In response to the lockdown triggered by COVID-19, many arts organisations have taken their work online, sharing content for audiences to view for free. However, creating participatory engagement online is much more challenging and, as a sector used to being face to face with people in their practice, it’s clear that the current restrictions change the nature of participatory arts based activity substantially.
Following a vital conversation on social media led by Guy O’Donnell, Learning and Participation Producer, National Dance Company Wales which opened a discussion on how we can deliver participatory arts effectively, a range of partners are collaborating to lead Zoom discussions for the sector where we can talk about the impact of the lockdown on our work and work creatively together to think beyond the lockdown.
In partnership with ArtWorks Cymru a series of free Zoom meetings have been set up to discuss and share current working practices in participatory delivery.
Capturing the Learning
These Zoom meetings will explore how we capture the learning from organisations and artists who are currently delivering projects. We’ll explore what methods are working well, what are we learning through this experience, and how we are adapting our working practices.
Kelly Barr, Arts and Creativity Programme Manger
Age Cymru hosted the first Zoom participation meeting. The meetings are free to attend but numbers are limited. Kelly gives an overview of the work Age Cymru has created to meet the challenges and the companies solutions to support the public and her service users in the current climate.
Hi can you tell me a little about yourself and your organisation?
Hi, I’m Kelly Barr, and I am the Arts and Creativity Programme Manager at Age Cymru, who are the national charity for older people in Wales. I have been working on participatory arts projects with all sorts of organisations for 6 years, including NDCWales, Earthfall and the Sherman.
The two main arts projects here at Age Cymru are Gwanwyn Festival, an annual celebration of creative ageing which happens in May each year, and cARTrefu, the largest arts in care homes project in Europe.
We also run other projects throughout the year that might try to tackle isolation and loneliness (like our Gwanwyn Clubs), stereotypes of ageing or representation of older people.
Your organisation is hosting one of the free Participatory Arts – Capturing the Learning / Beyond the Lockdown meetings. Why do you agree to support these events?
I am in a very fortunate position to still be working at this time, and I felt like I had a responsibility to support conversations within the participatory sector. I saw many people reacting wonderfully quickly and adapting their practice, but I also recognised that that isn’t always an option, particularly with the groups of people that I work with. I have always believed that we have much to learn from each other so it was an ideal opportunity to do my bit to support some good practice sharing.
What challenges has lockdown present to the delivery of your service?
Gwanwyn Festival has often been about bringing people together, many of whom are in the high-risk category at the moment, so we made the decision fairly swiftly to postpone the festival.
We had a duty of care to protect the people that might attend the festival events, and those that are running them.The creative ageing sector is very supportive so I have been lucky enough to have regular chats with colleagues across the UK and Ireland (Gwanwyn Festival was inspired by Bealtaine Festival), so that we can support each other to think about how festivals like ours might work moving forwards.
We also knew early on that it was going to be difficult to continue to deliver the cARTrefu project, as care homes were starting to close their doors in early March. We’re lucky to have supportive funders who we will be able to work closely with as things progress. We have multiple scenario plans but are very much being led by what care homes want and need right now.
What issues have your service users/participants faced?
I’m really proud to be part of Age Cymru, as they have been able to adapt really quickly during the pandemic to ensure that older people in Wales are supported. We run an Information and Advice line, which received a 200% increase in calls at the start of the pandemic; people needed advice on whether they should be self-isolating or shielding, where they could get support with food shopping and collecting prescriptions. People have also struggled to access their money, and needed support to find new ways to stay in touch with family members. I’m pleased to say that we have been able to help, in partnership with our local Age Cymru partners, Age Connects and other voluntary services across Wales.
What systems did you put in place to ensure delivery?
Many of us are well-used to working from home, but it’s been really important to find moments to connect with colleagues. Many of us are spending most of our day making calls to older people through our Check In and Chat service, so it’s not always easy to have online ‘meetings’ as often as we used to have physical meetings. So we’ve set up Whatsapp groups, we send voice-notes, have catch-up phone calls, send pet pictures (in my case, plants!) as well as whole team Zoom and Microsoft Teams meetings. It’s ever changing and adapting!
