Tag Archives: Wales Millennium Centre

REVIEW: I SHOULD BE SO LUCKY,WMC #Cardiff 28.11.23

The wedding is OFF, but the honeymoon is ON!

In a world of AI, EDM and BPM*, one acronym from over thirty years ago still lasts the time. SAW (Stock Aitken Waterman) were a highly successful British songwriting and production trio in the late ’80s and early ’90s, creating numerous pop hits for artists like Kylie, Rick Astley, Bananarama, and Jason Donovan. Mike Stock, Matt Aitken, and Pete Waterman crafted a signature sound that dominated the charts, known for its catchy hooks and energetic beats, contributing significantly to the era’s pop music landscape. And in fairness back in the 80s/90s – their chart presence was sometimes mocked – but fast forward thirty years, how many jukebox musical have been made about The Smiths, New Order or Nirvana?

I Should Be So Lucky is about family, friends, love and great times. Ella and Nathan, a young couple, hopelessly in love, and about to take the biggest step of their lives – marriage. Until it all goes wrong. Will they be together forever, or will he make her cry and say goodbye?

To start, I need to declare I do love jukebox musicals. They’re not everyone’s cup of tea, but there’s space in musical theatre for something with a feel-good factor – not all musicals want to make you cry (Wicked/Les Mis). One of the most successful is of course Mamma Mia, so there’ll always be some kind of comparison. A common complaint can be that the songs are crowbarred in and don’t really follow the narrative of the story – I can’t say this wasn’t the case of I should be so lucky, but when the story is crafted by Debbie Issit (Nativity-The Musical, Christmas at Mistletoe Farm), there’s enough character for everyone to relate to. It does feel though that there’s just too much going on, and at times I felt instead of jumping back and forth each characters’ story arc, just concentrate of two sets of story, and make the others into a sequel? Just an idea?

Set wise, simple but effective and worked so well – touring productions must find it difficult to adapt to different venues in short spaces of time – but sound and lighting was also spot on.

Cast was on point – and actually looked like they were enjoying themselves – you do often see productions where for performers, it’s just a job. Kayla Carter’s reimagined version of Sonia’s you’ll Never Stop Me Loving You was the stand out moment of the night. As well as Dead or Alive’s you spin me around in a Turkish folk style. I need this soundtrack album in my life!

A proper feel good jukebox musical with so many classic (and yes I mean that sincerely) SAW songs. Even Donna Summer’s Breakaway from 1991.

Loved also seeing Pete Waterman doing selfies with people. A true British music legend, who at the time wasn’t regarded as cool. The man is the epitome of Britishness cool – and the back catalogue of him, Mike and Matt, provides the soundtrack to many a night out of the 80s and now.

If you want a real good, feel good night out in the theatre, I should be so lucky is definitely that. It’s all there especially for you.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewer: Patrick Downes

PS.

  • AI – Artificial Intelligence
  • EDM – Electronic Dance Music
  • BPM – Beats Per Minute

Review, Branwen: Dadeni, A Wales Millennium Centre & Frân Wen Production, by Gareth Williams

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

A turning point? Branwen: Dadeni certainly feels like it. This “epic new Welsh language musical” heralds a potentially exciting new era for the nation’s theatre. Why? Because it is by far the most ambitious, large-scale theatre production in the Welsh language yet. Testament to what can be achieved when the might of Wales Millennium Centre meets the creative ambition of Frân Wen. It is no understatement in describing the show as worthy of a West End run. The culmination of a long-held confidence by some that our culture is worth investing in.

Adapted from The Mabinogi, this new version exports the mythic weight of the original into a bold and contemporary style. The result is a classic piece of theatre, Shakespearean in size, but with a cutting edge that makes it feel fresh and new. The musical element is a key component to this: a combination of choral tradition, music hall operetta, Sondheim-influenced harmonies and Disney-inspired ballads. Seiriol Davies has not been afraid to draw from the wide pool of musical theatre history and infuse it with Welsh character to create a score brimming with personality. The result is a captivating story. An absorbing commentary on power, family and history that could have been heavy or dictatory but has, instead, been generously and lovingly portrayed.

