Macbeth, Mid Wales Opera

****

It would be wrong to make what may be the last review of a full-scale work by Mid Wales Opera about the preposterous axing of the company’s funding by the increasingly out of touch Arts Council of Wales.

However, the energy on the stage seemed as marked outside of the auditorium at the Riverfront, Newport, as people voiced their despair and upset at what bureaucrats are doing to a company they clearly love and respect. They made donations to the company to try to ensure a production happens this autumn, said they were buying programmes mainly to help boost that income and if anyone recognisable from the Arts Council had been there, they would have been advised to hang their head in shame.

Just a few miles from well-funded Welsh National Opera’s Cardiff performance base and home, Newport will become even more of an artistic empty shell, like many of the buildings as stores that have pulled out. This is also the fate of many of our towns as the Arts Council has lost its way, pumping shrinking funds into vanity projects driven by government social engineering rather than encouraging excellence and inclusion – inclusion of the people of Wales beyond Cardiff by showing their works, rather than spouting endless rhetoric.

This show is full of imagination and intelligent use of limited resources. A surprisingly large cast of singers thanks to the names principals supplemented by a community choir, and the Ensemble Cymru players fearlessly conducted by music director Jonathan Lyness, gave a reading of the Scottish play that would grace any touring stage.


In a production that transcends Scottish medieval, director Richard Struder made his witches modern women all with red wigs and shoes, darkened eyes and green tartan two-piece suits. Adding a similar contemporary feel, the soldiers all wear smart fascist looking black uniforms with elegant long boots. In contrast, the attendants of the king are reminiscent of the Welsh Gorsedd and the presenting of the Eisteddfod sword – this is a Celtic tale after all.


The set is of necessity very minimalistic, relying heavily on atmosphere-creating lighting by Elanor Higgins and the acting of the singers to create the theatrical drama and tension, with Mari Wyn Williams dominating the proceedings, as Verdi no doubt intended, and Shakespeare wrote. Her Lady Macbeth starts regal and arrogant, her voice somewhat hard, but as she and the role develop through the work, this became a strong performance, and by the madness denouement she is convincing and vocally strong. All the way through the evening the Macbeth of Jean-Kristof Bouton displays the unease of the reluctant assassin and his baritone voice while throughout rich and secure, manages to convey the rise and decline of the man who would be king. I didn’t quite get the blood red sort of netting hanging down in some scenes, although the meaning of the hanging chains to represent the castle was clear. Also, did we have scenery that was either padded cells or upright coffins, or were they supposed to be neither?


Again, we had a glorious performance from the always pleasing Emyr Wyn Jones as Banquo and the evening’s most beautiful, lyrical singing from Robyn Lyn Evans as Macduff. The role of Malcolm is not vast in the opera, but Joseph Buckmaster made his presence felt.


With a necessarily small cast it can get a little confusing why the black suited soldiers seem to keep changing sides ie they are with the refugees in England and then also murdering Macbeth’s enemies. However, knowledge of the play and requirements of making best use of your cast overcomes this.

Arts Council of Wales axing all funding from a company that can produce such the excellence and is the only company tour opera extensively in Wales is a travesty.

Mari Wyn Williams

Jean-Kristof Bouton

 Touring until 23 March

Images by Craig Fuller

2 thoughts on “Macbeth, Mid Wales Opera

  1. Disappointed on your vitriol towards Welsh National Opera. We are in danger of losing everything with that attitude!
    It is terrible that MWO has lost funding. But it is far from rosy as well up the road in Welsh National Opera. Turn your vitriol on Arts Council yes but don’t damage more of this industry with ill though out comments!

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