Theatre in Wales

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10 Year Anniversary Tour to Be Celebrated

At Opra Cymru

Opra Cymru- Fidelio , Aberystwyth Arts Centre , May 2, 2019
At Opra Cymru by Opra Cymru- Fidelio “Fidelio” was booked into Aberystwyth's Theatr y Werin in March 2018. Sometimes events happen outside the small arena of art that bestow upon art an added significance, that is justified but also serendipitous. I have passed the wall above Llanrhystud twelve thousand times- this is an accurate count, not hyperbole. It has been spray-painted on several occasions, enough to make the local news, been cleaned and rededicated.

But March 2019 is different. The word “Cofiwch” is at a height that makes its smashing difficult. The wreckers needed to do some considerable work and the very choice of the word itself has had an impact. The score of replicas by May day had reached 30 in Gwynedd, 90 elsewhere in Wales. T-shirts, banners, stickers have followed. Visibility reached a height with Sir Mo running past a banner at the London Marathon. The two resonant words can be seen in Chicago and Athens.

All of which might be a distance from an opera by Beethoven, his only one, whose first version was performed in 1805. But then “Fidelio” was born in unusual circumstances, its opening performances playing largely to the soldiers of an occupying army. Liz Saville Roberts contributes to the programme “Mae hefyd yn addas i ni yma yng Nghymru bod thema o ryddid wrth wraig y gwaith hwn.” And there is another fit for our days. Leonore is the first woman protagonist in the canon to be unencumbered by frocks and sweetness, a passion caught by lead Catrin Aur.

Opra Cymru is now 10 years old since its first concert presentation. Its ascent in Wales' performance ecology has been distinct. The commissioning of Gareth Glyn for “Wythnos yng Nghymru Fydd” was certainly a master-stroke. This artistic line continues in the plans for an adaptation of “Un Nos Ola Leuad.” “Wythnos yng Nghymru Fydd” played to full houses and easily scored the award for the year's best tour at the late Wales Theatre Awards.

Success has a double edge. The success of playing to three hundred plus in Theatr y Werin has taken the company away from its base aesthetics. That was first recorded here in 2011, the first paragraph at “Don Paskwale” capturing its distinctiveness:

“Opra Cymru is about as raw, and as cheering, as opera gets. The cast do their costume changes behind a screen a few feet from the audience. The company travels with its own five hundred square foot stage. It is only a foot above the ground. When Robin Lyn‘s passionate Ernesto unleashes his aria- “Ah, un foco insolito/ "A fire unfelt before"- he is only six feet away. That closeness brings out textures of tone in his tenor that large venues do not have.”

The move to a main stage has brought it closer to Mid Wales Opera's place in the opera ecology. Aesthetically, to my view, “Fidelio” is less full-blooded than the earlier work. The design shrinks the stage so there is less movement. The prison in Seville could equally be dramatised by lighting alone, in the manner that Terry Hands made Elsinore in his memorable swansong into a place of shadows and terror.

But to give the company its due it ran into trouble with its public funder, who deemed its audiences of two hundred to be in the wrong locations. Yet it is far from clear whether that organisation enjoyed primary experience of the company's performances. Nonetheless we should be grateful for the continued support.

The company has the benefit, like all artistry, of an absolute clarity of purpose. Hywel Gwynfryn writes in the opening of the handsomely produced programme. “A company dedicated to making opera accessible; of a unique window on the world of classical music through the medium of Welsh; and of a showcase for the special vocal and performing talents of Wales.”

Founder-director Patrick Young is able to tap into talents of the highest quality. Mererid Hopwood is the pen behind the libretto. Catrin Aur is a well-known name on this site from “Don Giovanni” and “Albert Herring” among other productions. In a piece of directorial chutzpah Y Gweinidog is played by Ceri Williams, back in Wales from the Deutsche Oper in Berlin.

But then the company is also about the young. Marzelline is sung by Elen Lloyd Roberts, a recent graduate. Jacquino is sung by Huw Ynyr, who is on the point of graduating from RWCMD. One of the pleasures of being a long-term watcher is to see young talent ascend.

Iwan Teifion Davies is conductor of the seventeen musicians. He was not always in conductor black. In fact for his first notice on this site his dress was a white laboratory coat. That was his Doctor Malatesta, just eight years ago. Now he is a visitor back in Wales from the Salzburger Landestheater where he has been conducting Rossini, Strauss and Philip Glass this season. Opra Cymru may operate from halfway up a mountain in Gwynedd but its connections run deep and wide.

As for Patrick Young, his collaborators- indeed all who struggle to bring opera to audiences in Wales- Florestan's first aria speaks for all of them. “Willig duld' ich alle Schmerzen, ende schmählich meine Bahn; süßer, Trost in meinem Herze, meine Pflicht hab ich getan.”

Indeed, for a tenth birthday well earned.

The tour of “Fidelio” continues to Taliesin, Brycheiniog, the Lyric, Y Stiwt, Rhosllanerchrugog. Those in Cardiff can see its last performance in Barry on 11th May.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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