The costumes fit nicely with each of the characters: from the flowing dresses of the idealist Branwen (Mared Williams) to the army-like uniform of her renegade half-sister Efnisien (Caitlin Drake). So too, the choreography captures beautifully their contrasting personalities: particularly the swish swooning of Matholwch (Rithvik Andugula) in the presence of a buttoned-up Bendigeidfran (Tomos Eames). It is in the songs though that this royal cast of kings, queens and consorts really comes to life. And when one hits the right note, the emotional affect can be overwhelming. Take the tale of the snowfall for instance. The way that Mared gently presses her vocal against the window through which her character witnesses such a scene. So poignant and hopeful, it brings a tear to the eye. Or Gillian Elisa’s vivacious solo, in which her character runs roughshod over the King to proclaim where true power lies. It is delivered with such abundant force as to raise a rapturous applause from the audience.

These are moments which are memorable not just in the context of the show. They make an indelible mark on the mind in the way that some of the best musical theatre productions do. Finding yourself driving home with lyrics still playing out in your head. Fingers tapping the melody on the steering wheel. Feelings still flowing through your body as you go to bed. This is a sure sign that Branwen: Dadeni has in some way been a success. It certainly lays down a marker for future work, which is as challenging as it is inspiring. At a time when investment in the arts is in danger of falling, may Branwen: Dadeni be the start and not the end of something.

Reviewed on the final night at Pontio Arts Centre in Bangor by Gareth Williams

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

Review: Heathers the Musical, Wales Millennium Centre by Vicky Lord

“September 1st, 1989. Dear Diary…”

Veronica Sawyer, Heathers the Musical

Heathers the Musical, based on the 1988 black comedy film of the same name, follows Westerberg High’s Veronica Sawyer as just another nobody dreaming of a better day. But when she joins the beautiful and impossibly cruel Heathers and her dreams of popularity may finally come true, mysterious teen rebel JD teaches her that it might kill to be a nobody, but it is murder being a somebody.

Continue reading Review: Heathers the Musical, Wales Millennium Centre by Vicky Lord

REVIEW: GREATEST DAYS – 27.6.23 CARDIFF

Back in 2018, four prime ministers ago, a new musical based on the music of Take That was born. It was called “The Band” and the BBC did the show “Let it Shine” to discover the next big boy band for it. They were called Five to Five.

Fast forward to 2023, Take That celebrate the 30th anniversary of their first number one Pray, and “The Band” becomes Greatest Days – The Official Take That Musical!

There has been another musical based on Take That – Never Forget – which by the way, premiered at Wales Millennium Centre in 2007!

So, to Greatest Days.

It’s Manchester 1992 and its based around five 16-year-old girls for who ‘the band’ is everything.  They then reunite 25 years later, and you see how life has taken each girl down a different road.

Written by Tim Firth – who also penned Calendar Girls The musical with a certain Gary Barlow, its story is nostalgic and funny. The strength of a “Jukebox Musical” can sometimes be measured in how well it would stand without the music – Greatest Days does this so well. The nostalgia you feel could easily equate to how your own life has panned out in the last thirty-one years. There’s a warmth to each character, and something familiar that feels real.

Production wise it’s brilliant.

The “band” – well put together, but as I’ve previously said, their performances don’t drive the story forward. They provide the backing track, but the main story is carried by the performances of the main ensemble – the young and current versions of each. Going back to what I said about the warmth in each character, each performance was flawless. Sometimes with touring musicals, it’s about the one person being in it, granted Kym Marsh’s Rachel is fab, but each person took you on their own journey of nostalgia. There wasn’t one stand out moment – the story and performers are the stand outs of Greatest Days.

Back in 2018 when I reviewed “The Band” I did something a little bit cheesy and included some Take That song titles in recommending this musical.

But you’d wait for life for that. Okay Babe, are you happy now I found heaven? I might just end up all night, and then never forget to do this review pray-sing The Band. You do what you like, I’d love to hold up a light and come back for good to see this again! Patience, then you’ll rule the world.

Did I love “Greatest Days”? Sure!

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

REVIEW: @ImPatrickDownes

Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Wales Millennium Centre

Part of an extensive bibliography, Neil Gaiman’s 2013 novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane escaped adaptation until previews for this play began in December 2019. A successful West End run, and Olivier nominations, followed to culminate in a UK and Ireland tour. In bringing Gaiman’s famous imagination to life, friendship, storytelling, and family are central to an epic, magical tale of a childhood once forgotten and the darkness lurking at its edges.  

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=weC3RUeP2zU

Following the clearly creepy visuals of Henry Selick’s Coraline (2009) and the excellent chemistry between Michael Sheen’s Aziraphale and David Tennant’s Crowley in Good Omens (2019), The Ocean at the End of the Lane presents unique challenges to theatre makers. Director Katy Rudd, Adaptor Joel Horwood, and cast tackle fantastical and gritty elements with equal sincerity resulting in an evening of spectacle, relatability, and stunning visuals enhancing the original material. 

