In 1998, Alistair Dawes - répétiteur at the Royal Opera House - asked if I could engage and manage a small orchestra of 18 players for the Jonathan Dove reduced version of the Ring cycle at Longborough, and so, with a first performance of Das Rheingold on the 26th June, the Wagner orchestra was born.
In the year 2000 Anthony Negus became Musical Director and 15 years later we have grown to an orchestra of 72.
Our players are drawn mainly from the Midlands, with many engaged on a regular basis by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Welsh National Opera, the Royal Shakespeare Company, and the Orchestra of the Swan. It is our policy to include and encourage young talented players to mix with our mature, experienced opera players. Under Anthony Negus’s direction, and with his undisputed authority on Wagner, the orchestra’s stature has increased immeasurably; I receive many requests from players both throughout the UK and further afield for the opportunity to audition, and be considered for the Festival.
There are very few changes of personnel year-on-year and there is a nucleus of players that have played without fail every year since 2000. This is surely a testament to the importance of this exceptional family of musicians.
Needless to say, the orchestra is not exclusive to the Wagner performances; it is also involved with other Longborough productions, from Bizet and Donizetti to Verdi and Puccini. More recently we have a new group of players acknowledged as Longborough Festival Opera Brass.
A real fellowship has emerged through the years, with so many players doing a ‘Mary Berry’ producing their favourite baking recipes to share at rehearsal breaks, enjoyed by all. Martin & Lizzie Graham show a keen interest and are enthusiastic in everything we do, and crucially make us feel part of the family.
In the company of amazing singers, no wonder the orchestra is keen to return next year. New members invariably comment to me, how warmly they are received and embraced within our orchestra family.
With the final curtain call and the adrenaline subsiding, in the company of new and reaffirmed friendships, we bid farewell to another superb collaborative experience; the Evenlode valley falls silent. Nevertheless, with the anticipation of another year and the unique experience that is offered by the all encompassing Longborough Festival Opera we happily go our separate ways.