Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Figaro Fizzes

At Mid Wales Opera

Marriage of Figaro , Aberystwyth Arts Centre , March 12, 2020
At Mid Wales Opera by Marriage of Figaro “It's certainly the right choice for this season.” It was a voice to be heard amidst the throng in the Aberystwyth foyer. When Mid Wales Opera artistic director Richard Studer chose Mozart's most comedic opera no-one could have forecast quite how its touring season would be.

Newtown itself is provided with flood meadows but the town resembled an island within a lake. The company assembled for rehearsal; once in, they were not easily out with the rail link under water for ten days. Opening night, February 29th, was another day of squall, but not enough to deter an audience of 400.

In the year since “Tosca” came to Aberystwyth, below 5th March 2019, the company has been active with its innovative Small Stages scheme. “Mrs Peachum's Guide to Love and Marriage”, an extrapolation of John Gay, did Cwmbran to Colwyn Bay by way of Barmouth and Blackwood. Johnny Herford, on the Aber stage stunningly just a week back, reviewed 5th March, played Filch.

The London outlets have a tendency to be generally shy of things Welsh. But the Arts Desk was at Ystrad Aeron for “Mrs Peachum...” and for a good reason.

“MWO’s production values are, as usual, high”, reported their critic, “and the action plays out on a massive Hogarth-like engraving, with a gallows occasionally throwing its shadow across the bustling scene. Deftly lit, and with the two ladies strutting like birds of paradise in suitably gaudy baroque bling, it looks a treat.”

It is an important year for cultural decision-making; good then that denizens of Cardiff have primary sight of the art they back. Rural Wales is a place where no-one moves privately. The Chair of the Arts Council was to be sighted last year, experiencing “Mrs Peachum...” at Llandinam's lovely Davies-financed hall.

Mid-Wales Opera has been regularly noted on this site for the quality of its communications. Its contribution to the Culture Committee Enquiry, below 18th February 2018, was picked out as exemplary. “If the company's level of candour and disclosure were made mandatory across the sector the culture would be stronger.”

The background to the 2020 production, text and image, is richly informative. Young performers are essential to the company mission. Cherubino, in the form of Olivia Gomez makes her professional debut. The company is in partnership with the Wales International Academy of Voice. Postgraduate opera students from the Academy are part of the tour.

The plot is a stream of schemes and ploys, concealments under curtains and in closets, disguises and discoveries. But it is also a three hour flow of lyric joy. Mozart's high point is the seven part singing that closes his second act. It is joyfully sung here. Structurally it hinges around Susanna. Galina Averina describes the role: “Susanna is a tricky one...It’s a struggle to combine her cleverness with the lightness of the character and soubrette …she’s a witty and playful young woman”.

Her performance is one of unbroken dash and elan. She is but one of a strong company that includes Harry Thatcher's dapper Figaro, Jana Holesworth's moving Countess, Benjamin Bevan's lordly count and David Horton's epicene Basilio. Kate Valentine’s Marcellina is a lady from the Shires in a tweed suit. Mark Saberton gets to bewail delightfully the damage done to his geraniums. Jonathan Lyness conducts. Richard Studer directs and also designs. Gilt and silks mark the bedroom. For the last act he creates a ghostly statue and set of receding arches, a de Chirico scene lit by Dan Saggars.

Steph Power, the top Wales-based music writer, was also at the Aberystwyth performance. Two high-points from her report for the Stage:

“In Mid Wales Opera’s new big-hearted chamber-scale production, the work’s multiple twists and turns boil down to an exposé of human nature that’s at once forgiving and slapstick, yet whip-smart with social critique.

“It’s cannily directed and designed by Richard Studer for touring to small venues, utilising Amanda Holden’s witty English translation and a perky reduced orchestration by conductor Jonathan Lyness, performed with spirit by a 10-piece Ensemble Cymru.”

“The Marriage of Figaro” continues to Pontio, the Torch, the Riverfront, Ffwrnes and the Courtyard, Hereford until 28th March.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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