Theatre in Wales

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At Opra Cymru

Opra Cymru- Macbeth , Aberaeron Memorial Hall , September 22, 2012
At Opra Cymru by Opra Cymru- Macbeth   In Southern Africa, Horatio Clare tells us in “A Single Swallow”, the tiny swallow is to be found following clusters of elephants. So with theatre in Wales; summer has been the season for the plumply endowed national companies. Come Autumn and the battling little companies follow. Frapetsus, Iolo, Cwtch, Mappa Mundi are all preparing for the road. The first to arrive is Opra Cymru on a fifteen-venue tour of “Macbeth.” It kicks the season off on an exhilarating high.

Firstly, it is a clever choice of production. “Macbeth” lies just outside the big eight, which are the most performed from the Verdi repertoire. Its status, akin to “Force of Destiny”, is a regular in America but productions in Britain have been only occasional. It has the virtue of a plot that is lean, linear and familiar. There is none of the glancing down at the programme that usually accompanies the tortuous “Il Trovatore.”

Secondly, the adaptation by Opra Cymru is fitting for its venues and audiences. Sioned Young's translation navigates a skilful path between nineteenth century Italian and Shakespearean English. The enunciation of the language is crystal clear from all the eleven-strong cast.

That some are not even speakers of Welsh comes as a surprise; the “ll”'s sound the real thing. As a language for opera it comes across as having an advantage over English similar to Italian’s superiority over German. The adaptation also runs to a good length. A production that lasts three hours at the New York Met is a crisp two hours in Aberaeron.

As in “Don Pascwale” in 2011 the company tours with its own stage, a low six hundred square feet. The cast sit on one side, the audience on the other three. Director Patrick Young's term for the style is a democratisation of opera. Whether it is democratic or not, he has made a powerfully physical experience. The first notes are sung six feet away from the audience. To hear an unleashed tenor at this distance is to experience an instrument of nature of some force. The acting, too, this close-up is a physical presence, of real muscle, teeth, saliva even.

“Macbeth” opens with a confident swagger and never falters. The witches are young singers in micro-kilts and black boots. The production is in martial monochrome, greys and blacks, combat trousers tucked into military boots. Design and props are minimal. A few fold-up chairs and a table are brought on for the banquet scene. Death is dealt out with the tiniest of daggers. There is a chillingly effective use of some cardboard masks. Otherwise, it is the unadorned force of human voice and movement.

Phil Gault is a tormented Macbeth, Huw Euron a Banquo who makes an imaginative spectral return. Eldrydd Cynan Jones is an imposing Lady Macbeth whose highlights include a dramatic coloratura at the banquet and a final haunted, hand-washing scene. The emotional peak is the lament by Elgan Thomas as Macduff over the deaths of his family. The ensemble is completed by Lucy Gravelle, Nel Gwynn, Angharad Watkeys, Hedd Griffiths, Robin Hughes and Rhodri Jones. The sound that the full company achieves together is thrilling.

Opra Cymru tours with a portable piano. For this performance Helen Davies has advantage of Aberaeron Hall's resident grand piano. For Macbeth’s bloody end the lighting does some clever business with swivels and red filters. Lighting design is the work of Gareth Brierley making his professional debut.

The production comes courtesy of a row of sponsors and backers. The usual big names are there, but an extra thumbs-up for the Park-Jones Trust, the Peter Saunders Trust and Pianos Cymru. The opportunity to see an occasionally performed work from a master composer, a fresh translation, directorial vision, a company that gives young singers a first tour and professional experience, all make this a significant contribution to the landscape of performance in Wales.

Shakespeare himself writes it in his first act “For brave “Macbeth” – well deserves that name.”

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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