Category Archives: Opera & classical

WNO Orchestra in concert, St Davids Hall by Barbara Michaels.

Conductor: Carlo Rizzi

Violin: Alexander Sitkovetsky

Mendelssohn: Hebrides Overture (Fingal’s Cave)

Bruch: Scottish Fantasy

Rachmaninov: Symphony No.2

Reviewer: Barbara Michaels

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

A pleasure to see the orchestra of the Welsh National Opera performing – stand alone, as it were – as part of the 2019 International Concert series at the St. David’s Hall on Sunday.

With a programme which begun with Mendelssohn’s melodic Hebrides Overture, known as Fingal’s Cave and one of the first examples of musical impressionism, the performance continued with a further nod to the recent Burns Night with Bruch’s all-embracing Scottish Fantasy, with solo violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky giving a performance which showcased the expertise and versatility of this Moscow-born musician.

But it was not Scotland all the way – not by any means.  After the interval we were treated to the symphony which was to stabilise Rachmaninov’s success – Symphony No.2. This performance of what is arguably Rachmaninov’s most highly charged  and emotional symphony, embracing thematic material in a work that encompasses so much, and described from the podium by Rizzi himself as being “a virtuoso performance from the entire orchestra” proved to be, under Rizzi’s baton and performed by the WNO, indeed that, showing the strengths of this Wales-based orchestra and once again demonstrating that it is up there with the best.

A tumultuous and well-deserved ovation for Rizzi and the orchestra, as well as for the talented Sitkovetsky who gave us our money’s worth with an encore.

Interviews and articles from 2018

Please find below a range of interviews and articles from the Get the Chance team published in 2018.

Welsh and Wales based artists respond to the new Arts Council Wales Corporate Plan, 2018 – 2023 “For the benefit of all”  

Guy O’Donnell.

A response to Arts Council Wales, Corporate Plan, 2018 – 2023 “For the benefit of all”

Ahead of the 2018 Brecon Baroque Festival, Roger Barrington had the chance to chat to it’s Artistic Director, Rachel Podger about what to expect this year and also about her own flourishing career as one of the world’s leading violinists.

“Gramophone Artist of the Year” Rachel Podger in conversation ahead of Brecon Baroque Festival 2018

In this article we interview a range of arts professionals to share good practice in the areas of Access, Inclusion and Diversity.

Sharing Positive Action to support Access, Inclusion and Diversity

I am going to explore with you the invaluable discoveries and perspective gained from participating in the YANC event held at the Wales Millennium Centre over last weekend.

Beth Clark.

A response to Casgliad 2018 – Nurturing Youth Arts in Wales By Beth Clark

In this article we look forward to a range of cultural highlights in 2018. Thanks to all of the creative artists involved for their own personal response.

Guy O’Donnell

Looking ahead in 2018 Culture, Creativity and Change!

The Director of Get the Chance, Guy O’Donnell recently met with Rachel Boulton, Artistic Director of Motherlode, they discussed her background, thoughts on the arts in Wales and Motherlodes new production ‘Exodus’ which premiers at the Coliseum Theatre, Aberdare on the 5th of October before touring.

An interview with Rachel Boulton, writer and Director of Exodus.

Philip Ridley’s acclaimed one-act 2000 play, “Vincent River” tells the story of a mother whose son Vincent has been murdered in a homophobic attack. In the aftermath, she learns about her son’s homosexuality. An interview with Director Luke Hereford.

Roger Barrington.

Preview with Interview of “Vincent River” at Jacobs Market, Cardiff 19-21 September 2018

The Director of Get the Chance, Guy O’Donnell recently met with Sarah Rogers, Artistic Director of Ransack Dance, they discussed her background, thoughts on the arts in Wales and her new production ‘Murmur’, taking place on Fri 14th September 2018 at Memo Arts Centre, Barry.

An interview with Sarah Rogers, Artistic Director of Ransack Dance

An audio/subtitled interview with Carole Blade, Director of Coreo Cymru and Creative Producer for Dance in Wales. Editing by Roger Barrington.

An audio/subtitled interview with Carole Blade, Director of Coreo Cymru and Creative Producer for Dance in Wales. 

Top Tunes with Jonny Cotsen

Top Tunes with Jonny Cotsen

Get the Chance values the role Welsh or Wales based playwrights bring to the cultural life of our nation. Here is the latest interview in this series with actor and playwright Matthew Trevannion.

