Category Archives: Music

“Music is at the heart of who I am” An interview with RWCMD, Student Musician Sophie Hallam

Hi Sophie, great to meet you. You are currently studying Music Performance (Flute) at RWCMD, Cardiff, can you give our readers some background information on your career to date?  

Hi Guy, it’s lovely to meet you too! I have been playing the flute for 13 years, previously studying with Berkshire Music Trust, (a registered charity who support everyone to have access to music education regardless of their background) …or Berkshire Maestros as it was known back then! Throughout my time with them I played in numerous ensembles, the most senior being Berkshire Youth Symphony Orchestra, Newbury Concert Band and Newbury Flute Choir.

Since joining the RWCMD in 2020, I have been part of the RWCMD Symphony Orchestra and also formed the Eira Quintet and the Corriera Trio with other members of the college. 

So, what got you interested in the arts? 

I have always been interested in the arts as a whole, singing was one of my hobbies from the moment I could get words out of my mouth! It was actually my mum who got me interested in playing the flute, as she had her old one in the house and let me have a try when I was 8 years old. I fell in love with it straight away and have never looked back since. 

What importance does music have in your life and how have you combined the life of a student musician and opportunities to perform live in your professional career?  

Music is at the heart of who I am. There is not much I do without having music of some description either playing in the background, or playing it myself. It is something that I use to help regulate my mental health, as I believe music can be so empowering regardless of whether you are the listener or performer. The college provide us with many opportunities to sign up to perform, both inside the college and out in the community, so it is all about finding a balance and being disciplined and realistic with how much you can take on alongside the mandatory work that comes with the degree. Alongside this, I often go to schools or learning centres with my ensembles to do community workshops, which is something I hope to continue doing throughout my professional career. 

The Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama is a Conservatoire, some of our readers may be unfamiliar with this term, how does this differ to study at a University?

That is a great question! Studying at a conservatoire is a lot more performance based than studying Music at a university. We have two solo performance recitals per year (one short, one long), a technical exam specific to our instrument, an orchestral excerpts exam and an ensemble recital. There is still some written assignments each year, however these aren’t as heavily weighted. 

Along with the members of The Eira Quintet you are part of one of the RWCMD, Woolcott Residencies, these provide students with the tools, support and mentoring needed to set themselves up as creative businesses working in a collaborative, entrepreneurial manner. They are an innovative training programme designed to support RWCMD students working within the community, and to give local people a sense of ownership of the arts. Your Residency is based at St Johns Church adjacent to The Hayes, Cardiff. How did you come to be involved in this project and what are your ambitions for its delivery? 

 The opportunity to become the artists in residence at the church was advertised to the students at college, so we applied and were lucky enough to be offered the position! We have a few different plans for concerts to deliver at the church, including one hopefully collaborating with the choir, as well as workshop ideas for local schools and members of the community. We were also honoured to perform as part of the St David’s Day service and hope to be involved in more of the church’s events across the residency. 

As part of the Woolcott Residency, each ensemble will be encouraged to curate and nurture their own relationship with a venue, delivering regular educational workshops, concerts and participatory sessions for at least a year. You will be performing in the Church in the near future, how do you approach performing in a church and what has the response been so far? 

 Yes, we are really looking forward to this performing, we have some really fun music lined up! Performing in a church definitely brings some challenges due to the boomy acoustic, so we have to make sure we over do any detail in the music for it to come across. Also, as the venue is a sacred place, we always make sure to have conversations with the church clergy to make sure they are happy with the music we perform and the way we use the space. So far we have had a very positive response from both the clergy and the members of the community towards our performances, as well as from the Mayor of Cardiff and staff from the Cardiff and Vale Music Service. 

You also recently performed in The Old Library as part of Pamela Howards, Welcome to Wales Exhibition. The exhibition had a theme of retracing the stories of immigrants who’ve travelled through and to Cardiff. As young musicians how can you reflect contemporary society?  

I think our work at the exhibition reflects the positive direction that society is going in in recognising the struggles that have happened in our history and working on preventing them from happening again. We are very fortunate to have the luxury of studying at RWCMD, so I think it is fantastic that these stories are being given the setting to be shared both with us as students and the wider community. We always strive to include a diverse range of composers in our repertoire to reflect how society is moving in this direction. 

If you were able to fund an area of the arts what would this be and why? 

