Theatre in Wales

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Reviewers Revel in Ravel

At Mid Wales Opera

Three Critcs at A Spanish Hour– L’Heure Espagnole , Venues across Wales , November 25, 2018
At Mid Wales Opera by Three Critcs at A Spanish Hour– L’Heure Espagnole Gareth Llŷr Evans was author of an article in the Guardian on September 25th. He re-trod old ground- almost wearingly so- in writing of “a woeful media deficit that exists in Wales, that inevitably results in what we might also term a critical deficit…Platforms such as Nation.Cymru and the podcast Desolation Radio are boldly addressing the media deficit, and websites such as Wales Arts Review and Arts Scene in Wales, by sheer virtue of creating space for different critical voices, are making a vital and necessary contribution to the cultural debate.”

Communication is made of two elements, signal and noise. Mid Wales Opera, high on the first, low on the second, is taking opera to places it has not been seen before. In 2017 Aberdaron, as westerly a point as can be, was among the venues for the company. Some of the place-names for 2018 are so novel that- for instance, Trefeglwys- they require a search to check their location. None are in the territory between Teifi and Dyfi so, regrettably, I went without sight this season of one of Wales’ heroic companies.

But others were there to report. David Truslove was present for Wales Arts Review.

“If the ingredients for the successful production of small-scale opera in rural areas are accessibility and adaptability, then Mid Wales Opera has scored an indisputable bullseye in this highly approachable and hilarious new staging of L’Heure espagnole. In choosing Ravel’s clock-shop comedy for its second SmallStages tour in churches, small theatres and village halls across Wales, MWO has come up with a corker of a production. It will delight those encountering opera for the first time and help dismantle the notion that the art form is inaccessible and beyond the reach of those who might inhabit a sleepy market town such as Llanfyllin.

“Artistic Director Richard Studer and Musical Director Jonathan Lyness could hardly have chosen a more audience-pleasing work and have given this Carry-On style caper a wonderfully transparent, vibrant makeover. Much of this is the result of Studer’s racy English translation of Franc-Nohain’s original French libretto (adapted from his eponymous play of 1904) and Lyness’s reduction of Ravel’s score (both created specially for this production) so the original orchestral material can be covered by just four players. Slimmed-down this version may be, but its resourcefulness – with piano, bassoon, harp and violin doubling a multitude of percussion instruments – is a triumph of resizing.

“Furthermore, the cast of five professional singers all hold the ear and eye. In a modest touring venue such as Theatr Llwyn, where singers are virtually on top of the audience, acting is paramount, and these young unconducted performers seize our attention with clearly-defined characterisations (and diction) throughout the work’s fifty-five minutes. Clock-governed time simply dissolves in this captivating production.

“…The evening’s second half is a treat too – an eclectic potpourri of Spanish-flavoured items embracing Alan Ridout’s hugely entertaining Ferdinand the Bull for solo violin and narrator, the Toreador’s song from Bizet’s Carmen and a jolly romp through the ever-popular ‘Y Viva España’. This closed a classy evening of memorable, copper-bottomed performances, and demonstrated beyond doubt that under the stewardship of Studer and Lyness Mid Wales Opera is a byword for adaptability and excellence.”

The full review at:

Mike Smith was at Pontardawe for Arts Scene in Wales.

“Creating touring opera productions that can adapt to vastly varying spaces while retaining commitment to both drama and musical quality is a gargantuan task. Add to that the desire – or requirement – to bring in audiences in places opera does not usually reach, despite having a national opera company, then the challenge is all the greater.

“However, while this is their working environment, it is pointless approaching work by Mid Wales Opera with anything but high expectations and, in the main, the company does not disappoint. This funny and charming production of Ravel’s Spanish-themed and flavoured work was well received by the Pontardawe audience on a cold November night, thanks to the enthusiasm of the small cast and musicians led by music director Jonathan Lyness, leading from the keyboard.

“…The second half of the evening followed the style set with the company’s presentation of Walton’s The Bear last season, when the Russia-themed opera was followed with Russia-themed musical offerings. So here we had a Spanish cabaret). Black suits, red frilly shirts for the men and black and red also for Catherine Backhouse) starting with a tour de force in facial expressions from Peter Van Hulle recounting the tale of Ferdinand the Bull accompanied or perhaps led by Naomi Rump on violin, as part of a programme (or tapas we are told) ranging from Carmen favourites through to Agustín Lara’s Granada, to, yes, that’s right, Y Viva Espana.”

The extensive, detailed review can be read at:

Nigel Jarrett, also for Arts Scene in Wales, was at the Richard Burton Theatre. Displaying an obvious deep familiarity with the score he felt the “massive loss of Ravelian colour, with a fuller orchestral contribution that sometimes fails to dovetail with the comedy…That said, the reduction is intimately played. But we lose the harsh dissonance of the clock theme, for example, and its illustration of a world chronically and chaotically out of sync. Ravel uses the orchestra as a subtle commentary on the personalities of the characters and this is difficult to bring out in severe transcription.”

Critics diverge; that comes with the territory. But they describe and evoke, clear heads and clear prose leaving their record. Jarrett, who ought to be heard more regularly, brings density and learning to his review which can be read at:

The tour continues until 7th December to Bishops Castle, Theatr Clwyd, Criccieth, Abermiwl and Ludlow.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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