An interview with Matthew Trevannion

The director of Get the Chance, Guy O’Donnell recently met with playwright and actor Joe Wiltshire Smith.They discussed his background, creative opportunities for young people in Bridgend, his new play Five Green Bottles and his thoughts on the arts in Wales.

An interview with Joe Wiltshire Smith

The director of Get the Chance, Guy O’Donnell recently met with Aisha Kigwalilo. They discussed her background, a new arts project called G.I.R.L. Xhibtion and her thoughts on the arts in Wales.

An interview with Aisha Kigwalilo

The director of Get the Chance, Guy O’Donnell recently met with Aleksandra (Nikolajev) Jones. They discussed her background and training, a current project Gravida and her thoughts on the arts in Wales.

An Interview with Aleksandra (Nikolajev) Jones

An interview with BSL interpreter Cathryn Heulwen McShane

An interview with Cathryn Haulwen McShane

The Get the Chance team choose their cultural highlights of 2018

We asked our team to choose their personal three cultural events of 2018 along with a favourite performance and/or organisation. Enjoy reading their individual responses below.

Barbara Elin

2018 has been quite a year; when I submit my thesis on New Year’s, it will be the culmination of four years of intense research, and quite the end of an era (and hopefully the start of a new one). So I’m lucky that, in between the furious bouts of writing and the dreaded editing, I’ve been distracted by some truly brilliant productions, too many to narrow down – from the vicious Motherf**ker with the Hat to the inventively-staged Turn of the Screw and the impressive evocation of character in This is Elvis and At Last: The Etta James Story, 2018’s theatre and dance landscape has provided an embarrassment of riches. So I’m going to cheat a little bit in narrowing down to my ‘top 3’…

3) For ingenuity and fun, Mischief Movie Night/ Murder for Two

No two productions have made me laugh this year more than these two – and though they share a common thread of entertaining ingenuity, they’re vastly different from each other. The former showcased the talent of Mischief Theatre’s on-the-spot improvisational skills, the latter was a tightly-wound machine of script, song and silliness. Both of these productions demonstrated how creative and clever the craftsmanship of theatre is – all while making you laugh too!

2) For pure, joyous entertainment, Young Frankenstein / Rock of Ages.

I love a good musical, and these are two of my favourites in recent memory. The original Young Frankenstein movie is in my top 3 movies ever, so I worried a musical version with a whole new cast could never do justice to the original – well, it did with bells on! Brilliant songs, spectacular setpieces and an original evocation of that original cast made this a must-see. And I have such special memories of seeing Rock of Ages for the first time, so it always has a place in my heart – it’s also one of the only truly great jukebox musicals I’ve seen, and this new cast reinvigorated an already raucous, rip-roaring ride! Can’t wait to see it a fourth time…

1) For powerful and haunting work,

Cascade Dance Theatre’s Frankenstein 

Theatr Clwyd/Sherman Theatre, Lord of the Flies

These two productions utterly blew me away with their beautiful, haunting performances – both reimagined old classics in new, intriguing ways and were utterly gripping from start to finish. There are moments in both shows that I will never forget, and without doubt they are the best productions of 2018 for me.

Personal Highlight: It’s only appropriate, given my research into Frankenstein and the bicentennial of the novel’s publication, that I started and ended 2017 with Frankenstein-related productions – Young Frankenstein on the West End in January and Cascade Dance Theatre’s Frankenstein on the tail end of November. So my personal highlight of this year would be presenting my research in Bologna for the Frankenstein bicentennial conference. I’m so grateful to Prof Anthony Mandal and the CRECS/ RomText team for this wonderful opportunity.

Venue of 2018: The Sherman Theatre’s dedication to inclusivity, accessibility and innovation remains unmatched in my opinion, and their post-show panels are always a joy to be a part of. Many thanks to Tim Howe for involving me.

Company of 2018: Cascade Dance Theatre’s Frankenstein did the impossible – reimagined Mary Shelley’s classic almost wordlessly, in imaginative new ways with stunning moments and dark, modern twists. Bravo!

Gareth Ford-Elliott

For number three I’ll say Cheer by Kitty Hughes at The Other Room. This was fun and alternative and out of the things I reviewed, definitely one of the best.

For number two I’d have to say Humanequin by Kelly Jones at Wales Millennium Centre. This was an important piece of theatre and despite not being the best was definitely the most important piece I saw this year.

For things I’ve reviewed I would definitely have to say Cardiff Boy by Kevin Jones at The Other Room is number one. This was the best all-round show I saw outside of the Edinburgh Fringe this year. Every aspect of it was brilliant and it’s up there with one of my favourite shows I’ve ever seen.