Keir Ogilvy brings a sensitive and well-meaning 12-year-old boy to life. It is a difficult age at which to understand why, in the aftermath of his mother’s death, his Dad (Trevor Fox) burns the toast and brings in a lodger, forcing him to share a room with his energetic little sister (Laurie Ogden). All that before said lodger kills himself in the family car. Ogilvy keeps the boy grounded, but questioning and immovable whilst open-hearted as he discovers his wit and bravery along the way. Ogilby and Fox share many expertly gut-wrenching scenes ensuring the audience cannot look away for a second. 

Millie Hikasa (Lettie) and Keir Ogilvy (Boy)

Millie Hikasa is a standout as Lettie Hempstock. This production emphasises Lettie’s mysterious complexities whilst keeping her immediately recognisable to all who know girls like her, want their girls to be like her, or are girls like her. Hikasa packs Lettie with undeniable charm, courage, creativity, and tenderness to provide a comforting presence throughout. Alongside Kemi-Bo Jacobs as Ginnie Hempstock and particularly Finty Williams as Old Mrs Hempstock, their clan sit as both the heart and levity of the show, gently guiding both boy and audience through darker, complex fantastical elements. 

Millie Hikasa (Lettie) and Keir Ogilvy (Boy)

Charlie Brooks provides an effortless spine-chilling edge to this production as Ursula, both in her actions and the hard truths she perceives. Brooks and the tight, talented ensemble are at the central to the play’s more theatrical, fantastical elements but to describe them would be a spoiler. This production is perfect for fans of theatre magic and illusion using puppetry, movement, set, prop, and lighting design to truly elevate an already captivating performance. 

Keir Ogilvy (Boy), Finty Williams (Old Mrs Hempstock) and Millie Hikasa (Lettie)

It is unfortunately often the case that the soundtracks of straight plays fall under the radar, or are not utilised. However, Jherek Bischoff’s compositions and Ian Dickinson’s sound design ensured the soundtrack sat in equal measure with all other elements of this production. You will leave the theatre wanting to listen to this soundtrack as much as any musical production.   

This production features theatrical narrative and design imaginative and beautiful in equal measure. There truly is something in this show for everyone, especially young and old. Particularly, anyone interested in the creation of captivating theatre design should not miss their chance to see this show! 

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is playing at the Wales Millennium Centre from 30 May – 3 June 2023. More information on the show and how to book tickets here.

REVIEW Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: The Musical, Wales Millennium Centre

Sweets are miraculous inventions. With a little sugar and a dash of imagination, you can make something magical. It’s the sort of magic that suffuses Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl’s classic tale of a young boy whose life changes when he wins a Golden Ticket to meet the Candy Man himself: eccentric and elusive chocolatier Willy Wonka.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hX3lvcr8HQU

Originally made into the classic 1971 movie-musical starring Gene Wilder, the Leeds Playhouse Production now embarks on a grand UK Tour after successful stints on Broadway and the West End. Directed by James Brining and adapted by David Greig, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a feast for all the senses! Classic tunes ‘Pure Imagination’ and ‘The Candy Man Can’ sit along sumptuous new songs by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, the duo behind the musical Hairspray, with orchestrations by David Shrubsole. It now comes to Cardiff’s Millennium Centre, which seems fitting given that it’s the hometown of author Roald Dahl.

The cast of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: The Musical. Image Credit: Johan Persson.

The role of Charlie is shared by four actors (two boys and two girls) and was played on the press night by Isaac Sugden. He brings a real warmth to the role, caring and compassionate, and it’s a great choice to turn Charlie into an inventor-type who repurposes lost and broken things. His scenes with the wonderful Michael D’Cruze as Grandpa Joe are some of the show’s best, as are the scenes in the Bucket household. Christopher Howell, Kate Milner Evans, Emily Winter and Leonie Spilsbury beautifully portray the rest of the loving Bucket clan, and also double up as the beleaguered parents of the other four Golden Ticket holders, who are just as delectably loathsome as their sprogs.

Marisha Morgan and the cast of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: The Musical. Image Credit: Johan Persson.

