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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 / 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

Review The Magic Flute Mid Wales Opera by Barbara Michaels

(4 / 5)

 

Mid Wales Opera’s exciting new production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute opened appropriately in the Company’s home venue of Theatre Hafren in Newtown to a packed audience, proving once again that opera, once regarded as mainly for the elite or the cognoscenti, is gaining in popularity across Wales. And rightly so, given that Wales has given birth to some of the best singers in the world. Mozart’s sardonic fairy-tale, with its contending forces of good and evil, has more than a hint of the pantomimic, but is none the worse for that, consisting as it does of some of the composer’s most memorable arias and lyrical duets.

This opera has it all – romance, comedy and mysticism. The connecting link which runs throughout is the quest of Tamino, a Prince no less, who sets out to find and rescue Pamina, who has been kidnapped.by the villain Monostatos by order of Sastro, head of a mystic cult.  Tamino is helped by the magic flute and  Papageno, the birdcatcher who  lives in a hut in the woods and whose idea of heaven is hearth and home with Papagena, the girl of his dreams, and a clutch of little Papagenos to make it complete.  The story, with its  mix of wonderful music , soaring arias,   lovers’ tiffs and misunderstandings, set against a background of birdsong and mysticism, also manages to reference the power of womanhood and the number three, the latter being a send-up of the Masonic w which is both spooky and hilarious.

In the role of Tamino, William Wallace is a perpetually perplexed fresh-faced Tamino with a clear tenor, heard to advantage in his duets with Pamina. Frederick Long’s Papageno pulls out all the stops in a performance that bears evidence of Long’s familiarity with the opera and grasp of the role – truly a delight.  The latter also applies to Papagena, sung by Laura Ruhi Vidal, who makes her appearance in Act II,

This wouldn’t be opera without the element of evil, the equivalent of the Wicked Fairy in pantomime, here in the shape of the Queen of the Night, Pamina’s wicked and scheming mother  ( making a change  from the classic wicked stepmother.).  This is possibly one of the most demanding soprano roles in the history of opera, with an incredibly high range with which even the most accomplished of soprano can struggle.

Full credit to soprano Samantha Hay who, cocktail-hatted,  masked and black ball gowned, takes command of the stage with confidence, soaring to the difficult top F. A creditable performance deserving of the calls of “Brava!” awarded to her at the end. The forces of evil are well represented, with Matt R J Ward as the sinister Monostatos, swooping down like a predatory crow on the unsuspecting and naïve young Pamina, sung prettily by Moscow-born Galina Averina, who has worked with Dame Kiri Te Kana and WNO’s Dennis O’Neill.

Mention must also be made of the three ladies, an enthusiastic performance and some great costumes – I particularly like the red cross outfits in Act I. The orchestra, under the baton of conductor Jonathan Lyness, segues seamlessly between the familiar themes despite Lyness’ reduced orchestration.

Scenically, the production is helped by Declan Randall’s excellent lighting – a necessary facto, as, due no doubt to budget restrictions and the difficulties of touring, scenery is kept to the minimum, a lack particularly noticeable in Act I. Not even a token bush or tree in sight in the opening scene set in a forest, although designer Richard Studer’s ploy of using  a backdrop of a giant sun /or moon works to some extent.

http://www.midwalesopera.co.uk/productions.php

THE MAGIC FLUTE Mid Wales Opera, Theatre Hafren, Newtown

Music: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Libretto: Emanuel Schikaneder

Artistic Director: Richard Studer

Reviewer: Barbara Michaels