If you had asked me this question a couple of years ago then I would have said music education without a doubt, as I believe that it is so important both for a child’s development but also for the future of the arts as a whole. However, in light of recent events I would now choose to fund professional orchestras and venues as they are now the organisations that are struggling with a lack of funding. 

What currently inspires you about the arts in the Wales? 

I find the Welsh Government’s attitude to music education very inspiring! They see the importance of music in schools and have put a plan in place to allow children of all ages to participate in musical activities and/or learn an instrument without any limitations of cost. I think this is exactly what the future of the arts needs and it brings a lot of hope into the sector. 

What was the last really great arts event that you experienced that you would like to share with our readers? 

I may be biased, but I recently went to the “Opera Double Bill” at the Sherman Theatre. This was a performance of Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi and Resphigi’s La Bella Dormente Nel Bosco by RWCMD’s David Seligman Opera School. As far as I know, everything from the set design to the musicians on and off stage was done by college students, and it was all to such a high standard. I enjoyed it so much that I went every night! 

If you are interested in study at RWCMD you can find out more about future Open Days here

“It’s not the reports that are going to change the world; it’s taking a plate of food to your neighbour and listening to music together.”

In this short article Priscilla Addey-Blankson, Race Council Cymru, Windrush Cymru Elders, Project Officer gives an overview of the collaborative work of Race Council Cymru and Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama to connect communities through the arts.

Hi I am Priscilla, I work for Race Council Cymru and hold the role of Windrush Cymru Elders Project Officer. I am originally from Ghana and I have dedicated the past year and a half to working closely with the Windrush Elders community.

In my capacity, I act as the primary point of contact for the RCC, Windrush Elders and their associated projects. My responsibilities extend to planning and coordinating various events and activities for the Elders, actively collaborating with them to develop, promote, and implement enriching projects. I am deeply committed to supporting and enhancing the well-being of the Windrush Elders community through my role.

The Race Council Windrush, Cymru Elders meet every Thursday at RWCMD, the group often have speakers and share information about activity in their community. The group recently had a visit from Anna Mudeka who played the role of of legendary South African singer and activist Miriam Makeba in Mama Afrika which was performed in College recently.

Anna shared the compelling narrative of her life journey, delving into her musical pursuits and cultural heritage. She captivated everyone with the introduction of the Nyunga-nyunga, a traditional musical instrument, explaining its details and how it works, gladly fielding the Elders’ inquiries.

Ms. Mudeka shared her personal challenges, drawing inspiration from her icon, Miriam Makeba, and emphasizing the profound impact Makeba had on her own musical journey.

The session unfolded with Anna Mudeka’s enchanting Swahili music, actively involving the elders in the Hakuna Matata song. The interactive nature of the performance allowed The Elders to proudly shout out their countries of origin.

In a delightful moment, Anna Mudeka introduced The Elders to the distinctive click sounds used in her songs, offering a brief tutorial and incorporating it into her performance. The session further featured a recitation of poignant poems by Nelson Mandela and Miriam Makeba, concluding with the lively Dance Pata-Pata music that had The Elders joyfully swaying.

Anna said of the activity “I really enjoyed meeting The Elders and I knew straight away that this would be a learning experience for me too. I loved listening to them talk about their love for Wales. It was a joy to share some time with them all.”

Anna Mudeka centre and the RCC, Windrush Cymru Elders

The entire experience evoked nostalgic reflections, with Elders sharing amusing childhood stories. A particularly resonant quote emerged from the session: “It’s not the reports that are going to change the world; it’s taking a plate of food to your neighbour and listening to music together.”

You can find out more about the Race Council Cymru, Windrush Cymru Elders here

You can find out more about the work of the Communities Engagement Partner at RWCMD here

Britten’s Death in Venice – A Review by Eva Marloes

 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

The WNO’s production of Death in Venice by Benjamin Britten is a symphony in black and white with minimal staging, effective choreography, and powerful singing. It’s a beautiful and haunting painting that conveys the internal anguish of the protagonist at the core of Britten’s extraordinary music.

Death in Venice is based on the novella by Thomas Mann, where Gustav von Aschenbach is a famous author who travels to Venice to find inspiration. There, he develops an attraction for an adolescent boy, Tadzio. Disciplined and ascetic in character, Aschenbach is torn between his sensual desire and his detached reason. As his attraction becomes an obsession, Venice is taken over by cholera. His passion makes leaving impossible. A glance from Tadzio makes Aschenbach rise from his chair only to collapse and die.  