For the cultural events, things I didn’t review, I will say Five Green Bottles by Joe Wiltshire-Smith and Spilt Milk Theatre as part of the Cardiff Fringe Festival. This was an excellent script produced independently. Joe is one of the best upcoming writers in Wales and Spilt Milk are one of the most passionate theatre companies. Together they produced an amazing show which I can’t wait to see again, developed, at the Sherman Theatre in 2019.

Judith Hughes

Exodus by Motherlode

With underlying serious issues about the struggles and problems of working class Valleys people, Rachael Boulton and her team have created a funny, clever, relevant and thought provoking piece of theatre that strikes a chord with its audience; a reaction that can be heard in their laughter and the warmth of their response.  Suspend your disbelief and climb aboard Exodus airways, it’s better than Easyjet!

Passion, NDCWales/Music Theatre Wales

All credit must go to what must have been an incredible amount of hard work from all of the performers, creators and collaborators. I was unexpectedly riveted to the story they told and absorbed in the whole aspect of the show.

Best thing in 2018 overall was listening to Bruce Springstein’s autobiography (actually published in 2017) which I had on Audible and listened to it twice. What an amazing story – and such a fantastic storyteller. All my life I wasn’t a fan until I read this book.

Hannah Lad

My top 3

3.Dick Johns – Lets Talk about Death Baby!-Really enjoyed just watching a truthful story with no pretences!

2.Dirty Protest: Light Speed at Pembroke Dock – A lovely heart warming story that reintroduce play to theatre!

1.Comedy at Howl, International Women’s Day – Just so good to have such a diverse group of women together in one room!

My favourite arts event I have attended this year was Casgliad hosted by Youth Arts Network Cymru! Such a brilliant weekend with so many awesome creatives!

Sian Thomas

Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella 
I’ve only seen two ballets ever and this was the best one. I followed the story and I really liked the subtle changes they made to it and the way it was performed. Lovely show.

Open Mic Night (Cardiff Fringe) 

Had to include the Fringe! It was the most fun thing I did this summer! Because god I just really really adore this event and I really hope it’ll be back next year – I always love testing out my writing on an audience there. It’s such a safe space and such a confidence booster! Lovely atmosphere, people, and always a lovely summery evening!

Ravensong by TJ Klune

Still because he recognised me, the group, and my old review. Loved feeling seen by an author I admire. The story was fab, the representation was great, and it was a lovely book to read to take one’d mind off things. Also ended with a great cliffhanger! I get so excited when he tweets about new books of this series come up. So this is definitely my #1!

My cultural event:

The fact that I wrote 100,000 words of the second draft of my novel!! I’m just super, super proud of myself. There’s not much to be told: I work on it when I can, work on it slow and steadily, make sure everything is okay, and it’s building itself up into something (hopefully) spectacular!

Barbara Michaels

My Three Best of 2018

With such a plethora of good theatre now available to us in Wales, it is difficult to select just three among the cornucopia of events that has been on offer – from the grandeur of Welsh National Opera, up there with the best in the world, to more humble productions working to tight budgets. For my money, here goes:

Alice in Wonderland at the Sherman Theatre, Cardiff

The multi-talented Rachel O’Riordan’s last production for the Sherman before departing for the Lyric Theatre in London.   O’Riordan pulled all the stops out, with the result that this was fun – as a Christmas show should be – but also showed the dark side of Lewis Carroll’s well-known story. Musical numbers were a delight, with several of the characters on stage musicians and rising to the challenge.  Not staged as a musical, but one waiting in the wings perhaps?  A cunningly designed black and white set allowed for the full range of Carroll’s famous characters – White Rabbit, Mad hatter and even the Caterpillar – to be displayed to advantage.

Moving on to Number 2:

Evita.  

This new production of a classic breathed fresh life into thetrue-life story of Eva Peron with a brand-new cast who more than justified their selection.  Following in the footsteps of Elaine Paige who made the role her own was never going to be an easy task and Lucy O’Byrne’s heart-rendingperformance of ‘Don’t Cry for me, Argentina’ at what was Eva’s last appearance before her death brought tears to the eyes.  It was also good to see some of the emerging talent coming out of Wales in the shape of Swansea-born Mike Sterling as Peron.