And boy do they get their just desserts! Marisha Morgan is on top form as Violet Beauregard a gum-popping poseur rebranded as a sort of obnoxious TikTok star. Robin Simões da Silva as Augustus Gloop, Teddy Hinde as Mike Teavee, and Emma Robotham Hunt as Veruca Salt (stepping in for Kazmin Borrer) bring real panache to their roles, while Ewan Gillies and Lucy Hutchison are delicious as dynamic TV duo Jerry and Cherry Sundae. Whenever each ‘bad egg’ is hoisted by their own petard, you know the Oompa Loompas are on their way for a musical ‘I told you so’ – here, they are reimagined as dancing automatons, lending a steampunk quality to Wonka’s factory that gives it a Metropolisesque edginess (and nimbly sidesteps the characters’ problematic origins). It’s their scenes that best showcase Emily Jane Boyle’s zesty choreo and Simon Higlett’s costumes, especially in the standout set piece ‘You Got Whatcha Want’.

Gareth Snook and the cast of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: The Musical. Image Credit: Johan Persson.

And you’ll really get what you want with this show’s portrayal of Willy Wonka, played by the sublime Gareth Snook, who really makes the character his own. He’s got more layers than a Wonka Whipple Scrumptious Fudgemallow Delight: at turns sinister, sarcastic, and sweeter than an Everlasting Gobstopper. Plus, his rendition of ‘Pure Imagination’ was truly scrumptious!

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: The Musical. Image Credit: Johan Persson.

The show is a candy-coated fantasy, featuring eye-popping visual effects and illusions courtesy of Simon Wainwright and Chris Fisher. The way they convey the factory’s myriad rooms, from the chocolate river to the fear tunnel, brings real spectacle to the stage. Choc-a-block with gorgeous sets, toe-tapping songs, and more sweetie puns than you can shake a (candy) stick at, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is pure confection perfection!

Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: The Musical is playing at the Wales Millennium Centre from 3 – 20 May 2023. More information on the show and how to book tickets here.

Review by
Barbara Hughes-Moore

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Review Peaky Blinders – The Redemption of Thomas Shelby,Ballet Rambert, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff by Barbara Michaels

Peaky Blinders – The Redemption of Thomas Shelby

Ballet Rambert, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff

Writer and Creator: Steven Knight, CBE

Choreographer and Director: Benoit Swan Pouffer

Composer and Orchestration: Roman GianArthur

Reviewer: Barbara Michaels

 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

No need to stress if you didn’t watch the TV series.  Ballet Rambert’s Peaky Blinders is in a class of its own, unique both as a production and as a dance form. Although danced in the main in contemporary dance style with more than a touch of street dancing – razors, knives etc – choreographer and director Benoit Swan Pouffer uses classical dance moves too. Not only uses them but dares to improvise, building on to the traditional with innovative use of classical ballet moves – with a dancer even performing a plié in mid-air.

Beginning with a brilliantly depicted scene from the battlefields of World I, the ballet moves through the life of one Tommy Shelby down the years, showing through him the ways in which those who fought in this horrendous war were affected throughout their lives even in they survived – a living death, as it were.  As it moves on through the post-war years, Tommy’s life segues into a violent world full of murders and gang warfare, with knives and razors flashed – the latter hidden in and the raison d’ètre for – the peaked caps that gave the gang its name. This historically accurate production is not for the faint-hearted, but is well worth taking a deep breath and immersing oneself in what it portrays through dance form.

Creator Steven Knight, who wrote the original script for TV and together with Pouffer, adapted it into dance form, uses a live band on stage throughout for gunfire, air raid sirens and a plethora of music and sounds which works well in tandem with ever-changing themes composed and orchestrated by Roman GianArthur. Natasha Chivers’ lighting aids and abets, of particular note being the scene with searchlight beams and in the second half where an opium-fuelled Tommy descends into a living hell.  Benjamin Zephaniah’s voiceover is both necessary and succinct, while set designer Moi Tran’s clever sets lend an authentic and atmospheric touch throughout: a colourful carousel lends a light touch for one scene. Having the dancers on two levels gives additional scope but at this venue means that audiences in stall seats are unable to see the dancers’ legs!  Ben Zephaniah’s voiceover is both necessary and well done but pre-recorded vocals – recordings of different tracks which, despite being relevant, are over-loud for much of the time.  

The love story between Shelby and his long-time sweetheart disappears and resurfaces throughout lending a necessary lightness of touch, as does a great scene in the second half with dancers dressed in costumes by costume designer Richard Gellar reminiscent of photos of Marilyn Monroe in her early days (a la Moulin Rouge or Talk of the Town for those old enough to remember these iconic London night spots!)

