Theatre in Wales

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Powerful Large-scale Verdi Production for Company's Thirty-fifth Year

At Mid Wales Opera

Macbeth- Mid Wales Opera , Aberystwyth Arts Centre , March 28, 2024
At Mid Wales Opera by Macbeth- Mid Wales Opera Two companies toured to Aberystwyth's main stage in the period up to Easter. Both companies presented performance with music.

On 1st March National Theatre of Wales' musical theatre, the company's first in thirteen years, attracted an audience of forty.

The company on stage comprised six actor-singers and a musician. The music was mainly pre-recorded.

On 7th March a company of thirty-six took the curtain call. The singers for Mid Wales Opera were joined by Jonathan Lyness, conductor in the pit of thirteen musicians from Ensemble Cymru.

The live music did powerful justice to Verdi's score with its high moments of drama and poignancy.

“Macbeth” came with the company's usual quality programme of eighty pages. The programme included full credits to the artists, a synopsis, a patron list, a note of gratitude to benefactor organisations. Jonathan Lyness contributed three pages on the background and development of the opera. Verdi halved the length of Shakespeare's text himself and sent his work to librettist Francesco Maria Piave.

David Roberts, Professor of English at Birmingham City University, contributed a historical note of several pages. He included the attempted regicides of the Gunpowder Plot, part-hatched by dissidents from Shakespeare's own county of Warwickshire. After the Restoration of 1660 it became practice to stage “Macbeth” on 5th November. Samuel Pepys saw it on that date in 1664, walked home amidst the bonfires and confided to his diary of “a most excellent play for variety.”

All of this was presented in two languages. The National Theatre of Wales, by contrast, took to the road with no programme, not even a cast list.

“If they want to know about it they can look at the website” was the company line.

The National Theatre of Wales performed in four venues. Mid Wales Opera toured to nine. Audiences from Pembrokeshire to Gwynedd and Gwent were beneficiaries of the first 2024 tour.

In the year 2023-2024 of public funding from the Arts Council of Wales the sum received by the National Theatre of Wales was sixteen greater than that for Mid Wales Opera.

Professor Roberts wrote of Macbeth that “our communion with the enemy of the state reveals a more alarming psychosis- the frenzied determination of a “mind diseased” to root out its own terrors by unleashing terror into the world.”

Director Richard Studer was his own designer and delivered a powerful visual punch. This Scotland was contested by black-shirted assassins of Mussolini mien. The witches were dressed in tight-waisted twinset suits and piled-high hair. A dozen chains dangled from castle ceilings as indicator of a kingdom turned to a prison camp.

A central point in the action had Macduff lamenting the deaths of his wife and children. The stage swelled and filled with members of local choirs. It was not quite WNO-scale but for a small Powys company it was big. Opera is an art form of display. Thirty people on stage make for a big sound and a scale of visual spectacle.

* * * *

The Chair of the company, Gareth Williams, has over the years been seen many times with the company. He had a two-page contribution in the programme which included:

“Unfortunately, as many of you will know, this may be our last production of a MainStages work- at least for several years. In September we received the devastating news that the Arts Council of Wales had decided to cut 100% of our funding from the start of the new financial year in April 2024.

“Despite our best efforts- and the tremendous support we have received from our Friends, supporters and the artists past and present who developed their careers through working with us- it is now clear that this decision will not be reversed in the near future. We are exploring all possible avenues to enable us to continue to create new work over the next few years but even if we are successful, this will likely focus on smaller scale productions.

“Whatever the longer-term future, we very much hope to undertake a SmallStages tour this autumn of Leoncavallo's “Pagliacci”- surely the best-loved as well as the most dramatic of all one-act operas and to continue our hugely appreciated education work. We also intend to put on our annual and very popular summer gala at Gregynog Hall on 21st July.“We have almost sufficient reserves to put these plans into effect...

“I would like to end by saying how proud I am to have been involved for over two decades with this amazing company which has brought joy and tears to audiences and real opportunities to singers, orchestral players, crew and staff, not just to work (which in itself is to small thing, given the ever-shrinking number of professional opera companies) but to develop their skills and careers...”

* * * *

Among the credits Elanor Higgins was lighting designer. The lead singers were:

Macbeth: Jean-Kristof Bouton

Lady Macbeth: Mari Wyn Williams

Macduff: Robyn Lyn Evans

Banquo: Emyr Wyn Jones

Lady-in-waiting: Rebecca Afonwy-Jones

Malcolm / Chorus: Joseph Buckmaster

Doctor / Chorus: Steffan Lloyd Owen

Witches, assassins, and various nobles, attendants and refugees were sung by Siân Roberts, Hazel Neighbour, Samuel Snowden, Matthew Siveter, Stephanie Smith, Elen Lloyd Roberts, Erin Fflur, Rachel Morás, Will Diggle, Dafydd Allen.

The production was supported by the Arts Council of Wales, the National Lottery, the Gwendoline and Margaret Davies charity and the Fidelio Charitable Trust.

A guide to a selection of previous productions can be read below 16th July 2021.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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