With my specific work, it’s about being available to our partners and being flexible and open about the realities. We’ve been taking time as a team to think further ahead, and problem solve, and take any opportunities we can. We’re also keen to use Gwanwyn and cARTrefu Facebook, Gwanwyn Twitter and cARTrefu Instagram to promote creative opportunities for older people as far as we can.
Did you have any particular challenges or success that you would like to share?
Back in April, I, like many people who are in a position to, wanted to offer out informal chats to anyone interested in running creative ageing projects, or having to adapt current projects. I had no expectations of what would come from this, only that it felt like the right thing to do, but it’s introduced me to new practitioners and individuals, which has helped to build up my understanding of what’s happening in Wales. Many people I might have struggled to physically meet pre-lockdown, due to being based in Cardiff, I have been able to connect with over the phone. I hope to continue to offer this out and to meet more people – digitally!
What are your plans for future delivery?
We’re exploring a range of options at the moment, but we’ll be working closely with our Gwanwyn Festival event organisers to look at how this might be possible. There may be ways to replicate events online, or using social distance rules. I have no doubt that our event organisers are already coming up with innovative and interesting ways to continue to connect to people and I’m looking forward to working together to adapt and learn!
With cARTrefu, we are ensuring that we are listening to care homes, and being led by their needs right now. We have developed a fortnightly e-newsletter that gives care homes low-resource activities to try, and links to lots of online performances and activities from Age Cymru (like Tai Chi classes, now on our website) and other organisations.
I’m aware that we’re now regularly speaking to people that are more isolated, some of whom who aren’t connected to the internet, so a lot of my thinking has been about how to stay connected to them and to provide interactive creative opportunities that are offline.
I’d like to highlight Age Cymru’s Friend in Need service that has launched this week, and direct anyone to it if they’ve been supporting someone who is self-isolating or shielding through lockdown. There’s lots of useful guides and resources, as well as details of our new Befriending scheme – Friend in Need
A range of organisations have worked to continue delivery of their art form during lockdown are there any that you would like to mention that you found either professionally or personally useful?
I’d love to highlight the wonderful speakers from our first Participatory Arts Capturing the Learning Event:
And I’d love to shout out to all of the cARTrefu artists whose work has suddenly come to a grinding halt with us, but have been helping us to provide creative activities for care homes remotely.
Thanks for your time Kelly
The meeting notes from Participatory Arts, Capturing the Learning – Older Peoples Zoom Meeting that Kelly hosted hosted on Thursday 28 May, can be found at the link
The perfect balance of accessibility and enchantment, Carmen provides an in-between of West-end theatrics and operatic skill.
Carmen is one of the more renowned operas and this rendition from the Welsh National Opera has been immensely popular, bringing it back for their spring season. Unlike other opera’s I’ve seen, not all the text used was sung but there was a split between spoken moments and song. This blend of familiarity meant that Carmen provided an easily accessible route into opera, especially for those that are already used to seeing musical productions. Carmen bared various resemblances to musicals I’ve seen prior such as Miss Saigon; this was both in setting and the dynamics throughout the show. Therefore, there was more breath and pause from the mixture of song and text which meant that as a whole, the opera felt much shorter to the audience watching (which I’m sure we know from the Harry Potter films is extremely important).
Throughout the whole of the piece, the ensemble were extremely invested in their own roles and their individual plots within the piece. This gave substance to the main storyline and the audience could easily follow that throughout. The children were incredible, taking their roles with maturity and giving true investment into their parts. My only criticism, being that you could notice when they were waiting for prompts which is no fault of their own but due to a lesser understanding and experience of improvising to fill the time.
It was the moments in which the focus was on the ensemble that stay with me from the performance. Examples being: The children, mocking the guards in their barracks, bringing a whirlwind of my life and joy to the stage, The women from the tobacco factory, with their relentless desire and allure, The gun smuggling scene, hiding weapons within various props and what you saw was completely different to that of the person sat next to you due to the variety and depth of what was occurring on stage, And finally, the light-hearted scene outside of the bullring, with street vendors and people haggling for refreshments.
