Category Archives: Opera & classical

Review An Evening with Bryn Terfel and Friends Festival of Voice by Helen Joy

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Photographic credit Mei Lewis 

(4 / 5)

I sat on a wooden seat I remembered well from school days, from weddings, from funerals; from happy, sad and scary times. The doors open to the green light and the bird song, to the passers-by and the church bells.

We are a congregation of grey hairs, crumpled linen and sensible shoes, mostly. Only a few lift their phones to film as the orchestra and conductor walk in but this is not the place for pop concert technology and they are gently reminded as such.

This is the place for the wet velvet voices of the truly gifted to fill these old bones of a building with the beauty of centuries. And I am lost – I have no notion how to describe the feelings inside me.

Bryn Terfel – always magnificent with the strength of the lion; Rebecca Evans – the exquisitely powerful song of the angel; Hannah Stone – enchanting us all with the magic harp; Gareth Jones – blooming with the pride of leading Sinfonia Cymru. Bach, Handel and Mozart would have been thrilled – although they may have shown it in different ways!

So how do I describe an hour in their company? I thought about Epstein and his Christ In Glory looking out and over us – the bold decision of a Bishop and his Dean and Chapter in 1950 to recover their cathedral and make her grand again after the destruction of war – and found these words by their architect, George Pace: Mystery should be veiled and vista should open upon vista..seemed to sum it up rather well.

 Type of show:         Opera selection, harp

(Bach, Handel and Mozart, including Brandenburg Concerto No.60)

Title:                           An Evening with Bryn Terfel and Friends
Venue:                       Llandaff Cathedral

Conductor:               Gareth Jones
Bass Baritone:        Bryn Terfel
Soprano:                    Rebecca Evans
Harp:                            Hannah Stone

Orchestra:                  Sinfonia Cymru

Date:                              7pm, Tuesday 7th June only
http://www.wmc.org.uk/WhatsOn/voice/

 

End

Review La Voix Humaine by Helen Joy

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voix

(4 / 5)

 

Location: Her apartment, in Penarth

The party, the At Home invitation, the Do I know You routine

The glass of fizz, the canapé

The uncomfortable seating of the unknown faces

The nervous conversations, the couples chatting together apart

The admiring of the view from the windows

Lovely Weather. Yes.

Are we participants? Voyeurs? Witnesses to a woman collapsing in front of us.

Seeing her destroy herself. Hearing her pain.

Afterwards, What friends were we? We let her do it. We watched.

The clinical beauty of a voice heartbroken had sung out of the windows and over the water.

We left

Event:             La Voix Humane

At:                   A flat in Penarth

Production:         Wales Millennium Centre and Welsh National Opera for Festival of the Voice

Director:               David Pountney

Voix:                        Claire Booth

Music:                     Ricordi

Translation:        Richard Stokes

Seen:              7.45pm, 3rd June, 2016

Reviewer:      Helen Joy for 3rd Act Critics

Running:        03 Jun – 11 Jun 2016

Links:               https://www.wmc.org.uk/Productions/2016-2017/Other/LaVoixHumaine5/

 

 

 

 

Review Cavalleria rusticana & Pagliacci WNO by Helen Joy

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(4 / 5)

Before I say anything about the production, let me say a few deservedly kind words about the staff at the Wales Millennium Centre. Always prompt to reply to calls and emails, always delightful at the counter; and on this occasion, exceptionally welcoming, generous and professional. A special thanks for the glass of water at the bar and the seat at the back on my return after a sharp exit in the first half. Note to self: keep cough sweets in handbag.

CavalleriaRusticana.DavidKempster(Alfio)andWNOChorus.Photocredit-BillCooper59

All production photographs credit Bill Cooper

Now, it is an interesting thing to change seats during a production. One minute I am gazing directly at centre stage and the next, I am at the back, looking side on. We forget how staging has accommodated us over the years and a 1970s repro set is a thing of beauty from the front; a thing of inconvenience from the side.

However, it is always a lovely thing. An old Victorian Christmas card has come to life in all its grandeur and its pathos. All bonnets and bayonets, Cavalleria rusticana is a comforting production. Camilla Roberts is cripplingly and sweetly intense, David Kempster is healthily robust and Gwyn Hughes Jones sturdily in control throughout.

Pagliacci.GwynHughesJones(Canio)andMeetaRaval(Nedda).Photocredit-BillCooper1291

It is dense and fat and fulsome – a wealthy work, confidently wrought.

Pagliacci is cloaked in the familiar faded colours but we are now in the 1940s, just a touring car for clowns and a troupe of singers keep us watching, listening.

Pagliacci.DavidKempster(Tonio)GwynHughesJones(Canio)MeetaRaval(Nedda)andCompany.Photocredit-BillCooper1395

A very funny cavalier play within a play becomes a tragedy within a tragedy; and we love it all. Meeta Raval is hot opera – sexy, winsome and hopeful, a tricky character well-played and so beautifully sung. Kempster and Hughes Jones give us opera on a plate – they sing a rich dish of verse and music designed to entertain and please as only the Italians can. It is superb.

Pagliacci.MeetaRaval(Nedda)TrystanLlŷrGriffiths(Beppe)andGwynHughesJones(Canio).Photocredit-BillCooper820

It is a production reminiscent of a period of flares and strikes but contemporary in its slick direction; popular pieces deserving of the magic touch of the Welsh National Opera.

Opera, Cavalleria rusticana & Pagliacci

Wales Millennium Centre

Mascagni & Leoncavallo

Welsh National Opera

Conductor            Carlo Rizzi

Director                 Elijah Moshinsky

Designer               Michael Yeargan

Lighting Designer              Howard Harrison

Seen:              7.15pm, 26th May, 2016

Reviewer:      Helen Joy for 3rd Act Critics

Running:        Birmingham Hippodrome 9 Jun – 11 Jun

Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff 26 May – 4 Jun

Links:               https://www.wno.org.uk/event/cavalleria-rusticana-pagliacci

Cavalleria rusticana cast

Turiddu Gwyn Hughes Jones

Alfio David Kempster

Santuzza Camilla Roberts

Mamma Lucia Anne-Marie Owens

Lola Rebecca Afonwy-Jones

Pagliacci cast   Canio Gwyn Hughes Jones

Tonio David Kempster

Nedda Meeta Raval

Silvio Gyula Nagy

Beppe Trystan Llŷr Griffiths

 

 

 

 

 

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

National-Youth-Orchestra-of-Wales

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.