Category Archives: Opera & classical

Review In Parenthesis WNO by Helen Joy

WNO In Parenthesis. Photo credit - Bill Cooper 925

(5 / 5)

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

Cast includes:

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)

See more at: https://www.wno.org.uk/event/parenthesis#sthash.6q0pYOy8.dpuf

Review by Helen Joy

www.theblockhouseblogger.wordpress.com

ENO Season Launch 16/17 by Hannah Goslin

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ENO

[English National Opera]

Season Launch 2016/2017

Audio file of written text is below

It’s been a tough year for the ENO.  Over a year ago Arts Council  England warned the company that unless they were to figure out their business plans then they would face cuts to their funding. And so it did. A 5 million pound cut was issued on the company. If this wasn’t enough, several resignations have caused a threat to the future process of the ENO.

Lucky enough to be invited, I attended the season launch where the management team aimed to not only excite us on the upcoming year but also to eradicate any lack of confidence in the company after such detrimental events. The new artistic director, Daniel Kramer – from what it would seem, a veteran in directing through theatre, musicals and predominantly Opera in the last year, made an appearance to instil confidence in us. His passion of the industry and positive attitude to overcoming the past year or so gave a smiling safety jacket to industry interest.

One brilliant aspect that I found interesting from the season launch was the company’s ethos in their target market. Ballet and Opera is forever known as a white middle class past time. The company has released a scheme which, while not new, they insist is tried and tested from previous years. 500 tickets per performance for £20 or under to bring in the masses who find the West End and London theatre difficult to purchase. Ticket prices can be off putting – and the knowledge that those who can afford high prices are possibly those who you would not normally associate with. By making performances more accessible, this clever idea is appealing to the unusual Opera goers. But this does not stop there; ENO are producing performances that artistically are not the usual Opera. The production of ‘Lulu’ really stood out to me – as one who is used to the proscenium arch, heavy costumed and heavy make upped performers in Opera, video footage of this performance with its avant-garde noir set and visual effects appealed to me immensely. Kramer also insists his eagerness to bring musicals to the ENO – purely to show the company’s versatility and bring in a different audience who would not have even entered the building previously.

And the ENO has not stopped there. With a large period where the in house orchestra and performers will not be residing at the Coliseum, outside companies will be hiring the space. Another nod to their expansion in audience interest.

 Where will the company be during this long time? The ENO are bringing themselves to the larger horizon – Hackney Empire, Southbank Centre, and all the way to Blackpool Winter Gardens. The company’s insistence to open up to the masses cannot be ignored, and seems they will not stop till they are acknowledged by diverse groups.

A slight novice to this niche part of the arts industry, my lack of knowledge is not for want or for avoidance – but due to a lot of issues raised on price, market audience and general Opera stereotyped culture. These business implements, to me, seem an intellectual idea and one that has immensely appealed to my curious yet ‘common’ interests.

Review NYOW St David’s Hall, 2015 Tour

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Returning once again to the Welsh capital, the 115 strong National Youth Orchestra of Wales took to the stage at St David’s Hall for the final performance of their 2015 tour. Performing an equally exciting and exhausting compilation of early twentieth-century Parisian ballet works, the orchestra was in the capable hands of internationally acclaimed conductor Paul Daniel (CBE) whose ambitious second half of the programme pushed the orchestra to their limits.

Easing in with Paul Dukas’ lesser known La Péri, this was an apt work to sit alongside Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring as the two pieces premièred in the same year. Daniel’s was a subtle interpretation; the introductory rousing brass fanfare moved into a contrasting web of gorgeous full bodied melodies in the strings and ethereal orchestral pianissimos that captured the mysticism of the Persian legend of Alexander the Great that the work is inspired by. This was followed by Florent Schmitt`s La Tragedie de Salome, another atmospheric piece during which the impressionistic oboe and cor anglais passages were particularly enticing. Set in two, the second part was characterised particularly well. Full of suspense and percussive pathetic fallacy, the thunderclaps added colour and maintained the momentum of the storm.

