Theatre in Wales

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Mid Wales Opera - Ticking All The Boxes

At Mid Wales Opera

Mid Wales Opera- Beatrice and Benedict , Wyeside Arts Centre , November 11, 2023
At Mid Wales Opera by Mid Wales Opera- Beatrice and Benedict It is something of an event when a chamber opera company fills out a venue in a place like Builth Wells, but that has been the case at venues across Wales for this chamber opera group who came to Wyeside Arts Centre on Friday 27th October.

The theatre was almost full with an enthusiastic and informed audience, some making a round trip of twenty, thirty or even forty miles to see this polished little company perform Berlioz’ Beatrice and Benedict, based on the Shakespeare comedy “As You Like It”, as part of their Autumn Small StagesTour.

This is my fourth experience of Mid Wales Opera, having seen Walton’s curious “The Bear” and then two of their larger scale Spring shows, Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Oniegin (brilliant in its pared back opulence) and their quirky and charming Humperdinck Hansel and Gretel, both works with the full Ensemble Cymru playing and larger casts, filled out with members of local communities who had participated in workshops with the company in the run up to the shows.

The Wyeside performance on 27th October was light and zinging with musicality and humour. Jonathan Lyness has done his usual, magical reduction of the score, Berlioz (of all composers) for four instruments! Each of his musicians is highly accomplished in their own right: Peryn Clement-Evans, clarinet; Elenid Owen, violin; Nicola Pearce, cello and Jon Lyness conducting from the piano, the little group gathered downstage to one side, lit only by an old fashioned standard lamp and the music-stand lights.

Richard Studer both directs and designs MWO shows. He has a particular talent for conveying the essence of a scene with the very minimum of stage dressing. In this case, a number of long, ivory fabric standards hang as a sort of backdrop with pale splashes of green-blue and red ochre, colours reflected in the costumes, which are a curious fusion of early 60’s chic with Regency and Elizabethan features, sumptuous ivory cloth outfits with flashes of gold in epaulettes (one shoulder) and slashed padding of ivory and red ochre on the other, russet stripes or slashes echoed in the sopranos’ frocks.

Three or four topiary ball trees are placed across the stage, the largest downstage right as a comically ineffective hiding place for the characters at different stages of the action. Bridget Wallbank lights the action with simple genius, principally a handful of small floods placed across the downstage area as footlights, reflecting the elongated shadows of the singers as they move around and giving a kind of retro warmth to their footlit faces.

In performing this light-hearted tale of lovers coming together, the six singers are accomplished and valiant because the rich textures of Berlioz are so very reduced they have to work that much harder to fill things out musically. They also have to deliver Shakespearean dialogue between arias, another challenge. The slightly darker soprano of Monica McGhee as Beatrice, contrasts beautifully with the lighter but powerful coloratura of her friend, Hero, the impressive Lorena Paz Nieto. baritone John Ieuan Jones as Claudio and tenor Huw Ynyr as Benedict are also very strong. All round, an engaging and elegant little production.

So, just what is happening with MWO and their part of the world? As already mentioned, Mid Wales (mainly the county of Powys) far from being “hicks ville”, has interlinking communities of well informed theatre goers who have their fingers on the pulse of the status quo across the 2,008 square miles of the county and beyond.

On everybody’s lips during the interval was the devastating news that MWO have lost ALL their Arts Council of Wales revenue funding. I heard expressions of disbelief, shock and even anger for, not only has this company lost 100% of its ACW revenue stream, but also Wyeside, the warm and welcoming venue where they performed that night, has lost a massive chunk of its funding from the same source. It is a theatre, cinema and gallery, serving Mid Powys for forty-five years and offering live performance by the likes of MWO, Sinfonia Cymru, Cerys Hafana and many others plus cinema and live streaming across two screens.

If that were not enough, Impelo (formerly Powys Dance) also with a forty year long history of serving communities with classes and performances from infancy to old age across the entirety of the county, plus hosting classes, workshops and performances at their beautiful dance centre in Llandrindod Wells (eight miles North of Builth) has also lost all of its ACW funding. In other words, Mid-Wales has been culturally gutted.

If this is a box-ticking exercise, as some suggest, it seems very unfair on this part of Wales, which has never been very diverse, is historically not a strongly Welsh speaking area, has always suffered lack of investment and is rural and therefore sparsely populated across those 2000 plus square miles. Precisely the kind of area needing investment from arts funders. So please ACW, have a rethink and don’t punish Powys for not ticking all the boxes!

MWO’s Beatrice and Benedict tour continues:

Fishguard 1st November; St Elvan’s, Aberdare 2nd November; Dragon Theatre, Barmouth 3rd November; Ucheldre, Holyhead 8th November and Ludlow Assembly Rooms 10th November.

Reviews by the same author about Mid Wales Opera:

Mid Wales Opera Eugene Oniegin - Russian Existential Angst in English:

Mid Wales Opera in Russian Bear Mode in 2017 and 2018:

Reviewed by: Jenny March

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