The use of sound coming from the stage during these moments were wonderful. There were made by the ensemble to accompany the orchestra and added a sense of true passion coming from the performers. When they stamped stools, clapped and slapped their body parts, the full stage came alive radiating towards the audience.
I found the main characters struggled with their realism, especially within moments of intimacy. When Carmen kisses Jose, the kiss feels distant as the characters aren’t close enough, I almost desired a real kiss to fulfil those moments. It seems to be these moments between Jose and Carmen that lacked their depth, another example being when Carmen hits Jose with a towel but does it so softly that the anger doesn’t seep through in the way intended. In opposition to this, Escamillo embodies his character wonderfully, portraying himself in such a way that the audience dislikes his arrogance. However, physically, when posing and using stronger gestures, he needed to be more over the top and exaggerated to really stay true to his characters’ aurora.
There were moments of confusion throughout the piece for the audience, especially in regards as to what was being sang by whom. The subtitles didn’t repeat, even when a character did. Also, when two characters were singing a call and response section, this failed due to them both singing both parts combined with the lack of captions above. In order to fix the problems within the call and response between characters, it could require something as simple as just spatial re-alignment. By moving the characters to different parts of the stage, the audience would be forced to look from character to character and therefore, from one side to the other which would ensure the audience understands the conversations being had.
To conclude, I think Carmen is the perfect gateway between a musical and an opera. With song, dance and text, the audience is immersed throughout the performance and is moved alongside the storyline with the characters. However, I feel this rendition needed more work with the small details, those that change a performance into excellence. By working on the physicality of the main characters and fine tuning on key moments, the whole storyline would become easier to follow to the audience.
A magnificent experience from start to end; if you haven’t been to see a live orchestra, I cannot recommend the experience enough, especially a performance by the BBC National Orchestra.
For the annual “Dydd Gwyl Dewi” by the BBC National Orchestra and chorus of Wales, a celebration of all things Welsh occurred. The event marks the start of a partnership with Orchestre Synphonique de Bretagne and was conducted by Musical Director Grant Llewellyn. This collaboration showcased performances from the National Youth Orchestra and the orchestra’s partnership with the Welsh folk band Calan.
The performance began with the string section and wow! The bows leaped and danced in bounds of rhythm and movement with each other. Mesmerised by the spiralling and winding of the violinists, the sound echoed both visually in front of us as well as audibly, surrounding our senses. It was only in the moments of rest in which the musicians once again became human. Otherwise, you were entranced by the bountiful immersion occurring on stage.
Whilst conducting Llewellyn, would dance (although often like a dad whilst making dinner in the kitchen) with the music taking over his physical being which would emit onto us, the audience. There were moments which were Matilda-esque, playing with the electricity between the different musicians.
Flickers of imagery from time to time would overwhelm my thoughts, either that of memories of children playing in fields or of the roaming hills I would often watch through a train window. I felt at peace.
Each piece within the performance held its own providing a new stimulus for us to focus on. The second was more heavily percussioned. Again, the musicians danced, but this time it was those playing the Glockenspiel that lead the way, bouncing from note to note. My only questions being that once the choir was introduced, does the orchestra take a backseat? As the audience, both parts seemed equally powerful and important so I questioned whether one should be a lesser superior component.
With the third piece, there was also this playing of power. The soloist, Angharad Lynddon, sombre in tone but beautifully delicate with accent, teased between the everchanging balance between the orchestra and herself. This teasing continued into the fourth piece, with a sense of non- competitive play in rolling waves of triumph.
The fifth, probably my favourite of the day, balanced the old and the new in the most magical way. It balanced the factors of delicate comedy with moments that were boisterous with power in such a way we were enchanted by the relentless percussion.