First on my list is WNO’s La Traviata  A revival, true, but excellently staged and performed and with Verdi’s wonderful score rendered with a master touch with two sopranos experienced in their roles and Roland Woods’ sonorous baritone lending gravitas to the role of Germont pater, how could it fail to please? An opportunity for the remarkable WNO chorus to shine and for the ladies among them to enjoy wearing elegant ballgowns. The excellent director David McVicar wisely chose to keep to the traditional, with a sumptuous period setting whose opulence reeked of decadence.

Personal best:

For me, it has to be musical theatre and The King and I, which I saw in London.  A sheer joy from start to finish, with Kelli O’Hara as Mrs Anna and Ken Watanabe as the King of Siam taking on the iconic roles made famous by Yul Bryner and Deborah Kerr and performing them with enthusiasm and expertise. First class.  Enhanced for me, I have to admit, in that I was accompanied by a posse of grandchildren helping me to celebrate a big birthday!

 

Karis Price

Theatre Clwyd and Sherman Theatre excelled this year with Lord Of the Flies, with its all female savage cast had me jumping out of my skin and seat whilst offering a critical insight to the frailties of humanity.

However it is the rip roaring, toe tapping hand flapping Great Gatsby from Theatr Clwyd/Guild of Misrule that topped the bill for me in 2018. This innotive, interactive piece held in a run down pub in town was totally engrossing, a brilliant use of venue and a talented cast not just of professionals but community too. (More of this in 2019 please Theatr Clwyd!)

On the whole 2018 was pretty dull in the cinema however one film stood out as been worth the trip to the big screen ” Marvels Infinity Wars” I am an Averger fan girl and this film ticked all the right boxes, it was the ending to the origional Averngers story arch, all the Marvel films todate were building up to this battle … it was worth the wait and the bitter end just left me wanting more.  Of course this doesn’t see the end of the Avengers, but it will be the end for some of the best loved characters and the begining for some new… I only hope the sad passing of the wonderful Stan Lee does not mean we loose the style and wit the MU has created.

 

E. M. BLESS’ON III

The Black History Month grand finale at RWCMD was my personal cultural event of 2018 because it attracted a broad spectrum of the community. Attended by many dignitaries including the outgoing First Minister – Carwyn Jones AM, newly-elected First Minister – Mark Drakeford AM, Cabinet Secretary for Health, Wellbeing and Sport – Vaughan Gething AM, young people and several elders from various communities in South East, West and North Wales, it was a celebration of diversity in Wales.

Gareth Williams

Keeping Faith

From its humble beginnings as Un Bore Mercher on S4C, I could never have imagined that this drama would prove to be so popular with UK audiences. Subsequently broadcast in the English-language on BBC1 Wales, it would become the most downloaded show ever on BBC iPlayer before being shown on primetime BBC1 in the summer. Deservedly sweeping the board at the BAFTA Cymru Awards, I will be outraged if Eve Myles is not at least nominated for a BAFTA in 2019. Her portrayal of Faith Howells, whose world is rocked by the disappearance of her husband, is deeply emotional and utterly captivating. This is surely her defining role.

Wild Silence – The Wandering Hearts

If I had to pick one album to recommend from 2018, it would Wild Silence by The Wandering Hearts. When I first heard it, it was their incredibly refreshing and genre-blending sound that captured my attention. The more I’ve listened to the album, the more the lyrics have come to the fore and I’ve discovered another fascinating layer to their fabulous array of songs. To finish the year seeing them live in Liverpool confirmed my belief that these guys are destined for bigger things.

Home, I’m Darling, Theatr Clwyd

My theatre highlight this year has been this co-production between Theatr Clwyd and the National Theatre. With its life-size house for a set, its bold and brash set design, and its wonderful costumes, the overall look is enough to pull you into its 1950s world. Starring Katherine Parkinson and Richard Harrington as the couple living it up in a lifestyle of nostalgia, its saccharine exterior slowly melts away to reveal a darker and very pertinent narrative that will have you firmly gripped from beginning to end. Another triumph for Artistic Director of Theatr Clwyd, Tamara Harvey and her team.

Review: Ravel’s “L’heure espagnole” by Mid-Wales Opera at RWCMD by Roger Barrington

 

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

 

Mid-Wales’s bold production of “L’heure espagnole” strikes home on every note.

Musical director Jonathan Lyness, who also plays piano, has arranged the score for a reduced orchestra, of only four musicians, including himself. The objective is to be able to take the production to smaller venues, that wouldn’t be able to house a larger orchestra. It works a treat as the four musicians, all of a high standard, provide a superb balance to the singing, wondering why Ravel didn’t write it in this way.  Mind you, I wouldn’t like to take on a composer, renowned for his orchestration ability.