Aschenbach’s travel to Venice is as internal as it is physical. The initial confusion of the mind that makes him unable to write is lifted at the sight of Tadzio, whom Aschenbach sees as the embodiment of ancient Greek beauty. Yet, the aesthetic appreciation quickly plunges Aschenbach into an internal conflict between his rational mind and his passion for the boy.

Mark le Brocq as Gustav von Aschenbach. Photo credit Johan Persson.

Olivia Fuchs, who directs this production, weaves together the different elements of music, video, acrobatics, costumes, and song with great efficacy. A black and white video is projected onto the background. It alternates depictions of the sea, at times choppy and at times smooth, Venice almost as a shadow, and Tadzio up close. The most intense moment is when Aschenbach, played by a wonderful Mark Le Brocq, is alone and the scene has nothing but a picture of Tadzio. Throughout the opera, Le Brocq excels in intensity and harrowing beauty. 

Alexander Chance as The Voice of Apollo, Mark le Brocq as Gustav von Aschenbach, and Roderick Williams as The Voice of Dionysus. Photo credit Johan Persson.

Aschenbach’s internal anguish mirrors the Nietzschean theme of the conflict between Apollo, god of reason, and Dionysus, god of passion. The battle between Apollo and Dionysus unfolds musically in the contrast between the countertenor voice of Alexander Chance as Apollo and the deep baritone voice of Roderick Williams as Dionusus. This is heightened by the juxtaposition of Apollo, dressed in a golden suit, and Dionysus, in a red suit, against the black and white background of the chorus, dressed in white when playing the hotel guests, and in black as Venetians. 

Baritone Roderick Williams and countertenor Alexander Chance are equally enthralling. Tadzio has no voice; rather he embodies beauty through movement to a percussion music which Britten developed drawing on Balinese gamelan. The choice of sensual acrobatics performed beautifully by Anthony César of NoFit State Circus, directed by Firenza Guidi, conveys powerfully the Greek idea of beauty. The homoerotic acrobatic duel between Tadzio and another boy, performed by Riccardo Frederico Saggese, is allusive yet restrained. The result is mesmerising. 

On a minor note, the production could have made better use of light design to emphasise Aschenbach’s internal turmoil. Overall, it is one of the best productions the WNO has given us.

Antony César as Tadzio, Riccardo Frederico Saggese as Jaschiu, and the cast of Death in Venice. Photo credit Johann Persson.

Cosi Fan Tutte – A review by Eva Marloes

 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

The Welsh National Opera’s staging of  Mozart’s Così Fan Tutte takes literally the opera’s alternative title, The School of Lovers, setting the action in a British school with a 1970s feel. The first act opens with the chorus in school uniforms carrying gigantic cutouts of genitals and plants onto the stage and forcing sexual innuendos on the opera. 

Don Alfonso (José Fardilha) is the headteacher betting with school kids, Ferrando (Egor Zhuravskii) and Guglielmo (James Atkinson), that their fiancés, Dorabella (Kayleigh Decker) and Fiordiligi (Sophie Bevan ) can be easily seduced. The lovers accept and dress up as late 1960s hippies with fake moustache and set off to woo each other’s girlfriend. Don Alfonso engages the service of Despina, here a dinner lady, to add pressure on the girls. Dorabella and Fiordiligi resist the admirers as much as possible but they are outnumbered and outwitted by the conspiracy.

Egor Zhuravskii as Ferrando, Rebecca Evans as Despina, and James Atkinson as Guglielmo. Photo credit Elliott Franks 

The Così Fan Tutte is by no means an easy opera for a contemporary audience. It is blatantly sexist with men putting pressure on women to the point of emotional abuse. The seducers are not only faking love but also pretend to take poison to blackmail the girls into giving in to their advances. Lorenzo Da Ponte’s drama makes fun of the late 18th century battle between reason and sentiment. Mozart’s music delivers its irony by juxtaposing dramatic arias with musical clichés to draw attention to the contrived nature of the situation. This complexity is lost under the direction of Max Hoehn. 