It was a well thought out programme. The first half of the concert passed quickly with beautiful melodies and subtlety that was set up to be utterly shattered in the second half by Stravinsky’s savage The Rite of Spring. When I discovered that the NYOW were braving Stravinsky’s finest work, I felt a pang that I was no longer sitting in the violin section. This is a work that every musician wants to experience on stage.

Prefaced by a harp fanfare written during the NYOW residency by two young composers, the intricate introduction was confidently conducted by co-writer Daniel Soley. Immediately following this, Paul Daniel waited for complete silence before handing over to Llewelyn Edwards to initiate the singing bassoon opening to The Rite of Spring during which the orchestra’s capability was showcased.

For the most part, the relentless rhythmic frenzy was precisely executed and the tumultuous full orchestral sound during the sacrifice was attacked with sheer force and commitment; it is clear that Paul Daniel has worked tirelessly with the responsive orchestra to pull off such a monumentally challenging work. Many would be sceptical about whether a programme this ambitious could be effectively performed by a youth orchestra but, as always, the National Youth Orchestra of Wales stepped up to the challenge. Incorporating The Rite of Spring into the programme gave soloists particularly in the woodwind section, the opportunity to demonstrate their maturity as players.

After a two week intense rehearsal and concert schedule, the professionalism and commitment from these talented young performers will come at the usual price. Today the famous Nash Crash begins for them all!

 

Review Jersey Boys, WMC by James Briggs

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Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons have well and truly hit Cardiff!

Being only 16, I must admit I didn’t know what to expect when I agreed to review the musical “Jersey Boys” at Wales Millennium Centre last night having not really heard of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. However, I was not disappointed and I was surprised at how many smash hits Frankie Valli but more importantly Bob Gaudio had written that I actually knew.

The musical tells us how the band was formed and follows each member of the band on their incredible journey. The main character we follow is Frankie Valli who is guided by Tommy DeVito, who initially puts the band together and is Frankie’s mentor. Stephen Webb is intensely convincing as Tommy and plays the part exceptionally well.   However, Tim Driesen provides an outstanding portrayal of the high pitched singing wonder that was Frankie Valli. The hugely talented composer Bob Gaudio is played by Sam Ferriday who later goes onto make a partnership with Frankie that would last for their entire careers and Lewis Griffiths plays the role of the deep voiced Nick very well.

Throughout the show you see the effect and pressures that the constant touring has on all their lives impacting on their relationships with their wives, children and each other and at times has a powerful impact especially when Frankie loses his daughter and the debt that Tommy DeVito gets into with his constant gambling and womanising which ends up with him being indebted to the Jersey mob.

However, the main reason why people will go to see this musical is because of the songs and they really do not disappoint! The band and cast are incredible and the show goes from one hit into another with songs such as Big Girls Don’t Cry, Can’t Take My Eyes Off You and Beggin’ you really are left with a feeling of ‘Oh What a Night’ we have just had!

Jersey Boys

Overall, with the packed auditorium and everyone up and dancing on their feet we can safely say Cardiff will find it very difficult to say Bye Bye Baby, Baby Goodbye as they leave following their last performance on August the 1st. A thoroughly, enjoyable performance that everyone should see.

Jersey Boys is on at the Wales Millennium Centre from 21 Jul – 01 Aug 2015

https://www.wmc.org.uk/Productions/2015-2016/DonaldGordonTheatre/JerseyBoys/

 

Review RWCMD The Cunning Little Vixen at the Sherman Theatre by Rebecca Hobbs

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Ninety years on and a cartoon strip that appeared in a Moravian newspaper continues to show us the nature of life and its cyclic immortality. Leoš Janáček’s beautiful and musically inviting The Cunning Little Vixen is currently being performed at the Sherman Theatre by the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.

Every time this opera is recreated, the director is faced with a decision as to whether the human context is more important to focus on than the cartoon comic woodland fairy tale. On this occasion, Harry Fehr chooses an extreme and creates a complete human adaptation with a darker edge that plays against the cartoon (aside from the wedding party which is a welcome folk interlude). Rather than the human characters being anthropomorphised, Fehr concentrates on the characters’ animal instincts being dramatised.

