnfried in 2017 was a profoundly moving experience for me,’ said Anthony Negus, ‘therefore I’m thrilled to be bringing this piece to Longborough next year. In fact, presenting this opera about the Wagner family here feels especially fitting as Longborough is often dubbed the ‘‘British Bayreuth”.’

Elsewhere in the 2025 season, there’ll be a new production of Rossini’s beloved comic opera, Il barbiere di Siviglia, a work known for its effervescent melodies and comedic brilliance. Considered to be one of the greatest masterpieces of comedy within the opera genre it remains a popular work after 200 years.

Closing the season falls to Purcell’s masterpiece Dido and Aeneas in a new production featuring singers from Longborough’s Emerging Artists and Youth Chorus programmes. Dido offers a lovely and fulfilling end to what promises a thrilling and entertaining season.

Wagner: Tristan und Isolde - Rachel Nicholls & Peter Wedd - Longborough Festival Opera, 2015 (Photo: Matthew Williams-Ellis)
Wagner: Tristan und Isolde - Rachel Nicholls & Peter Wedd - Longborough Festival Opera, 2015 (Photo: Matthew Williams-Ellis)

Looking ahead: Further Wagnerian performances are planned for Longborough’s 2026/2027 seasons. For instance, in 2026, there’ll be a revival of the much-lauded production of Tristan und Isolde from the 2015/2017 seasons, conceived and directed by Carmen Jakobi and conducted by Anthony Negus. Michael Tanner of The Spectator glowingly said: ‘It’s one of the most exalting operatic experiences I have encountered’. Praise, indeed!

Come 2027, having conquered the Ring twice in just over a decade, Longborough takes on a new flagship project and one of the most challenging operas in the repertoire - a new production of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. It will be conducted by Anthony Negus and directed by Polly Graham.

This production will allow the company to build upon their tradition of nurturing British Wagnerian and developing talent. A large professional cast and chorus will work alongside Longborough’s now established Youth and Community Choruses. And the themes found in Die Meistersinger of learning, craftsmanship, community music-making, Summer festivities and philosophy of art offers an expanded festival programme around this well-spring of an opera.

Like so many arts initiatives that thrive in the UK and, indeed, elsewhere the idea is formed and nurtured by enthusiastic and open-minded individuals. For instance, the Aldeburgh Festival (celebrating its 75th edition this year) was founded by Benjamin Britten, Peter Pears and Eric Crozier in 1948 and with Longborough Festival Opera the fuse was well and truly lit by Martin and Lizzie Graham who started promoting opera in the grounds of their home in the Cotswolds in 1991 as Banks Fee Opera.

Since those early and pioneering days, Longborough - which has built up a loyal and ever-increasing audience over the years - has since grown into a well-established opera company with an annual season taking place in a purpose-built opera-house seating 500, an intimate auditorium thereby enabling audiences to experience the drama and emotion on the stage practically on a personal level.

A winning team! Martin and Lizzie's daughter, the acclaimed opera director, Polly Graham - whose brilliant production of Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress for English Touring Opera I enjoyed so much - was appointed artistic director in 2018 with Emily Gottlieb joining her as executive director in 2024 following nine years as chief executive of the National Opera Studio, the UK’s foremost opera training organisation.

For more information and to stay in touch and updated on ticket release dates, visit

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