This continuation of a modern fusion with the more classical was profound in the second half of the show. There was an explosion of life with odes to all elements of traditional welsh culture, with references from Caws to clog dancing. However, I do feel with the introduction of Calan, both the orchestra and choir became neglected. The percussion was replaced by the rhythmic plucking of the guitarist and the focus was turned more towards the band. I desired a more equal balance between the components, whether this could have occurred spatially, with the band in the centre of the orchestra or if it was something musical that needed to be altered. Although, it was incredible to watch Llewellyn conduct both the orchestra and the band, with the relationship between the three was clearly evident.
To conclude, the whole experience and atmosphere was a magnificent experience from start to end; if you haven’t been to see a live orchestra, I cannot recommend the experience enough, especially a performance by the BBC National Orchestra.
We are both saddened to see the vast array of cultural cancellations over the past day and proud to see so many companies putting the health of their staff, participants and audiences first.
The arts are an important part of many of our lives, and we’re also excited to see so many isolation friendly options arising. We’ve started a list of online dance and yoga classes, digital only festivals and a huge array of dance, opera, theatre, museums and CPD activities you can do from home – including full NDCWales performances. Please share this resource and let us know of other fab things we can add to it.
Mae’r ddau ohonom yn drist iawn o weld yr ystod eang o ddigwyddiadau diwylliannol sydd wedi cael eu canslo ers ddoe ac yn falch o weld cymaint o gwmnïau yn rhoi iechyd eu staff, cyfranogwyr a chynulleidfaoedd yn gyntaf.
Mae’r celfyddydau yn rhan bwysig o fywydau sawl un ohonom, ac rydym hefyd yn teimlo’n gyffrous i weld cynifer o opsiynau y gellir eu gwneud wrth hunan-ynysu yn codi.Rydym wedi dechrau rhestr o ddosbarthiadau dawns ac ioga ar-lein, gwyliau digidol yn unig a llu o bethau yn seiliedig ar ddawns, opera, y theatr ac amgueddfeydd, a gweithgareddau y gallwch eu gwneud adref – gan gynnwys perfformiadau CDCCymru llawn.
Rhannwch yr adnodd hwn a rhowch wybod i ni am bethau gwych, eraill y gallwn eu hychwanegu ato.
Gaga is a unique dance training, Gaga Movement Language גאגא שפת תנועה NYC are currently offering 3 classes a day 7 days a week with a suggested donation. https://www.gofundme.com/f/gaga-nyc-online-classeshttps://www.facebook.com/groups/mootmovementlab/
Moot – The Movement Lab are making their resources as available as possible and have great updates on other training online.
Juliard School of Performing Arts are running ballet barre classes through instagram https://www.instagram.com/juilliardschool/
You can learn the famous Rosas Danst Rosas from Anne-Teresa De Keersmaecker here online, easily done at home with a kitchen chair https://www.rosas.be/en/news/814-dance-in-times-of-isolation
The Dance Centre is offering fun online musical theatre inspired classes. https://www.facebook.com/1thedancecentre
Rebecca Lemme / Acts of Matter offers a free online Barre Class you can do without a proper Barre https://vimeo.com/398046579/cdfec48e01?fbclid=IwAR2AlsTXHcg7–4ulAhmvpNotiVJIMz3Z3v_PIYW6pKyT0bZ_JQFfJN0Cow
The Guardian has an article on tips for dancing at home.https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2020/feb/22/fitness-tips-online-dance-tutorials?fbclid=IwAR2DKtULuSlfcB7TueCKqAbegoM4OYJFrRoCX5mwpwsWO_NILQsn6sHKXxI
Overwhelmingly our dancers suggest following Yoga With Adriene for youtube yoga https://www.youtube.com/user/yogawithadriene
Cat Meffan Yoga – another office fav, with a huge range of free classes on youtube. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCVrWHW_xYpDnr3p3OR4KYGw
Our dancers also enjoy the Down Dog App which also has a ballet barre class option https://www.downdogapp.com/
Rosanna Emily Carless our Dance Ambassador is streaming free yoga classes daily on her facebook page.