 The ‘Vixen’ is a moniker just as her love interest (Zlatohřbitek) goes by the name of ‘The Fox’.  Throughout her youth Bystrouška (Sophie Levi) is convicted for a number of criminal activities. Locked up by Sheriff (Emyr Wyn Jones), her obsessive pursuer usually takes the form of a forester but the creatures of the animal kingdom are replaced by their domestic counterparts: holiday makers, police offers and a gang of ‘liberated’ female convicts that replace the clucking hens of the animal kingdom.

 Whilst the production loses its comic enchanting quality, it was an interesting interpretation and one that comfortably plays to all the advantages of a young ensemble; the life cycle focuses on growing up and the adolescent right of passage. Sophie Levi’s expressive and impassioned performance as the cunning Vixen also captures an awkward teenage insecurity whilst she is being courted by  Zlatohřbitek, her love interest, charmingly played by Jessica Robinson. In the male cast, Emyr Wyn Jones’ command of the Sheriff role and his character’s journey is particularly impressive. Whilst the futile attempts to catch the Vixen enrage him, his concluding paean to nature is poignant and his rich tone is perfectly complimented by the moving orchestral score.

Aside from a few stage glitches, the production was performed to an incredibly high standard and the star voices were as good any professional production. The RWCMD chamber orchestra conducted by David Jones brought the colourful and boisterous score to life as the comic character resonated through the music. If you are a fan of Janáček’s work,  this unusual adaptation is well worth a watch.

The Cunning Little Vixen is on from 7-9th July at the Sherman Theatre.

http://www.shermancymru.co.uk/performance/music/the-cunning-little-vixen/

Review Peter Pan WNO by Rebecca Hobbs

 

In Flight, Wendy (Mariet Arnet), Michael (Rebecca Bottone) and John (Nicholas Sharat) on their way to Neverland. Photography credit: Clive Bardat

 Music by Richard Ayres

Libretto by Lavinia Greenlaw

Directed by Keith Warner
Conducted by Erik Nielsen

J.M Barrie’s literary classic Peter Pan has been transformed into a whole spectrum of genres. From numerous film and television adaptations, to Broadway, comedy and even video game; now the magical story of a boy who never wanted to grow up has been reworked into a family targeted opera. As part of their ‘A Terrible Innocence’ summer season, directed by Keith Warner, the WNO have had pillow fights, dressed as pirates and Indians and have even worked with a flight choreographer but despite the chorus and orchestra’s best efforts, the material they are working with struggles to take off.

 

Visually complying with Barrie’s description of Pan as ‘the little white bird’, counter tenor Iestyn Morris all shimmered up is flighty and graceful. His fluent falsetto provides an unsettling juxtaposition with his growly spoken voice and embodies a Peter Pan with a slightly unpleasant edge full of spontaneity and arrogance who is unusually detached from the three children he brings to Neverland. Both Mrs Darling (Hilary Summers) and Wendy’s (Marie Arnet) arias are musical flourishes that break through but neither character is given much room to develop.

 

If a little crazed, Ayre’s full-bodied score, performed masterfully by the WNO orchestra under Erik Nielson’s hand, is an exploratory idea platform that I could appreciate but one that is hardly accessible to children as the themes just aren’t there. He incorporates essence of Gilbert and Sulivan with the pirates sea shanty and draws strong parallels with the likes of Stravinsky and Janáček but the vibrancy and anarchic intensity does not always fit with Lavinia Greenlaw’s slightly stagnated libretto. The WNO chorus work tirelessly but soloists were on occasion overpowered by the full-bodied nature of the score and I found myself searching for the subtitles to clarify what was actually being sang. My attention was often drawn to the interesting things going on in orchestra pit where the addition of the ticking clock sounds and the inventive concept of sawing on wood during the creation of Wendy’s story house joins sight and sound together, giving it an animated quality.

 

Creating Neverland from the children’s nursery, the parallel world production is colourful and childlike with its jack in the box James Hook (Ashley Holland) who despite fulfilling the role of dastardly pantomime villain provides snippets of comedic light. The novel and entertaining old grandfather clock that progressively transforms into the hungry crocodile will have appealed to a younger audience but the stage feels too cluttered, obstructed with children’s alphabet blocks that seem to get in the way of the fight scenes. Imagination and potential is there but the child’s vision of the world is lost. Instead, we’re offered an adult’s reconstruction of a child’s world restricted by the nursery set up and shadowed by constant allusions to the darker sub structure of Barrie’s work. The numerous re-imaginings of the train remind us of Peter Llewellyn-Davies’ suicide, one of the boys who inspired the author’s protagonist Peter Pan with the station sign for Sloane Square at the beginning making this an overtly clear reference. However, I did like the contemporary concept of the pirate ship as a London Underground train.

 

With too little in Act One, there is consequently far too much material in Act Two to develop any characters. It really felt like the ticking croc was chasing the performance the whole way through either to hurry it up or slow it down. Despite my indifference, as an introduction to opera, the WNO have done a fantastic job of encouraging families to experience a musical genre that for too long has been unfairly restricted by elitist clichés. By hosting workshops, introductory talks, doing face painting and creating an affordable family solution, children of all ages flocked in to the Donald Gordon theatre to experience something new but whether it hooked its target audience is something that is yet to be determined by the feedback from the families to come.

REVIEW Beauty & The Beast, Ballet Cymru by Tanisha Fair

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Ballet Cymru’s adaptation of Beauty and the Beast is really one to go and see.

The way that Beauty played by Lydia Arnoux dances really helps you understand the ballet with no words but her facial expression to movement it is all quite beautiful and elegant. I also loved the music that  gave the production a forest like atmosphere and at some points tense feeling, the Beast played by Mandev Sohki made the iconic character come to life. The Beasts costume created a towering imposing monster from the  wearing  of stilts gave him height and created an awkward and stubbing effect that helps Beauty fall in love with him and helps him to dance. The characters in the play like Beauty’s sisters, brothers and friends helped the scene changes they changed into dancing candles this made the play dynamic and different. The costume design was stunning and delicate my favourite outfit would have had to have been Beauty’s sisters red dresses I love the way that they moved when the sisters danced.

The scenery of the play was very simple but also interesting, I really liked how they initially showed Beauty’s house having a fire-place and then the outside snowflake background. Another thing that I thought was a good part of the ballet was when before it stated they had the rose from Beauty and the Beast projected on the screen, this begins to explain the story  of the fairy tale and how children will believe anything that you tell them. In my opinion I think the production is  brilliant and well worth going to see.

 

Review Moses in Egypt, WNO at Wales Millennium Centre by Barbara Michaels

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MOSES IN EGYPT WNO at Wales Millennium Centre

Music: Gioachino Rossini

Libretto: Andrea Leone Tottola, after ‘L’Osiride’ by Francesco Ringhieri

Director: David Pountney

Reviewer: Barbara Michaels

Rating: [4.00]

Musically flowing majestically from one theme to another, Moses in Egypt is one of the least often performed of Rossini’s operas. And what a pity that is. From start to finish, this opera – described as ‘tragico-sacra’ and based on the Exodus story of the Israelites flight from slavery in Egypt, is one to appreciate and enjoy on so many different fronts. An added bonus, for this new production by Welsh National Opera, is that it is one to which suits WNO down to the ground. The reason for this is abundantly clear from the start, for the chorus is one of WNO’s many strong points, and the huge scale of the music of this dual-themed opera is a perfect vehicle for their amazing talent.

