Remember me. The evening before I had sung those words when rehearsing with the Forget Me Not (dementia) Chorus. Haunting to hear them sung out again across the cavernous auditorium of the WMC by men in khaki uniform looking to their end in the First World War.
I am surrounded by men in uniform. Bearskins worn at the doors borne by giants amongst men. Soldiers in full dress, silver horn covers wedged in place with bits of blue cardboard and happy for a head scratch. Red carpet. ‘Busyness’ everywhere and the Centre comes alive to remember the dead.
The first half is hard going, like the waters of the Channel and the muddy war-torn ground Royal Welsh Fusiliers will tread on the Somme. Granddad Joy was injured out on the Somme. Joined up at 17, he would never talk about the war. Here we are, being entertained by it.
I wonder what the soldiers around me are thinking. The first act is removed from them by at least two generations, probably three. Soldiers on the stage sing their way into personalities of a different time.
Act two is different. The visceral consequences of a, by now, boring war. Surreal; trees engulf the men and pick them off one by one. The floral bonnets of the women are lain on the laps of the dead and they are commemorated, returning to the soil to push up new daisies, new trees.
I wonder how the men around me are feeling now.
The choral pieces, from both the male voice choir and the women’s, are gently discordant and hauntingly beautiful. David Jones’ words are spun through the air. The solos are clear and strong and tell the tale of men, old and young going to war. The women are left behind.
There is some humour amongst the pathos – in the back-chatting amongst the men – but not many of us laugh. We all sigh with the joyful relief of recognition when our lads sing Sospan Fach but we are only half way through. We sigh again over the filthy battlefield of Mametz and hope for them.
The sets are clever and simple – the inscribed grey wall slides down and the floor rises and soldiers are in a bunker, crawling away from safety and towards the light of fire.
We leave and push out into the red light of the commemorative installation outside the doors of the Centre. We have been entertained by war. It has been magnificent and dreadful and mad.
Type of show: opera
Title: In Parenthesis
Venue: Wales Millennium Centre
Dates: May 13 to July 1, 2016
Composer: Iain Bell
(Libbrettist: David Antrobus and Emma Jenkins – after David Jones)
Conductor: Carlo Rizzi
Director: David Poutney
Designer: Robert Innes Hopkins
Lighting Designer Malcolm Rippeth
Private John Ball Andrew Bidlack
Bard of Brittannia/HQ Officer Peter Coleman-Wright
Bard of Germania/Alice the Barmaid/The Queen of the Woods Alexandra Decorates
Lieutenant Jenkins George Humphreys
Lance Corporal Lewis Marcus Farnsworth
Sergeant Snell Mark Le Brocq
Dai Greatcoat Donald Maxwell
The Marne Sergeant Graham Clark
Performances start at 7.15pm, except Royal Opera House on 29 June and 1 July at 7.30pm
Running time: approximately two hours and 30 minutes including one 20 min interval
Sung in English with subtitles in English (and Welsh in Cardiff)
Review by Helen Joy