AT HOME ARTS FESTIVALS IN RESPONSE TO COVID-19
These festivals aim to gather streamed content and classes in different ways – Social Distancing Streaming Concerts https://www.socialdistancingfestival.com
The Social Distancing Festival https://creativedistance.org/
Creative Distance, The Theatre Cafehttps://www.facebook.com/thetheatrecafe/photos/a.1597256473856456/2552997778282316/?type=3&theater
LIVE EVENTS STREAMED TO YOUR DEVICES
NDCWales P.A.R.A.D.E. including choreography by Caroline Finn, Marcos Morau and Lee Johnson, in collaboration with BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Rubicon Dance and Vertical Dance Kate Lawrence; filmed by The Space Arts. https://vimeo.com/248459479
Tundra by Marcos Morau https://vimeo.com/254300487
Reflections documentary and dance film from our Dance for Parkinson’s participants. https://vimeo.com/ndcwales/reflections
The Metropolitan OperaAre running nightly live streams, up at 7.30pm(EDT) each left up for 20 hours. http://metopera.org/
Rosie Kay’s 5 Soldiers https://youtu.be/2urN4ESejFo
Or Zosia Jo’s – Fabulous Animal is available to stream for donation here https://www.zosiajo.com/fab-animal-film
Berliner PhilharmonikerUse the code BERLINPHIL by March 31 to get 30-day access to the orchestra’s stunning work https://www.digitalconcerthall.com/en/home
Marquee TVOffer plays, dance, opera and theatre all to stream on a Netflix like service, offering free 30 day trial at the momentmarquee.tv
Twitter Search #togetherathome to see bands streaming intimate concerts live from their homes.
The Guardian have posted their own list now too https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2020/mar/17/hottest-front-room-seats-the-best-theatre-and-dance-to-watch-online?CMP=share_btn_fb
Filmed on StageHosts links to mostly paid streams of large Broadway shows and musicals http://www.filmedonstage.com/
You can watch the west end production of Wind in the Willows here https://www.willowsmusical.com/
Netflix and Amazon Prime VideoBoth have a small selection of stage shows to stream
Other Cultural Activity
Free Museum tours from across the world https://www.travelandleisure.com/attractions/museums-galleries/museums-with-virtual-tours
Free National Park tours https://www.thrillist.com/news/nation/google-earth-virtual-tours-of-us-national-parks
David Bowie is At the V&A MuseumAn augmented reality tour of the singer’s costumes, notebooks and life’s work. https://davidbowieisreal.com/
CPD FROM HOME
ETC have made their online training courses free during this time: training for technicians Courses.etcconnect.com The following performers offer one to one tuition, find them on facebook.
Rubyyy Jones – Cabaret MCing Paul L Martin – mentoring for cabaret performers John Celestus – one to one Flexibiliy and Strength, contortion, compare
Skillshare International Offers photography, illustration, design with a 2 month free trial available https://www.skillshare.com/
Welsh for work with Learn Welsh Cardiff – Dysgu Cymraeg Caerdydd A 10 hour course free https://learnwelsh.cymru/work-welsh/work-welsh-courses/work-welsh-taster-courses/
Say Something in Welsh A podcast based language learning system with free and paid options including Welshhttps://www.saysomethingin.com/
Duolingo The number one free language app has a great Welsh course toohttps://www.duolingo.com/
The latest WNO’s production of Carmen is engaging and well executed though still a little too traditional. The excellent cast, choir, and orchestra make this Carmen spirited, colourful, and vibrant. Julia Mintzer as Carmen is pure energy and grit. This is a great improvement from last year’s production, which lacked tension and teeth. Mintzer has stage presence and a voice to match it. She is a credible Carmen who never falls into stereotype. She’s sensual and defiant. She defies her murderer but also fate. Carmen is a woman who does not want to be confined to a role, not even the role of outsider. It is her stubborn individuality that leads her to her death. She does not flee nor does she accept to be under the authority of a man. She is not a victim.