Hoehn’s overtly sexual comedy comes dangerously close to a Benny Hill sketch. Rebecca Evans, as Despina, gives a solid vocal performance, weighed down by the heavy-handed interpretation set by the tone of the production. There is no subtle irony to counterbalance the deep sentiment expressed by Dorabella and Fiordiligi. The occasional incursion of members of the chorus as teenagers doing nothing but playing with cutouts on the scene only succeeds in trivialising the drama. 

Egor Zhuravskii as Ferrando. Photo credit Elliott Franks.

The fine performances keep this unsteady ship afloat. Egor Zhuravskii excels as Ferrando. Sophie Bevan gives a good performance as Fiordiligi, though at times a little strained. Kayleigh Decker, as Dorabella, and Rebecca Evans, as Despina, give good solid performances. The trio Bevan, Decker and José Fardilha, as Don Alfonso, deliver an exquisite Soave sia il vento. This production cuts slightly the opera yet the orchestra, conducted by Tomáš Hanus, maintains a pace that still feels too slow. The strength of this production lies in the ensemble pieces delivered beautifully by the six singers. 

Review, Cosmic Pulses, GBSR Duo & Sound Intermedia, Kings Place, London by James Ellis 

 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Klavierstück XV SYNTHI-FOU for multiple electronic keyboards and eight-channel electronic music
STRAHLEN for vibraphone and ten-channel electronic music
COSMIC PULSES eight-channel electronic music

What was most likely my last night in London this year was spent at Kings Space. I’ve yet to get back in Space One, this evening was in their stuido space. GBST Duo and Sound Intermedia offered up delights from the real odd ball: Karlheinz Stockhausen.

Wales’s own Siwan Rhys began with the fast approaching anticipation of Klavierstück XV SYNTHI-FOU. I loved her jump suit and massive flares, very serious till the end, even with a keytar too. The galaxy of chords and mutations from the keyboards were perplexing and wonderful. The work sort of gathered up all other sounds and had the limelight with its serious demands. I’d revel at the score no doubt. It was the wild and unending scope that I’ll savour. Siwan’s pulling off the fingers of her gloves, counting this down with added musical notes was somehow amazing.

Then along came George Barton with Strahlen. This vibraphone heavy piece has the tender middle ground which might have faired more fitting as the starter. The strands of notes relentlessly patter about, a miniature theremin also proved smooth glissandi. I wanted to nod off during this point, the piece worked but had its own demands. A little too long as well, I found joy in Geroge’s golden jacket was a treat.

After the break, it was up to Ian Dearden as sound designer, who had done a fab job all night, unleashed upon the audience Cosmic Pulses. We sat in near darkness, our live duo nowhere to be seen, as we focused on this electronic piece. It was constantly modulating, loud yet not extremely harsh. I heard an electrical storm, speech, a flock of birds and even Mr Blobby all within its acoustic. Perhaps this could have even been picked as the opener? It felt two parts ludicrous, one part transcendent. 

Review, Wynton Marsalis’ Violin Concerto, Philharmonia, Royal Festival Hall, London by James Ellis

 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

The Let Freedom Ring season with the Philharmonia has seen a wide burst of music from the United States. The question still prevails: what is the American sound? What is the American sound today?

The discovery of this night goes to the opening slot from Wynton Marsalis and his Violin Concerto. Born in 1961, Marsalis offered up this piece in 2015 and it establishes a lot of the American sound that he personally knows and loves. It was quite lovely, the use of jazz, blues and country music breaks down barriers like prevoius composers before him. A solid 40 minutes, it never dragged, its merriment often pulling you into its delightful world. I could not resist the fun with some head nodding of my own. Rampant rhythm changes and a rich, orchestral pallete stoodout as highlights. Nicola Benedetti was the guiding spirit of the work, really tucking into the eccentric aspects and delighting in novel musical genres that phased through. Nicola’ passage from centre stage to the side, saw a telling duet with Matt French on drum kit, one of many thrills. Listen to this on BBC Sounds, you might just be surprised.

Leading into more light music with Duke Ellington and his Three Black Kings. This puntasic tribute to The Maji, Solomon and Martin Luther King, is pleasent enough. This large orchestra feeling on the heavy side for what I dare say passes as elevator music. Its was pretty and had some clever melodies yet I wasn’t wowed by it at all. I found more to get out of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess: A Symphonic Picture, though that took a while to take off. I guess you wait for the famous songs out of this flawed and problematic opera. Though when Summertime, I Got Plenty O’ Nuttin’ and It Ain’t Necessarily So arrive, it does pay off. The Storm scene with additional bell sounds is evokative and quite scary. Here the orchestra let loose once more and thrill in these finely written songs in orchestral form. This remains the best way to listen to Porgy and Bess, as the full opera is pretty dull.

Listen to this concert on BBC Sounds now. 

Review: Everybody’s Talking About Jamie by Gemma Treharne-Foose

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Press Night 23 October 2023

“A riotously upbeat tale for our times….” 

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie (playing at the WMC until the 28th October) has had a meteoric success since the original documentary about 16 year old Jamie New (who wants to be a drag queen) was introduced to us on our TV screens in 2011. Since then, we’ve seen a musical, an award-winning world tour and a movie starring Richard E Grant and Sharon Horgan. Attending the opening night in Cardiff with my teenage daughter, I wondered if the setting of much of the play (in a typically grim British state school) would chime with her or potentially be shot down as a sad attempt by Millennials to capture Gen Z culture…never an easy line to tread!

It’s the kind of premise that would make a Daily Mail reader’s head explode. We have a gloriously camp 16 year old Jamie New who daydreams of stardom as the next big thing in the Drag scene. His accomplice, a Muslim, hijab-wearing Pritti Pasha (Talia Palamathanan) is his best friend and wing-woman. Supporting his bold and some might say outrageous career aspirations while maintaining her own moral and religious code, the friendship represents the kind of unity and integration that we all wish for. This is never too forced, or too jarring in its earnestness. Talia Palamathanan’s voice is absolutely sensational and her solo number ‘It means beautiful’ (by Dan Gillespie Sells) is stunningly delivered and I saw multiple folks around me wiping away the tears at the end of the number.

Huge credit for first-class character work and rapport with the audience must go to Shobna Gulati as Ray and stand-in Georgina Hagan (who was replacing Rebecca McKinnis as Jamie’s Mum Margaret New the night I attended). Georgina’s two solo tracks “If I met Myself Again” in Act 1 and “My Boy” in Act 2 were truly some of the best numbers in the show. Georgina’s vocals gave me goosebumps and although I’m not usually a fan of sequences with contemporary dance peppered into some scenes, Georgina’s emotional delivery took the whole scene to the next level. The dancers accompanying her were superb – it helped to tell the story and made Georgina’s incredible vocals even greater.

Some of the set-up for Jamie’s big reveal may remind you of Billy Elliott (young Northern lad overcomes toxic and stifling masculinity and a troubled father-Son relationship to follow his dreams, plucky ‘Diamond in the rough’ family members will rally around to support him when it really counts, etc etc). But this show, though perhaps formulaic in places, manages to simultaneously pack in a great story, outstanding choreography, quality songs and a great set. I wasn’t a huge fan of the visuals on the screens behind the stage set – it made the overall look and feel a little ‘commercial-like’ or trying to be like MTV or a swishy campaign when the action and performance on stage really is enough to carry the show…no glossy brand-like photography needed!

Hot on the heels of the incredible Layton Williams who played Jamie New in 2019 (and is now fox-trotting across our screens in BBC’s Strictly), is Ivano Turco. Ivano’s performance as Jamie is spectacular. Sometimes when you listen to the original soundtrack to popular musicals, it can feel like it’s not possible to improve on this ‘original recipe’ – and no disrespect to anyone on the original soundtrack but Ivano’s silky smooth voice is like honey. His approach to the songs is beautifully soulful and his relationship and interaction with Georgina Hagan as his Mum was lovely.

My daughter and I LOVED this show. We listened to all the songs again on the drive back home and we’ll be closely following Ivano’s career – he’s destined for a glittering future. This is a gloriously upbeat tale for modern times and it’s a dopamine booster. Highly recommend it!

Review: Rick by Ricky Montgomery by Sian Thomas

4/5 stars

Ricky Montgomery’s new album, Rick, landed on shelves and streaming services today. This is an album I’ve been looking forward to since his last album, Montgomery Ricky, and a handful of singles (such as some edits of songs from his first album, and singles from Rick such as Don’t Say That, Eraser, and Boy Toy) came out.

Montgomery Ricky released in 2016, with a track list of:
This December
Line Without a Hook
Don’t Know How
Last Night
My Heart is Buried in Venice
Mr Loverman
Get Used to It
and a run-time of 35 minutes. However, his two songs, Line Without A Hook, and Mr Loverman went viral on TikTok back in 2020. Typically, they go hand in hand with various edits and memes, but when I discovered those songs and thereby the album and Ricky himself, I was floored by his music style, lyricism, and voice.