Ballet Rambert is justifiably famed for the high standard of its dancers, and this production underlies this with memorable moves executed with skill. Mention must be made here, in addition to the expertise of the dancers – notably Naya Lovell, Simone Damberg Würtz and Caiti Carpenter -of Musa Motha who, despite losing a leg to cancer when he was just ten years old, does not let that factor deter him in any way, resulting in a performance that is a privilege to watch not only for its depiction of the role but its perfection of technique.

Runs until Saturday March 25th at Wales Millennium Centre Cardiff, then touring.

Review The Magic Flute Welsh National Opera, Cardiff Millennium Centre

Music: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Libretto: Emanuel Schikaneder

Director and English translator: Daisy Evans

Designer Loren Elstein

 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

With its contending forces of good and evil, Mozart’s sardonic fairy-tale The Magic Flute, has more than a hint of the pantomimic.  To use the words of the vernacular, Daisy Evans new production for the Welsh national Opera, sung in English with Welsh sub-title, sure does that in spades. Opera afficionados used to the more traditional – as in WNO’s much loved version last staged in 2005 – need to take a breath and prepare.

Mozart’s ‘Flute,’ first performed in Vienna in 1781, is reset by Evans into today’s world, with more than a hint of Star Wars, laser beams, fluorescent multi coloured lights et al. Not always easy to follow if you neglected to read the excellent programme notes. The connecting link which runs throughout is Schikanender’s libretto telling the story of the quest of Tamino, a Prince who sets out to find and rescue Pamina, daughter of the Queen of the Night.  Pamina has been kidnapped by the villainous Monostatos by order of Sarastro, head of a mystic cult. Encouraged by ladies of court, Tamino is helped by the magic flute and Papageno, the bird catcher who lives in a hut in the woods and whose idea of heaven is hearth and home with the girl of his dreams.  The story, with its mix of wonderful music, soaring arias, lovers’ tiffs and misunderstandings, set against a background of birdsong and mysticism, strongly references the fight between good and evil, the power of womanhood, all being brought to the fore by Evans, who has added and subtracted spoken passages in a translation that allows at times for a contemporary use of words that does not always sit well.

And thereby lies the rub, for in her endeavour to give the fairy-tale that is The Magic Flute a modern twist, Evans goes overboard. Mozart’s light-hearted touch is lost at times amidst a welter of light beams, however skilfully used and puppetry, however effectively used. Under the direction of puppeteer Matthew Forbes flocks of birds flutter intermittently around Papageno’s head.  Used throughout, this is a clever idea (although it might have been preferable to dress those manipulating the strings in black) but a tad over used – it is possible to have too much of a good thing.

Nevertheless, consisting as this opera does of some of the composer’s most memorable arias and lyrical duets, this production does still keeps much of the romance, comedy and mysticism of the original. Thanks being due in no small measure to the expertise of the orchestra of the Welsh National Opera under the baton of Freddie Brown and the admirable chorus. The latter, despite being attired in headgear similar to that of a beekeeper in the second half, is as always in fine fettle, although under used in this production. At Saturday night’s (March 11th) performance, British-born soprano April Koyejo-Audiger made her WNO debut with a pleasing soprano and good sense of timing opposite South African singer Thando Mjandana, whose melodic tenor stands him in good stead in the lyrical duets with Koyejo-Audiger. Neal Davies is a quirky Papageno who combines comedy with sympathy both for being put-upon and for his unwanted single existence.

Audiences familiar with this opera are known to wait with baited breath for the high-octave reach called for by the Queen of the Night. Lyric-dramatic coloratura Julia Sitkovetsky does not disappoint with a soaring performance in high-octave and extremely difficult solos which even the most accomplished of singers can struggle to reach.  Carmarthenshire-born Alun Rhys-Jenkins, whose specialises in tenor character roles, plays the supposedly frightening Monostatos for laughs more than terror, with a touch of the game show host at times in the role of sidekick to a far from sinister Sarastro sung by a bewigged Jonathan Lemalu with more than a touch of the Georgian gentleman.

A minimal and modernistic set is the background to an innovative and clever production. Whether or not this is a welcome addition to the multiple performances world-wide of one of Mozart’s most popular operas remains to be seen.

Snap: Less is sometimes more!

Runs until March 17th in Cardiff, then touring.

Tags: Alun Rhys-Jenkins, April Koyejo-Audiger,Cardiff, Daisy Evans, Emanuel Schikaneder, Freddie Brown, Jonathan Lemalu, Julia Sitkovetsky, Loren Elstein, Matthew Forbes, Neal Davies, Thando Mjandana, The Magic Flute, Wales Millennium Centre, Welsh National Opera, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart,