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Review The Bear, Mid Wales Opera by Barbara Michaels

The Bear Mid Wales Opera

Based on the play by Anton Chekhov

Composer: William Walton

Libretto: Paul Dehn and William Walton

Musical Director: Jonathan Lyness

Direction and Design: Richard Studer

Reviewer: Barbara Michaels

3 Stars3 / 5

 

Composed in 1967 and based in Anton Chekhov’s play of the same name, The Bear is a comedy in one act written by Walton with the humour which characterises much of this composers work. Not perhaps the best known of operas and seldom performed, this production by MWO is expressly designed for small stages. With its minimal instrumental requirements and just three performers The Bear is admirably suitable.

Thursday last saw the start of a 16-venue tour taking in village halls and similar small venues spread across the region; an innovative idea as far as opera is concerned designed by directors Jonathan Lyness and Richard Studer with a twofold purpose – accessibility with regard to both venue and cost, and introducing opera to audiences who have never seen an opera performed and are, understandably, wary. Lyness is also intent on dispelling the myth that opera is only for the cognoscenti.

The performance at Llanfair Caereinion near Welshpool on the second night of the run, will, without doubt, have done much to dispel that myth. Comic opera is never easy and Lyness had the additional challenge of reducing the orchestration to just five musicians: violin, harp, bassoon, percussion and piano, with the violin taking on part of the original viola score.

The action takes place in the widow Yelina Ivanova Popova’s country house in around 1888, and opens with the widow’s manservant Luka bemoaning that fact that his mistress, a young and good-looking widow, is still grieving for her late husband and refusing to leave her house a year after his death. (Later we learn that in fact, far from deserving of her devotion, he had a number of mistresses)A visitor arrives in the shape of a rough and ready businessman Smirnov who has come to collect the money owed to him by the late Popova. The two spar, to the extent of preparing to point loaded pistols at one another – but are unable to fire because they have fallen in love.

With excellent musical backup provided by the minimal chamber orchestra, the three singers rise to the challenge of performing in a hall with far from ideal acoustics. Mezzo soprano Carolyn Dobbin is delightful in the central role of the widow Popova, while both baritone Adam Green, as Smirnov (the bear of thee title) and bass Matt-hew Buswell as Luka give strong performances.

Giving value for money, after the interval MWO gave some excerpts from their forthcoming Spring 2018 tour of Tchaikovsky’s Eugen Onegin as a taste of what is to come from this small but multi-talented company.

Touring around Wales

Barbara Michaels