His new album Rick, had been alluded to and then promoted vigorously online, and described during his Block Party Podcast appearance as, “It’s called Rick, which is both my dad’s name, so it’s like being an adult and growing up without, you know, one of your parents. […] I am called Ricky, it’s my name that I go by, that I’ve gone by since I was a little boy – if your name is Ricky, there’s a point in your life where you consider becoming Rick.”. I found this particularly interesting as while the album progresses, it moves forward with the clear theme of rushing adulthood, self-discovery, and family relationships. I found it altogether endearing and in many instances, heartbreakingly intense.

Rick has a track list of
One Way Mirror
Boy Toy
Truth or Dare
I’m Just Joking in This Interlude (Interlude)
In Your Pocket
Don’t Say That
We Got Married Twice (Interlude)
Type A
Paper Towel
Sometimes I Need to Be Alone
Ethan’s Song
Black Fins
Ribbons (Outro)
and a run-time of 40 minutes.

Songs such as Sometimes I Need to Be Alone stuck out to me as almost classics; soft and witty with lines such as “You tell me it’s not now or never / but I can’t wait forever / It’s such a simple question / with such an easy answer” and the repeating-to-finish lines of “It’s you”, the song quickly stuck out to me as an all-time favourite. I found it particularly inspiring as it goaded out my own creative endeavours with a burst of energy and life, which is always such a gorgeously invigorating feeling when finding a song, artist, or album.

The tracks Don’t Say That, Eraser, and Boy Toy were released early in anticipation for the album, and while in my experience I didn’t see many waves from Don’t Say That and Eraser, Ricky’s song Boy Toy was a quick hit to fans, myself included. I feel this song also boosted his online presence, leading to fun artist interactions and a fantastic peek into what the wider album would look like, especially with the inclusion of the lyric video. Boy Toy was an interesting look into the art and style of the music, with fun, bouncy music and catchy lyrics, with a nice undercurrent of vulnerability and admission. 

The general “vibe” of the art and presentation of this album almost gives me the vibe of a backroom, a liminal space, a creepy story regurgitated online; however all the music itself is incredibly vulnerable and introspective, especially given songs Truth of Dare and Type A, with lines such as “Let’s play truth or dare / try to act like I’m not scared / stripped down to my underwear / it’s only show and tell” and “What a year we’ve had / you went bi, I put my gender back” respectively, being amazingly open, raw, and real. 

The two interludes and outro include some spoken-word conversations between Ricky and his mother, discussing his father, in various past situations before their divorce and his untimely passing. There was a similar interlude in the 2022 EP It’s 2016 Somewhere, and these three tracks reek of that nostalgic tone. They are heartfelt, funny, and contemplative. A nice break to the album that provide a nice context, but ultimately become skips on further relistens as the draw is of course more naturally pointed to the songs.

Ricky Montgomery is honestly one of my absolute favourite artists I’ve had the fortune to come across, as his music is youthful, fun, and cuts right to the bone. My anticipation for Rick was high; I was incredibly excited for its release and found myself up and listening to the album as early as 5:30am the morning of release! It is truly an incredible listen, and I’m beyond excited to see where Ricky goes next (hopefully, to the UK on his tour!)

Sian Thomas

La Traviata – a review by Eva Marloes

Stacey Alleaume as Violetta in La Traviata, photo by Julian Guidera

 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

In the past week, the documentary In Plain Sight, an investigation by Channel 4’s Dispatches and the Sunday Times, has alleged that comedian turned wellness guru Russell Brand is responsible for exploitative treatment of women, including rape and sexual assault. Just like when the #MeToo  movement emerged, many have questioned the women speaking out. Women are still exploited by powerful men and their sexuality is still policed.

La Traviata couldn’t be more topical. Verdi’s opera was shocking in depicting and taking the side of a ‘fallen woman’, what today might be an escort. Alas, the unimaginative direction, originally by Sir David McVicar, here by Sarah Crisp, makes it look preposterous and bizarre.

Violetta, a courtesan, meets Alfredo at a lavish party. She decides to leave that life and live with Alfredo supporting their life together financially. Unbeknown to Alfredo, his father asks Violetta to leave his son to protect his and his family’s reputation. 

