Theatre in Wales

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Emotional and Sensual Immersion

At Mid Wales Opera

Mid Wales Opera- La Bohème , Aberystwyth Arts Centre , March 17, 2022
At Mid Wales Opera by Mid Wales Opera- La Bohème One day the shadow of pandemic will lighten. But that day has yet to come. Perception is filtered via the lens of experience. The arrival of Mid Wales Opera- their tour planned before and only able to be made real in 2022- is an emotional and sensual immersion. Puccini proves the right choice for what is needed after the time of privation.

The first act depicts what has been taken away. We are primed to play and could not; it made no difference whether it was arias or archery, all were lost. These young men in their icy Paris flat may be bohemians but they are also companions, yoked in banter and play. "Get yourself a hair-cut" says one to another. They dance a mock-tango and a mock-tarantella. Pillows are grabbed, baguettes provide the tools for a duel. They may not be able to feed the stove or pay the rent but they are having fun. How small fun the young have had.

So too with touch. Mimi's frozen hand is the most renowned of arias. In 2022 what stands out is the fact it happens at all. Galina Averina presses a hand to the chest of Robin Lyn Evans' Rodolfo. He takes her hand. It is an instinct that is so elemental. A world is regained where strangers may touch. (Although not quite; venues maintain a regime of masking.)

Richard Studer remarkably performs three roles in the production. The translation is his. He has designed a Paris of two converging walls. His model is drawn more from the brickwork of industrial Flanders than the grands boulevards of Caillebotte or Pisarro. There is a fine detail to the direction. In the outdoors the waiter rushes to put flowers on the cafe tables. His work done he can be seen taking a cigarette break. The bohemians drink vin de table. Mari Wyn Williams' Musetta and Wyn Pencarreg's Alcindoro give themselves champagne.

The sky above in this mid-winter is a stygian black. Elanor Higgins' lighting is a marvel of subtlety in picking out features and half-tones of the singers. Three company members are familiar faces to an Aberystwyth audience from November's "Il Tabarro", which won Wales Arts Review's Best of 2021 award. Robyn Lyn Evans sings Rodolfo, Emyr Wyn Jones Colline and Philip Smith Marcello. The cast is rounded out with Dan D’Souza's Schaunard and a sparky trio of street chrorus in Hazel Neighbour, Meinir Wyn Roberts, Elen Lloyd Roberts.

In the months of no play, no performance and no reviews this site turned in other directions, to retrospectives and aesthetics. An article of 23rd March 2020 looked at performance, perception and the physiology of eye and ear. In an audience no one person has quite the same view. To have selected a seat numbered F10 sounds nothing special. In fact with seats removed to house the musicians of Ensemble Cymru it is a new front row. My neighbour- a spaced two seats away- observes: "Close? I can put my feet on the conductor's shoulders- that's what I call close."

The view from F10 is of artistry in concert, singers across musicians. While the camera's eye has just one view the human eye has choice to select. Galina Averina's Mimi is a torrent of feeling throughout. As she breathes her last bed-ridden gasps I look to the lead violinist's fingers extracting the emotion of Puccini's final exquisite notes. When Rodolfo grasps the truth that his friends have already recognised Robin Lyn Evans' last words are seen past the percussion of drum-beat.

This is a delayed production and a fine one. While the company's MainStages programme was put on hold due to Covid-19 the company exerted itself as conditions allowed. Concerts were held in the definitely non-traditional venue of Machynlleth's cattle market. The "Sounds of Summer" programme presented socially distanced outside concerts. The SmallStages tour, "Il Tabarro", played thirteen venues. With "La Bohème" the Jonathan Lyness-Richard Studer partnership demonstrates the quality they bring to the music and culture of Wales.

"La Bohème" continues to Pontio, the Riverfront, Theatr Brycheiniog, Theatr Clwyd, Ffwrnes, the Torch and the Octagon, Yeovil.

A guide to other productions of Mid Wales Opera can be seen below 16th July 2021.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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