“L’heure espagnole” is a one-act comédie musicale first performed at the magnificent    Opéra-Comique  in Paris on 19th May 1911,  and is based upon a play presented seven years earlier.

Libretto is by Franc-Nohain after his play.

Considered to be highly improper at the time, the story is based in 18th-century Toledo, Spain,  where bored Concepcion wife of clockmaker Torquemada, entertains her lovers every Thursday for an hour, whilst her husband leaves home to regulate the town’s clocks.  The resultant chaos after mule-driver Ramiro arrives at the shop to have a watch repaired just at the wrong time, is typical of high-farce.

Ravel’s Spanish score with its mechanical cuckoo clock and ticking metronomes in the prelude, in part disguises the fact that Ravel intended the opera to be more Italian buffa than French operette. 

The singing is uniformly excellent and all the actors display impressive comedic acting skills. All young singers, they represent a wealth of emerging talent and are building up impressive cv’s.

The costumes add to the visual comedy. Concepcion (Catherine Backhouse – mezzo soprano) scarlet woman as she is, dons a costume of that colour.

 

 

Nicholas Morton, (baritone) as Ramiro has carrots draped around him, representing his occupation as a muleteer conveying vegetables. I particularly liked his hat with two carrots protruding upwards like ears, thereby resembling the features of the animal he is working.

 

 

Anthony Flaum, (tenor)  as Gonzalve, Concepcion’s poet lover, dressed in a white suit, indicating the purity of his love in poetry.

 

 

Then there is stout banker Don Inigo Gomez, (Matthew Buswell – Bass-baritone) daubed in his jacket with banknotes attached.

 

 

Finally, we have the unfortunate husband Torquemada, (Peter Van Hulle – tenor) with his cloak of many clock faces.

 

 

Director/Designer has put together  truly marvellous set, that you can see from some of the mages on display here. The enlarged clock face, big enough to represent the concealment of the lovers, (in the plot hiding in grandfather clocks), are a revelation. It is a rich warm looking design and it embellishes the plot to perfection.

It is impossible to fault this production. It dazzles and pleases  and its English translation is funny and witty. I can thoroughly recommend this and urge anyone interested in opera, (and even those who are merely curious) to pay the modest admission price to see such a high standard production.

The performance that I attended was BSL supported.

Unknown to me, when I made my travel arrangements. if this wasn’t sufficient entertainment, there is a second half that consists of Spanish flavoured arias and showpieces. Sadly, I was unable to watch this, but if it is half as good as “L’heure espagnole” it will be well worth seeing.

 

 

 

Roger Barrington Continue reading Review: Ravel’s “L’heure espagnole” by Mid-Wales Opera at RWCMD by Roger Barrington

Review of The Brodsky Quartet at Theatr Brycheiniog by Roger Barrington

 

 

 

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

 

When I noticed that The Brodsky Quartet were coming to Theatr Brycheiniog, I have to say that I gasped with disbelief. What a coup! Did they live up to expectation – they certainly did!

The Brodskys are a British String Quartet who were formed way back in 1972. Only half of the original foursome remain. JacquelineThomas (cello) and second left Ian Belton, (violin). More recent members are Paul Cassidy (viola) next to Jacqueline and Daniel Rowland, (violin) on the extreme left. Paul having joined in 1982 and Daniel in 2007. References to position refer to the photograph above.

Traditionally, the quartet played standing up, and the three guys did so on this occasion.

The quartet not only play classical composers such as Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert and particularly Shostakovich – all the usual classical string quartet suspects, but also dabble in the avant-garde and the eccentric, and this as represented in the programme they put together in Brecon.

They began with Mexican composer Javier Alvarez’s ” Metro Chabacano” (1991). This is a minimalist piece, a genre of music I particularly enjoy; it reminded me more of John Adams than Philip Glass or Steve Reich. The quick pulse that resonates through its seven minute length conjures up imagery of the Mexico City subway network.

The second piece, “Reflejos de la noche” by another Mexican composer, Mario Lavista is even more unusual. Lavista is renowned for his experimentation and in this piece he really goes to town. Without using the fingerboard of their instruments the Brodskys relying on harmonising , recreate the noises of wild animals at night. I have seen it referred to as a Soundscape rather than a melody and is quite an extraordinary experience watching it being performed. A neighbour of mine in the audience commented that it is great to see it  performed live, but I wouldn’t buy the cd! I tend to agree with that. If you do want the CD it can be found on The Brodsky Quartet’s “Rhythm and Texture”, just one of the 60+ output of this enduring group’s work.