Act I opens to a darkened stage. Atmospheric and spine-tingling, it heightens the senses as we listen to the off-stage singing. The darkness clears, engendered by the wave of his staff from a be-sandaled and white robed Moses, who raises his hands to God in a paean of thanksgiving and in exhortation to the Egyptians to forsake their wicked ways. Hungarian singer Miklós Sebestéyn gives us a prophet per se, with grey locks curling down to his shoulder and a resonant bass baritone. This is not an easy role to interpret, but the interpretation of it can make or mar a production, and Sebestéyn has most definitely got it right. As, indeed, has Andrew Foster-Williams as the weak and vacillating Pharoh, changing his mind from one moment to the next when exhorted by Moses to ‘Let my people go!’ On the distaff side, Christine Rice is magnificent as Pharoh’s wife Amaltea, particularly in the grand arias of Act II.

In tandem with the Old Testament Biblical theme is the love story of the racially impossible love affair between Pharoh’s son Osirides and the young Hebrew girl Elcia, a sympathetic portrayal as well as superb mastery of difficult and technically demanding arias by British soprano Claire Booth with sympathy. Spanish tenor David Alegret in a yellow-gold trouser has some wonderful duets with Booth and their voices work well together, although, with his flowing dark locks and in a yellow-gold trouser suit Alegret does appear at times more rock star than opera singer..

Immensely important in an opera that includes scenes where God is heard to speak and in which miracles take place is the lighting, and lighting designer Fabrice Kebour proves more than equal to the task with some of the most striking lighting effects seen in opera, dealing superbly with its many difficulties. Not least of these, and one with which many other companies have struggled in the past, is the parting of the Red Sea in Act III; Kebour does his best with the lighting here, but nevertheless what should be a mega-dramatic moment is something of a damp squib.

Despite this, that superb master of the theatre, David Pountney, has once again hit the jackpot with this a colourful and inspired production. It is never easy to mount a little-known opera but this ‘Moses in Egypt’ (or Mosès in Egitto to give the original title) more than justifies his confidence in so doing.

Wonderful music, under the baton of that great conductor Carlo Rizzi, great interpretation, performance and singing, a brilliant Biblical spectacle and a romantic love story – surely enough for any audience.

 Moses in Egypt will be performed in Bristol on Friday November 14.

Touring until the end of November.

Review Carmen, Welsh National Opera, Wales Millennium Centre (Performance 2.10.2014) by Barbara Michaels

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CARMEN Welsh National Opera, Wales Millennium Stadium (Performance 2.10.2014)

Music: Georges Bizet

Libretto: Henri Melham and Ludovic Haley

Based on the story by Prosper Marilee

Directors: Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leaser

Revival Director: Caroline Chaney

Review: Barbara Michaels

Rating: [4.00]

Passion and death are dominant in the story of Carmen – the Spanish gypsy girl and her soldier lover, Corporal Don José, in a torrid relationship that is doomed from the start. This production – a second revival – by the world class WNO, pays homage to both in a blood-red fore drop (as opposed to a backdrop) that is raised and lowered between scenes. However, be not deceived – this is in stark contrast to the minimalist and monotone backdrops throughout. Although doubtless designed in order not to detract from the complexities of this justly famed opera, the sets in this instance fail to enhance it.

In the central role of Carmen, American mezzo-soprano Kirstin Chavey, who has performed the role internationally, gives us a sluttish Carmen, sitting centre stage in Acts I and II with a skirt hitched up provocatively above legs wide apart. In a season entitled overall ‘Liberty or Death’ Carmen’s switch between unthinking abandonment to lust, and the realisation that she is doomed to death whatever road she takes, fits neatly into that slot. Chavez’s singing of the habanera ‘Lamour et un osseous rebelled’, sung in Act I as Carmen enters cannot be faulted, and this high standard is maintained throughout Act III, although her declaration of independence as she chooses death rather than trading her freedom for love in the grand finale to Act IV is not entirely believable. As her besotted and desperate lover Don José, Gwyn Hughes Jones has a pleasing tenor heard to advantage in Acts I and II, gaining strength in Act III when he is pitted against the bullfighter Escamillo, his rival for Carmen’s favours, sung at this performance by Kosmas Smoriginas who cuts a glamorous figure in bullfighting garb but whose performance is somewhat lacking in the necessary charisma.

