Theatre in Wales

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Mary Elizabeth Williams sparkles in WNO concert filled with Viennese delights.

A Journey to Vienna

Orchestra of Welsh National Opera , The Riverfront, Newport, , January 14, 2020
 A Journey to Vienna  by Orchestra of Welsh National Opera A grand tour of Wales and Bristol saw the Orchestra of Welsh National Opera give new year’s concert inspired by the music of Vienna. Whilst the famous event on New Year’s Day in the Austrian capital is considered a lavish affair, WNO have treated us to a similarly light and pleasant encounter and at a much more affordable price (for those who pay anyway).

The programme was truly waltz-mania and never ceased in lifting one’s spirits, even with the storm outside raging. The Overture to Orpheus in the Underworld by Offenbach kicked things off with jolly can-can moments, with the back of the violins dancing along. Multi tasking abound! Fauré’s Pavane is typical fare, the concert also keen to touch upon music from both France and Germany. The Pavane is famous (the luscious flute melody remains noteworthy), with half of this programme having instantly recognisable tunes. Mozart’s opening movement to Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (A Little Night’s Music) is an even more persistent ear worm, delightful in it’s easy nature and resplendent faculties. Concertmaster David Adams lead proceedings and keep the music tight and bouncy in a laid back atmosphere. Nice to have other musicians from all around the orchestra come and introduce work the pieces as well (harp, timpani, cello etc).

Dvořák’s Slavonic Dance No. 7 held up as a wonderful few minutes of evocative music. Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No 1 also jolted the stage with bombastic rhythms, proving the composer’s love of the country’s music. The second half of the night featured both polkas and waltzes from Johan Strauss II. These eternally famous dances conjure vivid imagery of the grand balls that still go to this day in Vienna. The Emperor Waltz, The Blue Danube and The Radetzky March all had us awash in cheery sensibility, as they all played out. The Pizzicato Polka is another treasure, solely for plucking strings, now more famous as a comedic prompt in films then an actual dance number. The Thunder and Lighting Polka was also a fitting end to the awful weather outside.

The real joy in this concert was the appearances of soprano Mary Elizabeth Williams. Mary has been an artist who has returned to WNO multiple times over the past few years, her Macbeth, Tosca and Un ballo in maschera remain as highlights. In these arias, we heard a stunning selection, showing off her language skills in English, French, Czech and German. Richard Strauss’ Morgen! remains an exquisite song, hushed in aesthetic, transcendent in execution. Dvořák’s ‘Songs My Mother Taught Me’ a vivid scope, Mary here given some sublime vocals, as in the Strauss.

‘Lilja’ from Lehár’s The Merry Widow had more than most of the audience singing along to the chorus (sad to say I was not too familiar with the tune). Offenbach’s ‘J’aime les militaries’ from La Grand Duchesse de Gerolstein gave Mary some fleeting moments of humour, in an aria of expressing her undying love (and lust) for a man in uniform. An arrangement of Fauré’s Aprés un Ręve also stood out as an unknown choice for me, brilliant in it’s simplicity and tenderness. Those who have seen Mary live will know of her ecstatic tendencies. Her bright high register stands out, her low notes also a marvel. Her talents are to such a degree, every performance feels like a blessing.

We just know she’ll be back soon to enthral us all over again.

Rating: 4 stars

Watch James Ellis interview Mary Elizabeth Williams here:

Welsh National Opera’s spring season sees a new production of Verdi’s Les vępres siciliennes, along with revivals of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro & Bizet’s Carmen. At the Wales Millennium Centre, then on tour to Llandudno, Bristol, Southampton, Liverpool, Milton Keynes, Norwich & Birmingham.

Photo Credit: OperaMusica

Reviewed by: James Ellis

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