Elin Pritchard as Micaëla is superb. She has a beautiful tonality and conveys Micaela’s pure love and compassion with dignity. Mintzer and Pritchard complement each other beautifully in their acting and their singing. Peter Auty is an impressive Don José. Giorgio Caoduro seems at ease performing Escamillo and much more convincing than he was in Les Veprês Siciliennes. All the members of the cast give strong performances. The choir is, as ever, powerful. The children, in particular, are formidable. The dance is captivating and well integrated in the scenes.
I remain unpersuaded by the setting in Brazil’s favelas and the grey brutalist scenario; yet the much improved acting and movement on stage help make this more relevant. The intent is to stress class as well as gender, but it feels too traditionalist and conventional. I would have preferred the production to be bolder. In recent years, there have been women protesting against femicide and rape in Latin America, Europe, and India. They have often used theatre and song to do so. There have been women protests against draconian abortion laws in the US, where women have donned the red cape and white hat from The Handmaiden’s Tale. Yet there is no anger in Jo Davies’ WNO production. It could be objected that opera is for a traditionalist and bourgeois elite, but I sat surrounded by many young women in their early twenties. Carmen can speak to those women. There should be not fear of being over the top. Being over the top is what Carmen is all about.
The WNO’s powerful choir and masterful conductor Carlo Rizzi excel in this disappointing production of Verdi’s Les Vêpres Siciliennes. A challenging opera, Les Vêpres, is let down by voices lacking the sufficient power required by Verdi’s music and an ill-judged set design. In contrast, the short but effective dances, choreographed by Caroline Finn of the National Dance Company Wales, add an extra dimension to the unfolding of the story.
The cast overall lacks voices that can match and rise above Verdi’s score, with the exception of Jung Soo Yun, who interprets Henri and has sufficient presence throughout the opera. The soprano Anush Hovhannisyan, interpreting La Duchesse Hélène, underperforms in the first part of the opera. She lacks coloratura, but her more spinto voice excels in the second part. The WNO have a strong Verdi repertoire. The choir is as strong as ever and so is the orchestra, conducted by Carlo Rizzi. The production is let down by the self-indulgent aestheticism of the set design by Raimund Bauer that falls for misogynistic forms.
Les Vêpres Siciliennes refers to the massacre in 1282 by Sicilians of the Angioine lords who had taken possession of Sicily from the Spanish Aragonese. Sicilians rise up in response to the rape of ‘their’ women. One need not be an anthropologist to know that women and their bodies have always been taken as the symbolic and spatial boundaries of the nation. Rape continues to be a weapon of war because of its symbolism. Women are owned by men. The enemy takes possession of land and power through rape. This includes the raping of men who are, in this instance, feminised.
In this production, the rape is conveyed by parading a dinner table displaying lavish food and naked women. This is followed by a woman with red marks on her naked back strapped sensuously to red strings. It is disturbing that in this day and age, one should remind directors that the glamorisation of violence against women is misogynistic. It is the same aesthetic indulgence seen in the film Nocturnal Animals by Tom Ford. Directors should stop making women into beautiful objects and beautiful victims. In contrast, the dance telling the story of the rape of Henri’s mother and his birth is powerful and tasteful. It is choreographed with subtlety and a touch of humour.
In Verdi’s opera, Sicilians rising up to the foreign conquerors is more than a nod to the Italian Risorgimento but also to the popular sentiment against despotic landowners. Yet the nationalistic references to dying for one’s country feel uncomfortable today, at a time of nationalistic nostalgia. The libretto cannot be changed but the set consisting of a series of black frames and an over indulgence in silhouettes makes for an oppressive atmosphere. The aestheticism of this production fails to grapple with the issues and to support the interpretation on stage.
Produced by the Welsh National Opera, Les Vepres Siciliennes, stands as one part of the trilogy released this spring term. This was my first experience of an opera, only previously dabbling my toes in with WNO’s collaboration with National Dance Company Wales in Parade. I felt like something which utilised dance in which I’m more familiar would act as a great entry to the world of opera. And in that, I was correct.
