It is a challenging enterprise to take opera out to smaller venues at the best of times let alone when audiences are still wary in Covid days but it is one that Mid Wales Opera with Richard Studer and Jonathan Lyness at the tiller do with a sure touch and excellent musicianship.
The combination of a short opera and a second half of songs sung in a more cabaret style works well. Here, Puccini’s one act Il tabarro is set on a barge with just six singers and four instruments led by Jonathan Lyness but at no point do you feels this is a cut-down version. Elin Pritchard, who has been busy all summer at the summer festivals, sings Giorgetta, a difficult role to make likeable, while Philip Smith as Michele plays her miserable husband, the death of a child who they used to comfort and protect under their cloak (Il tabarro) has destroyed their relationship. Robyn Lyn Evans, Emyr Wyn Jones and Huw Ynyr play the bargemen seemingly romping about at the end of the day’s work, but each hiding their own problems. Stephanie Windsor-Lewis plays the bag lady partner of one of the bargemen. The tragic ending with a more sinister presence under Il tabarro is a dark conclusion come to their life and problems.
Studer’s set matches his directing, seemingly simple but rich with meaning and very effective, conjuring up a working barge tied up for the night on the Seine where the decadence and luxuries of the city could be a million miles from these grimy and impoverished lives. The narrative is as clear and clean as his characters are grubby faced and complex despite their outward appearances.
The singers return for the second half for a cycle of chansons that could not be set anywhere else but a backstreet in Montmartre. The scene is set with la Vie en Rose and each member of the cast showcases their voice while some turn into ensemble pieces such as Cole Porter’s I Love Paris. When you hear each voice separately singing, the timbre and qualities of each voice come out much more clearly – perhaps it is just that the focus is away from the drama of the opera and distilled into simple gestures illustrating a simple lyric. But nothing conjures Paris as much as an accordion played here to great effect by Stephanie Windsor-Lewis. It is difficult to get the atmosphere going on the necessarily same gloomy set but somehow they manage it well.
Elin Pritchard and Robyn Lyn Evans
Next spring the company stages Puccini’s La Boheme
Images: Matthew Williams Ellis
Main image: Philip Smith
October 1, Theatr Brycheiniog, Brecon
October 2, SpArC Theatre, Bishops Castle
October 6, Theatr Colwyn, Colwyn Bay
October 8, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Cardiff
October 9, Neuadd Dyfi, Aberdovey
October 12, Congress Theatre, Cwmbran
October 14, Pontio Arts Centre, Bangor
October 19, The Holroyd Theatre, Oswestry – Hafren Satellite Stages
October 20 ,The Courtyard, Hereford
October 22, Ludlow Assembly Rooms
October 23, Trefeglwys Memorial Hall, Hafren Satellite Stages
October 27, Aberystwyth Arts Centre
October 29, St. Andrews Church, Presteigne