Resorting to a more traditional piece, the quartet then played Edward Elgar’s “String Quartet in E minor, Op. 83”. This celebrated piece was written exactly 100 years ago, just before the celebrated “Cello Concerto”. Both pieces reflect Elgar’s melancholic state of mind and the pathos and English nature of this work was brought out in a powerful rendition.

After the break, the quartet play Shostakovich’s “Quartet No. 3 in F major, Op.73”.  The Brodsky Quartet have a well-earned reputation for performing Shostakovich’s String Quartet output and they didn’t disappoint. Written in 1946, this approximately 33-minute string quartet is in 5 movements, which the composer, allegedly renamed in the manner of a war story:-

Blithe ignorance of the future cataclysm
Rumblings of unrest and anticipation
Forces of war unleashed
In memory of the dead
The eternal question: Why? And for what?

After very recently being reminded of the 100th anniversary of the end of WW1, who can argue with these sentiments?

For their encore, the quartet played a charming Shostakovich number, “Polka” in an amusing manner with sideways glances at what their colleagues were playing.

This concluded a memorable concert that displayed The Brodsky Quartet’s great musicianship, unity of purpose and sheer exuberance of playing technically demanding music.

If you consider the venues this celebrated quartet play at, then Theatr Brycheiniog sdhould take a bow themselves for bringing The Brodskys to Brecon. The eclectic nature of this community theatre’s programme, knows no bounds!

Roger Barrington

Continue reading Review of The Brodsky Quartet at Theatr Brycheiniog by Roger Barrington

Review of WNO International Concert at St. David’s Hall, Cardiff by Roger Barrington

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

 

The Welsh National Opera Orchestra under the baton of its Musical Director Tomas Hanus entertained an enthusiastic audience royally at St. David’s Hall in Cardiff.

The programme was divided into two parts with the second being devoted to Czech composer Leos Janacek.

Opening the concert, the WNO orchestra took on Rossini’s perennial favourite, “The William Tell Overture”. This piece never fails to conjure up two contrasting memories. Firstly, sitting in front of  the family black and white television on a Saturday afternoon after Grandstand, anticipating my hero The Lone Ranger and his sidekick Tonto saving the day yet again. My second image is very different, harking back to Malcolm McDowell’s adventures in the bedroom with a couple of girls our anti-hero has picked up, to a greatly speeded up version of the melody in Stanley Kubrick’s, “A Clockwork Orange”. In my declining years, that is the memory, I wistfully try to conjure up the most.

My impression of the playing was that the opening was played a little too languidly. Mind you, that made the contrast to the trumpet announcing the more famous melody to be more striking.

Next we were treated to a soulful rendition of Elgar’s Cello Concert, with soloist, the young Armenian cellist Narek Haknazaryan.

 

 

Anybody who takes on this beautiful cello concerto will be compared to the legendary Jacqueline du Pre. She almost single -handedly brought to notice a piece that became regarded as one of the great cello concertos of any century.

Narek did an excellent job of getting somewhere near the benchmark, really getting into his performance exuding great emotional depth and understanding.  What the audience would have been unprepared for was an unaccompanied encore, whereby Narek sang, (presumably in Armenian), whilst playing his instrument in such a way I hadn’t seen before. It was an exhibition of total mastery of the cello and had the audience in awe chatting about it during the interval that followed it. Narek’s pedigree is worth consideration. Born into a family of Armenian musicians, his father being a violinist and his mother, a pianist, in 2011, at the age of 22, he won the prestigious Cello First Prize and Gold Medal at the XIVth International Tchaikovsky Competition. He is currently, one of the Vienna Konzerthaus’s Great Talent and is in huge demand to perform, not only in the Austrian capital, but all around the world.

The second half opened with Janacek’s charming finale to his opera, “The Cunning Little Vixen”. The Forester, in a monologue returns to the forest after his pet vixen had been shot dead by a poacher, and reflects on the meaning of life. Slovak baritone Gustav Belacek, sang the part of the forester.

 

 

His rich baritone voice resounded around the hall. Gustav is a well travelled and accomplished singer having performed in many of the greatest opera houses and concert halls of the world. He is also a regular soloist with both the Czech and Slovak Philharmonic orchestras.

A thoroughly charming interlude towards the end had young Efan Arthur Williams resplendent in a frog costume hopping on to the stage and singing a few treble lines in a pure clear voice, and this captivated the audience.