Before the performance began, both at the very beginning and after the interval, the orchestra gave an instrumental opening. This transcended us into the themes of the piece, providing context and a gateway for what we were being propelled into. These were incredible and whisked you in and out of your own thoughts, trying to make sense and pre-empt what was to come.
As the curtains raised, a simple, stripped back set emerged. A rectangular frame which was lit with a box light, formed a storyboard backdrop in which the piece would take place. The set remained as one of my favourite components within the piece, it really made the performance more modern and with the constant re-arranging of various frames, kept the audience’s attention focussed. The frames allowed the audience to see difference upon the stage and engage in different perspectives, that of memories of the past and the difference of location in the present. However, one concern from the set is that due to its’ abstract nature, it reduces the accessibility of the piece. For those with hearing difficulties, the lack of a definitive nature within the background provides no context and makes the plot hard to follow. Also due to the thickness of the frames, your view is restricted regardless of positioning of seat which means at times you can’t see key moments of what’s occurring on stage.
Also, along the terms of accessibility, the placement and structuring with the subtitles was problematic. It was severely difficult to see the stage and read the subtitles at the same time so often important moments of the plot were missed (both in context from the subtitles and in performance on the stage). It also became confusing when two characters were holding a conversation as there was no way to see difference within the text as to who was stating what and whether the text was in time with the vocals or not. I would propose maybe matching a colour to a performer and from there more of an understanding could be built.
The imagery throughout the piece was beautiful in its simplicity. It played with shadows and outlines and how people fell into and out of the light using silhouettes to make powerful, thought provoking statements. The use of darkness created the ambience for the work but was broken by bright coloured costumes which created contrast from the otherwise black costumes.
A piece of imagery that still resonates with me now is that of a gold table being dragged around the stage with the dancers limp and naked, draped over the table like meat at a banquet dinner. This embodiment from the dancers really added depth to the performance throughout and I often found the moments in which the dancers were included provided the much-needed breath for the performance, often bringing a sense of lightness to what would be an otherwise dark stage. The involvement of such an abundance of dance within the opera was a brilliant decision as added the much needed movement and transitions onto the stage. This also provided light-heartedness and a more intense context for what was happening within the storyline.
I felt the performers, both ensemble and main cast, otherwise lacked the embodiment of their characters which was needed. They sang and performed beautifully but the small details such as the realism of touch and emotion seemed absent. For example, at times of compassion, hands were resistant from those whom they were compassionate towards. These moments were both when the performers were acting and responding to what was being sang. This intention would normally provide clarity into the storyline of the piece and without investment from the characters, the emotional plot of the story became difficult to follow.
In Summary Les Vepres Siciliennes provided a perfect gateway for me into the world of opera. The mixture of dance, choreographed by Caroline Finn, and opera made it a lot more accessible for me and with such beautiful imagery throughout I was enchanted and engaged.
Mozart’s beautiful arias are performed with dexterity and spirit by an excellent cast who is able to convey the levity, depth, and social criticism of The Marriage of Figaro. The strong performances are supported by the formidable WNO’s choir and orchestra conducted with brio by Carlo Rizzi.
The choice of scenario and early 18th century costumes indulge the fancies of the audience for a delightful farce where love is a game. We laugh at the jokes and smile at the subterfuge. That sense of play and adventure that pervades the opera might fool the audience into thinking that the Marriage is theatre that has little to do with reality; yet the apparent lightness allows a radical critique of class and gender.
Based on Beaumarchais’ La Folle Journée (1784), Lorenzo Da Ponte penned a revolutionary libretto, which shines a light on the lives of ordinary people. It is servants who are the protagonists of the opera. We get into their bedrooms, literally, and hear their perspective on their social status. Figaro is about to get married to Susanna and the two ponder their situation in life as servants. At any moment Figaro can be called and sent away by his master, the Count d’ Almaviva, while Susanna is subject to sexual harassment from the Count.