What is outstanding in this production is the singing of Jessica Muirhead, as Micaëla – the girl from back home whose love for Don José goes unreciprocated. While her role as an episodic messenger is secondary to that of Carmen, her pure soprano, soaring poignantly, in both her solo arias and duets with Don José, gained a deserved and prolonged ovation both during and at the end of the performance.

Singing and dancing the roles of Carmen’s friends Frasquita and Mércedès respectively, Samantha Hay and Emma Carrington give performances which encapsulate the spirit and mores of the piece and its times, while the chorus of the WN0 maintains its high standard throughout, both in its male singers as Don José’s fellow soldiers, and the female singers as Carmen’s co-workers in the cigarette factory, and together in the scene at the tavern run by Lillas Pastia, sung full throttle by Howard Kirk. Worthy of mention too is Huw Llywelyn’s Remendado.

Much to commend here, and an enjoyable performance, but, while in the original as visualised by Bizet the curtain comes down on Don José throwing himself onto the body of his beloved Carmen, who he has killed after her final declaration that she prefers death to giving up her freedom, in this production revival director Caroline Chaney has him walk off stage. Sorry, Caroline, but it doesn’t work.

Carmen is now on tour. For venues, dates and casting see  WNO website www.wno.org.uk

Review Nabucco WNO, ‘has audiences jumping to their feet and calling out “Bravo!” by Barbara Michaels

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Nabucco Welsh National Opera at the Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff

Music: Giuseppe Verdi

Libretto Temistocle Solera

Director: Rudolf Frey

Reviewer: Barbara Michaels

Rating: [4.00]

Showcasing the charismatic chorus of the WNO, this seldom performed yet musically familiar opera is presented in a 1950s setting in this new production. Almost ten years since WNO’s last performance (staged at the New Theatre) of the epic Verdi opera best known for its splendid ‘Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves’ (‘Va, pensiero’) director Rudolf Frey and choreographer Beate Vollack have created a production which embraces not only operatic tradition but the mores of modern times. The result is a soaring production that has audiences jumping to their feet and calling out “Bravo!”

The Biblical context of the conflict between the Hebrews and the Egyptians is the background of the story and generates a web of warlike violence and political intrigue. Nabucco (sung by David Kempster) is the King of the Babylonians whose daughter Felena (sung by Justina Gringyte), is held hostage by the Hebrews, under the jurisdiction of their High priest Zaccaria, sung by Kevin Short. Not only does Short bring a powerful and compelling bass-baritone to the role, but shows that he is also an actor of considerable merit. After defeating the Hebrews, Nabucco is convinced that he is God, and becomes insane. Baritone David Kempster – well known to WNO audiences – once again does not disappoint, bringing pathos to the role as Nabucco descends into madness. His projection is of a quasi King Lear – the richness and decadence of Babylon replacing the blasted heath of Shakespeare’s play.

The dominant female role of Abigaille, Nabucco’s other daughter and rival of Felena in succession to the throne, is a key factor and soprano Mary Elizabeth Williams, making her return after singing Tosca with the WNO last autumn, rises to the challenge superbly. A combination of lyricism and dramatic energy projects her relish for the role as well as her expertise and holds the audience spellbound.

Set designer Ben Baur deserves an accolade for opting for such devices as the singular usage of gold lamé drapes to represent the dross of the Babylonian scene and a symbolic wall (the Wailing Wall of Jerusalem, capital of Israel?) that of the Hebrews. Less fortunate, perhaps, is the inclusion of Fifties dance steps and hand-jiving. Costume designers Silke Willrett and Marc Weeger are to be commended, in particular for distinguishing touches such as the yarmulkes (skull caps) – traditional synagogue wear for men of the Jewish faith – worn by the Hebrews.

Highly commended is the dynamic conducting of the diminutive Xian Zhang whose debut with WNO this is. Zhang wields her baton with expertise over Verdi’s diverse score for this production of one of Verdi’s earliest yet most successful operas; an opera which, in the best of operatic tradition, culminates in an intense and gripping finale..

Runs at the Wales Millennium Centre until Saturday, June 15th , then touring.