Theatre in Wales

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Juxtaposing Tragedy - Mid Wales Opera

At Mid Wales Opera

Macbeth , Aberystwyth Arts Centre , March 29, 2024
At Mid Wales Opera by Macbeth I caught “The Scottish Play” in opera form at Aberystwyth, with Mid Wales Opera’s “main stages” production at Theatr y Werin. There is a humorous little history in the programme, written and researched by co-director Richard Studer, about the curse associated with uttering the name of Shakespeare’s play and the bad luck surrounding its performance so saying, “I caught it”, is like saying I caught the ‘flu’ or Covid or I’ve drunk from the “poisoned chalice” of the Witches.

In this production the witches were a shape-shifting coven of five and play an important role throughout. They were goths, with white faces and darkened eye sockets, masquerading as Stepford Wives with little blue-green plaid jackets, pencil skirts, red clutch bags and red high heels. Richard Studer, not afraid of introducing a little humour into his “coven”, making a sly juxtaposition to the tragic goings on of the main characters.

They opened the opera singing of their rum doings, incantations and poisoned chalices, brandishing little items from their red clutch bags, little perfume bottles of novichok, perhaps?

For Duncan’s ceremonial entrance they transformed into what looked like either druids or Sisters of Mercy, draped from head to foot in white, sheet like robes – but still with their little red high heels peeping out - juxtaposing and masquerading again, still that coven of Goths, underneath the Stepford Wives, underneath those saintly, white robes in Duncan’s murder scene.

When Macbeth revisits the witches later for an update, their cauldron was a very large kettle over a minute camp fire and they poured the resulting potion into a tiny porcelain tea cup.

Macbeth’s General, Banquo, was sung by baritone Emyr Wyn Jones, he was impressive, embodying the faithful friend and aide betrayed with powerful presence and voice and he was impressive too in his ghostly appearances; Macbeth was French Canadian baritone Jean-Kristof Bouton, totally believable in his weakness and malleability mixed with naked but wavering ambition.

Our Macduff was clear heroic tenor, Robyn Lyn Evans, remembered for his excellent Lensky in MWO’s Eugene Oniegin a few years ago.

Lady Macbeth – the real baddy of the piece – was envisioned (rather obviously) by Verdi as an evil looking creature but Mari Wyn Williams is both beautiful and glamorous. When she got into her stride, she had just the right harsh, metallic quality to her voice, conveying power, determination and that underlying evil.

But she was particularly convincing in her softer descent and disintegration into guilt provoked madness, witnessed by the be-suited doctor and the be-suited secretary-cum-lady-in-waiting through a peep hole in another chamber, a strange voyeuristic scene.

Jonathan Lyness worked his usual orchestration magic with Ensemble Cymru, conveying with only twelve players the feeling, spirit and grandeur of Verdi’s score.

It was an ambitious production delivered with concision and economy, making the best use of all the artists on stage at any time, including the community choir who fill out the production in the bigger scenes with chorus, and allowing the gruesomely tragic essence of the opera to speak to us in a very direct and impactful way.

One of the beauties of this Mid Wales based chamber opera company is that it gives varied and challenging work to young Welsh singing talent in a small nation where professional opportunities of this kind are few. This will be the last “main stages” opera from MWO for some time since, as most Welsh opera goers know, they have lost all their revenue funding from the Arts Council, an incomprehensible decision since they so clearly deliver the goods to the whole of Wales with their high quality performances and their excellent community and educational work.

The tragedy of this kind of total, one hundred percent cut is that it stops continuity and development in its tracks, rather than gradually allowing a company like this to exist with less funding as its grows in success, popularity and therefore ability to attract funding from other sources.

The Richard Studer-Jonathen Lyness combined directorship has really upped the game of this popular little opera company based in Newtown, North Powys. Since 2016, they have brought the company into the twenty first century with modern elegance and bite in their choice of repertoire and in their pared back stagings and musical arrangements. Their final performance of Macbeth was at Theatr Brycheiniog, Brecon on the 23rd of March.

However this is not the end, they are already putting together an Autumn, “Small Stages” tour of “I Pagliacci” by Leoncavallo which promises to be another treat. We must wish them good fortune in raising the financial support to keep going.

Other Reviews by Jenny March below

MWO Ticking All the Boxes: 11 November 2023

MWO Russian Existential Angst in English: 24 April 2018

A summary of the company's origins and history by Jenny March can be read below 18th April 2018.

A guide to the reviews and articles about Mid Wales Opera can be read below 16th July 2021.

Reviewed by: Jenny March

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