The choir of servants sing to the Count in gratitude for giving up his ‘droit de seigneur’, his right over his servants to spend the nuptial night with the bride. Although there is no evidence of such a practice, the reference emphasises the lack of rights servants had vis-a-vis their lords. It is sadly poignant today, not only in the aftermath of the #metoo movement, but also at a time when labour, including professional labour, is exploited and rights have been eroded by moving to increasingly precarious work.
In the opera, the women are conscious of their weak social status and use marriage to gain independence. They play with the men’s sexual desire pretending to be unfaithful. Susanna exposes Figaro’s lack of trust, the Countess makes the Count reckon with his unfaithfulness, while the peasant girl Barbarina blackmails the Count to marry Cherubino and thus improve her social status.
The twists and turns are not merely for comic effect, they make the characters face themselves, their weaknesses, desires, and values. The Countess, interpreted by the superb Anita Watson, is afflicted by her husband’s philandering. By making her husband face up to his unfaithfulness, the Countess makes him realise that there is no happiness in chasing women. The Count finds redemption in being forgiven by the Countess.
In this well-performed production, Soraya Mafi (Susanna), Anita Watson (Countess), Leah-Marian Jones (Marcellina), Anna Harvey (Cherubino), and David Ireland (Figaro) ensure a perfect balance of merriment and depth.
I am walking up the High Street in St Asaph on an unseasonably warm January evening. The final remnants of Christmas hang in shop windows. The town’s tree is already stripped bare. It stands awkwardly on the side of the street. Meanwhile, opposite, a yellow glow emanates from the inside of the Cathedral. It stands, as always, resplendent at the top of the hill. As I reach the door, I can hear Robert Guy, Artistic Director of the NEW Sinfonia Orchestra, introducing the opening piece. I pull out my phone to show my ticket and notice that I am three minutes late. As a result, I decline the kind steward’s invitation of a seat at the front, and wander to a row of seats at the back. It helps that I know the place, for it allows me to settle immediately and enjoy the final section of Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty Waltz. It receives the first of many rapturous applauses on the night, and deservedly so. Made up of professional musicians from across North Wales and beyond, Robert and his brother, Jonathan, have assembled a talented cast whose collective sound brings the bricks of this ancient venue to life. It is no wonder that the well-dressed crowd in front of me look relaxed and fully engaged in every bit of what follows on this mild eve.
There is a rousing rendition of Strauss’ Thunder and Lightning Polka, a sprightly performance of Chit-Chat Polka, and a fascinating piece by Vittorio Monti called Czardas. However, it is a special guest appearance by Erin Rossington that particularly grabs my attention. Winner of the ‘International Voice of the Future’ at the Llangollen International Eisteddfod in 2019, the Guildhall School of Music student both looks and sounds like a future star. Dressed resplendently in a silk dress, she delivers a note-perfect performance of Porgi Amor from the Marriage of Figaro. Following that up with Waltz of My Heart, I am struck by the gentle power of her vocals. Hers is a voice that never overwhelms. Instead, it reaches out and softly touches the wooden beams that adorn the roof of the Cathedral. It is strong, but not overbearing; confident without being arrogant. It sits beautifully alongside the orchestral score.
Rossington is indeed a rising talent, as is Jonathan Guy, who showcases his aptitude for composition with a new piece called Fire Dance. Coming at the start of the second half, it is an intriguing bit of music that reflects the tempestuous element of the title. The low tones of the introduction speak of danger, before a more uplifting section produces something of a magical effect that, in the final part, produces a majestic sound that captures the awful beauty to be found in flickering flames. It is a far cry from those fireside images of Christmas which are now fast being extinguished from the memory for another year. In their place, thoughts turn to those caught up in the Australian bushfires. It is fitting that an encore of Auld Lang Syne is touched with poignancy. The string section is solemn, and the audience, in unison, lend a certain pathos to the closing moments of this excellent concert. Thunderous clapping gives way to a politely crowded exit. And as I walk out into the pleasant calmness of the weather, I wonder if there could have been any better way to start the New Year? The answer, I conclude, is no.
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