 

 

The concert concluded with an accomplished rendition of Janacek’s famous Sinfonietta – a great concert favourite, largely due to its dynamic use of an elongated brass section that heralds in and closes the four movement sinfonietta. The well-loved third movement with its imposing melody which the programme describes as a  “manic trombone solo”was the highlight of the piece.

Conductor Tomas Hanus was born in Brno in what is now the Czech Republic.

 

 

Brno is where composer Leos Janacek grew up and provided the inspiration for much of his creative output. Therefore, you can imagine that Tomos has a natural affinity to this composer’s work, the proof of which is patently obvious whereby he gets the best out of the talented collective body, that is the Welsh National Opera orchestra.

 

 

Throughout, the orchestra played with great skill and unity in what was a very varied programme. Their reputation as one of Britain’s finest orchestras is clearly apparent and well merited.

What I particularly liked about the concert was the way that maestro Tomas introduced each piece providing an interesting insight into the work about to be played with warmth and wit. He explained to the audience that the theme of war as exemplified in the selected pieces is highly appropriate as we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Armistice. William Tell’s martial theme, Elgar’s Cello Concerto composed shortly after the end of the Conflict, and written at a time when the composer’s mental state was under great stress largely brought on by the horrors of war that preceded it. Janacek’s work is highly nationalistic and the Sinfonietta in particular reflects the new found nationalism that the country found after the end of WW1.

This WNO concert was a highly enjoyable experience and Tomas Hanus managed to convey a meaning to the audience that the orchestra and themselves are part of a family. The playing of the orchestra and the calibre of the international soloists make you anticipate later concerts next year in this series with great interest.

Continue reading Review of WNO International Concert at St. David’s Hall, Cardiff by Roger Barrington

Review Passion, NDCWales/Music Theatre Wales by Judi Hughes

 

 

Photo credit: © CLIVE BARDA/ArenaPAL;

Wales Millennium Centre, 23 October 2018

Review by Judi Hughes

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

 

Passion is a work for voice and body, dance and opera, written by French composer Pascal Dusapin. Written in 2008 it is based on the Orpheus legend. This production was created in collaboration by NDC Wales and Music Theatre Wales.

Directors: Michael McCarthy & Caroline Finn

Conductor: Geoffrey Paterson

Him: Johnny Herford (Baritone)

Her: Jennifer France (Soprano)

Design: Simon Banham

Lighting design: Joe Fletcher

Sound: Sound Intermedia

Dancers: Cyril Durand-Gasselin, Nikita Goile, Ed Myhill, Julia Rieder, Malik Williams, Queenie Maidment-Otlet

Vocal Ensemble: EXAUDI

Ensemble: London Sinfonietta

To give some context to this review, I decided to see Passion for several reasons: I like the work of NDC Wales, I have seen some of Caroline Finn’s choreography and feel I like and appreciate the way her mind works; I have seen several pieces by Music Theatre Wales and like the alternative aspect that they bring to their work; I have seen some great dance with live music and more recently I have begun to appreciate opera. A contemporary performance that puts all these things together seemed to be something I shouldn’t miss.

Grateful to the programme for some useful advance information, I was armed with the basis of the story based on the Orpheus legend and the roles that the characters played. I was a bit disappointed with the publicity for the show, which gave no indication of the splendidly staged production that I was about to see.

I sat in the audience waiting for this opera dance to begin and when it began I thought, ‘how is this going to work then?’ Slowly and step by step all the elements grew together and what seemed to be impossible came together to make the whole.

The lighting & design were amazing and essential parts of this production. All the elements of dance, opera, live music, vocals and soundscape worked together and were enveloped by it. The blue ladder was so engaging that it was almost another character and watching the production scene by scene became like seeing a series of beautiful paintings over and over again.

At first the ‘others’ seemed surplus but gradually they were woven into this complex collage, responding to the music and soundscape, giving rhythm and life to the work. The sounds of an intake of breath were haunting, nightmare-like and helped to create the atmosphere of the imagined underworld.

The quality of choreographer and skill of the dancers worked seamlessly alongside the male and female opera singers. Both had strong voices and whilst I couldn’t always make out the words, their interpretation and vocal agility was wonderful to hear. Together they told this tale of lost and dying love, dramatic and ethereal in their presentation.

