Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Something Surprising, Something Devising

At Mid Wales Opera

Mid Wales Opera- “Il Tabarro” & Chansons , Aberystwyth Arts Centre , November 4, 2021
At Mid Wales Opera by Mid Wales Opera- “Il Tabarro” & Chansons The riff of a headline on Sondheim's “Comedy Tonight” fits. The second part of Mid Wales Opera's performance, on the second-to-last stop on its Small Stages tour, has a start that is not usual. The sound is speech not song.

The artistic director is there ahd he has a simple message. The company was last on this stage, he says, in February 2020 with “the Marriage of Figaro.” When an autumn tour was mooted the future was unclear. The words used for the last article, 16th July, were less “planned” than “hoped for”.

Richard Studer on stage thanks us for simply being there. It is mutual with applause and cheers at the end of an eclectic evening of music. The auditorium of Theatr y Gwerin is filled from top to bottom, left to right. But it is in the way of the new normal. Nonetheless, spaced and clustered though we may be, it still means around a hundred in a common space. A hundred is an audience, a collective to collectively see, hear and feel.

However demanding the preparations, the rehearsing and the touring may have been the singers are manifestly projecting a joy to be back doing what they do.

And it is a joy reciprocated. It is small wonder that all the forecasts, just a year back, about a future golden age for streaming have not come to pass. The first sound of Puccini's one-acter “Il Tabarro” is Elin Pritchard's soprano. And it is a wonder

On a personal note the automated booking software has given a seat in Row F. It sounds mid-auditorium and is not. With an extended stage F1 is front row and the sound is close, real and physical.)

“Il tabarro” has cadences of “La Boheme”- due to tour 2022- being set in a Paris of the disadvantaged. The difference is that the drama is about men and women at work. The setting is the deck of a barge on the Seine. The plot is elemental, a marriage drained of connection, the attraction of another, the awareness, and the consequence in violence. As with the Bohemians there is scope for drink and the praise of beer. There is a wistful irony to be felt; the Covid-19 measures have removed all the draught beers from the Arts Centre's bar.

Musical director Jonathan Lyness leads on keyboard. Alexandra Callanan plays bassoon, Laurence Kempton violin and Elfair Grug harp. Elin Pritchard leads luminously. Her grimly damaged husband is sung by Philip Smith. Robyn Lyn Evans is the young lover Luigi. Huw Ynyr is drinker Tinca and Emyr Wyn Jones and Stephanie Windsor-Lewis are Talpa and Frugola.

As for the second half Richard Studer leaves the stage and the company unveils a sequence of cabaret songs. The link is Paris, the selection eclectic. Stephanie Windsor-Lewis is revealed as an accordionist as well as soprano and sets the tone for a Juliette Greco-Piaf-style melancholic reflectiveness. The song-writers include Cole Porter and Jerry Herman; Satie, Chausson and Debussy are among the composers.

The four male singers are in stylish black jackets and polo necks. Fingers snap, couples take to the floor to waltz, soloists shimmy and joke. The contrast with Puccini's proletarian river-front is total. The concept is inspired. Charm exudes and unspoken words hover over the performance. They are “this is not what we normally do, but, look how we can do this as well”.

The full company combines to sing their rousing finale. From “La Cage aux Folles”

“The best of times is now
As for tomorrow, well, who knows?
Who knows? Who knows?

So hold this moment fast
And live and love
As hard as you know how
And make this moment last
Because the best of times is now
Is now, is now.”

It is not quite true. It is not the best of times. We have a way to go. But it is a far time from the worst of days that we have collectively felt. And it has given to the return of the live, the real, the proximate a wholly new and enhanced sense of appreciation.

The tour took the company in all directions from its Powys base. “Il Tabarro” was performed at Theatr Brycheiniog, Sparc Theatre, Theatr Colwyn, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Neuadd Dyfi, Congress Theatre Cwmbran, Pontio, The Courtyard, Ludlow Assembly Rooms, Hafren, Aberystwyth and ended at St. Andrews Church, Presteigne.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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