Stacey Alleaume as Violetta and Mark S Ross as Giorgio Germont in La Traviata, photo by Julian Guidera

Violetta leaves Alfredo who feels spurned and acts his revenge by throwing money at her in public to repay her. Verdi thinks she has a dignity and should be respected.

It is none other than Alfredo’s father who defends her and condemns his own son for disrespecting her. Yet, only at the very end Alfredo learns that Violetta sacrificed their love and life together for his reputation. He comes back to see her dying. 

La Traviata could still be a powerful story if set in today’s times, just as James Macdonald’s clever production of Rigoletto did by setting it in Washington DC in the #MeToo era. 

The WNO’s traditional setting fails to convey Verdi’s intention. The choice of a very dark set design, presumably to symbolise impending doom, has a jarring effect on the opening scene whose frivolity and joviality are dampened. It weakens the unfolding of the tragedy and frustrates the solid performances of the artists. 

David Junghoon Kim shines as Alfredo, just as he did as the Duke in Rigoletto. He is at home with Verdi and gives a performance full of pathos. His beautiful tonality and powerful voice deliver longing and sorrow effectively. Stacey Alleaume as Violetta has a splendid coloratura. She’s at ease on high notes and bel canto. In the ‘croce e delizia’ duet with Alfredo in Act I, she seemed often overpowered by David Junghoon Kim when singing at a lower range. She is stronger in the second act with Mark S Ross, playing Alfredo’s father Giorgio Germont, and the final dying scene. Mark S Ross has a beautiful baritone voice. He gives an excellent performance.

The WNO’s chorus is strong as ever. The orchestra, under the baton of Alexander Joel, gives a solid, albeit uninspiring, performance.

David Junghoon Kim and Stacey Alleaume in La Traviata, photo by Julian Guidera.

WNO’s Ainadamar – a review by Eva Marloes

 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Ainadamar is an homage to poet Federico Garcia Lorca, who was killed by the fascist falangists during the Spanish civil war in 1936. It is told through a series of tableaux where actress Margarita Xirgu, Lorca’s muse, reminisces with her student Nuria of the time she met Lorca, her attempt at persuading him to leave Spain, and his execution.

Ainadamar, which in Arabic means fountain of tears, is one of the early works of eclectic composer Osvaldo Golijov, who excels at weaving together folk, pop, and classical music in harmonious balance. Here, Golijov brings together flamenco’s cante jondo (deep song), electronic sounds, mournful ballads, and classical opera references. His musical complexity is refined but overly dominated by longing and anguish.

The astounding performances of Jaquelina Livieri as Xirgu, Hanna Hipp as Lorca, and Julieth Lozano Rolong as Nuria, make for intense moments of longing, hope, and loss. The imaginative light design and direction keep the audience engaged countering a too simple narrative with no emotional arc.

Hanna Hipp as Federico Garcia Lorca, photo credit Johan Persson

Ainadamar opens with Margarita Xirgu (Jacquelina Livieri) preparing to go on stage as Mariana Pineda, the 19th century liberal martyr subject of Lorca’s play. She tells her student, Nuria (Julieth Lozano Rolong) of meeting Lorca in a bar in Madrid. The scene shifts from a light-hearted rumba to a nostalgic duet. Jaquelina Livieri’s agile and rich voice make Margarita spell-binding. Mezzo-soprano Hanna Hipp, as Lorca, has power and stage-presence, yet tender in her duet with Livieri.

The memory of Havana is broken by the harsh radio broadcast of fascist Falangist Ruiz Alonso. Alfredo Tejada, as Alonso, conveys power and anguish as flamenco cantaor  counterbalancing Lorca’s flamenco cante jondo

Alfredo Tejada as Ruiz Alonso, photo credit Johan Persson

In another flashback, Margarita recounts her attempt at persuading Lorca to flee to Cuba. The nostalgic and dreamlike image of Havana, the route not taken, is a sensual and playful moment that gives way to grief. Lorca does not want to run away and chooses to be executed. 

The final tableau is in the diegetic present of 1969 when Margarita is dying in Uruguay recalling Pineda’s last words of freedom. She is joined by the ghost of Lorca. The scene fades out rather than reach a climax. The sense of loss and longing dominates Ainadamar from beginning to end. There is intensity but no drama. 

Photo credit Johan Persson