The stunning imagery created by the set and lighting designers, especially commissioned for this project are absolutely central to the work. Production images by Clive Barda are available on the Music Theatre Wales website: http://musictheatre.wales/productions/passion

‘Lighting always plays a big part in the emotional dramaturgical path…the set is absolutely beautiful. Simon’s work is such a joy to light because it has this wonderful contrast in texture and colour…’ Joe Fletcher, Lighting Designer on Simon Banham’s design.

All credit must go to what must have been an incredible amount of hard work from all of the performers, creators and collaborators. I was unexpectedly riveted to the story they told and absorbed in the whole aspect of the show.

The production is currently touring and can next be seen at

LOWRY, SALFORD

Tuesday 6 November

THEATR CLWYD, MOLD

Saturday 10 November

La Cenerentola, WNO Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff  by Barbara Michaels

 

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

 

The Cinderella story with a twist, Rossini’s Cenerentola has all the magic of the fairy-tale –and more. The composer’s sparkling score, with the lightness of touch that characterisesso much of Rossini’s work, lifts it up even further. This revival by the WelshNational Opera , first performed back in 2007, cleverly uses a clutch of talented Italian singers performing the central male characters, giving extra appeal when touring to European cities.

This is comic opera at its best. Cenerentola keeps most of the ingredients of the fairytale with which we are familiar, with one notable exception. There is no glass slipper.

Instead we have a sparkling bracelet – two, to be exact. – the reason being that when the opera was conceived, in Rome back in 1817, it would have been considered bad form to show a lady’s ankles on stage.

Act I opens with the Cinderella of the story, here named as Angelina, slogging away at the housework, in the crumbling castle overun by mice where she slaves away trying to cope with the demands of her two ugly sisters Clorinda and Tisbe and trying in vain to get some sign of affection from her self-important stepfather Don Magnifico – portrayed with gusto by Fabio Capitanucci. His evident enjoyment of the role, coupled with a sonorous bass, makes this singer a perfect choice for the part.

Irish mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught has a voice of exceptional depth and clarity which calls forth our sympathy as she is vilified and hassled by Clorinda (Aoife Miskelly) and Tisbe                                                                                                                                         (Heather Lowe), both of whom give great performances as the two throughly nasty stepsisters who make Angelina’s life a misery. The arrival of Alidoro (Wojtek Gierlach),officially the Prince’s tutor and mentor but actually a kind of wizard in place of the traditional fairygodmother, disguised as a beggar, hints at the chnages to come. Angelina’s kindness convinces him that she is the bride for his Prince Don Ramiro (Matteo Macchioni). Macchioni’s pleasant tenor blends well with Erraught in their duets, but with the change of identity – his valet Dandini (Giorgio Caoduro) masquerading as the Prince andvice versa – it is the latter whose performance in Act II is of particular note.

Set against a minimalist backdrop presided over by a giant fireplace centre stage, WNO’s revival is notable for its attention to detail – watch closely in order not to miss any of this.

The stepped stage could be hazardous but at Sunday’s performance any possible pifalls were dexterously avoided, not least by the team of dancers that make up the pose of mice that is a feature of this production, swishing their tails and gesturing on stage throughout. So enchanting are the make-believe rodents and so expert their delivery of revival director and choreographer Xevi Dorca’s great choreography that they are at times in danger of diverting our attention from the main action as the story unfolds.There is a cleverly portrayed storm, an overturned coach, and much more to excite as Dandini and the Prince change back to their true persona and Anglina/Cinders dream comes true.

A happy-ever-after ending – although it is rather a shame that Rossini’s Cinders is still in her kitchen dress when she marries her Prince. She does wear a sparkling tiara, but a bridal gown would have been nice. Other costumes – among them those worn by WNO’s legendary chorus – are colourful yet traditional in some respects, so why not keep this one?

There are underlying themes – good triumphs over evil, etc etc – but this pantomimic take on Rossini’s popular comedy is fun and overall should not be taken too seriously.

Now touring

Music: Gioachino Rossini

Libretto; Giacopo Ferretti

Director: Joan Font

Revivial Director/Choreographer: Xevi Dorca

Barbara Michaels 

“Gramophone Artist of the Year” Rachel Podger in conversation ahead of Brecon Baroque Festival 2018

 

Ahead of the 2018 Brecon Baroque Festival, I had the chance to chat to it’s Artistic Director, Rachel Podger about what to expect this year and also about her own flourishing career as one of the world’s leading violinists.

 

Continue reading “Gramophone Artist of the Year” Rachel Podger in conversation ahead of Brecon Baroque Festival 2018