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2011: Welsh Warblers and Wagner Gone West | reviews, news & interviews

2011: Welsh Warblers and Wagner Gone West

2011: Welsh Warblers and Wagner Gone West

A Gloucestershire Ring, a touring Greek, and Pountney on the horizon

Longborough Festival Opera's 'Siegfried': nearing the end of the most unlikely Ring cycle in Wagnerdom

Living and working 150 miles from London, one either clutches at local straws or gets on a train. I’ve done both in 2011, as usual, but in a way the local is more stimulating, not because it’s better (ha!) but because there’s so much less of it. 

For instance, I got much more of a kick from Siegfried at Longborough in Gloucestershire than from anything at Bayreuth, where everything is in the directors’ favour and they dispense huge sums year in year out on bizarre allegorisations of Wagner’s dramas.

Besides being a brilliant piece of music theatre, Weinberg’s Passenger at ENO was superbly sung and staged

For different reasons BBC Cardiff’s Singer of the World competition – an old-fashioned event which still thrives on the antiquated concept of singers simply standing up in front of an audience and opening their hearts and throats – moved me more than most of what I saw and heard in the English capital, though with exceptions: Garsington’s first season in its new demountable theatre at Wormsley, notable above all for the mere fact that it came off at all (though The Magic Flute I saw there was memorable in its own right); Glyndebourne’s beautiful Rusalka, Weinberg’s Passenger at ENO, which besides being a brilliant piece of music theatre was superbly sung and staged.

Welsh National Opera continued on its not very merry way, but with promise of future good cheer in the shape of its new director, David Pountney, who will invigorate its weary repertory and reimpose the best production and casting standards from WNO’s distinguished past. What can you say of a company for whom a revival of Janáček’s Katya Kabanova (pictured above left), however strongly staged and sung, is so daring that it has to be teamed with Don Giovanni and The Barber of Seville - also, admittedly, fine stagings in themselves? And one looks in vain for significant change in 2012, still a year or so before Pountney can have much impact. 

In some ways WNO’s most enterprising effort in 2011 was the “promenade” production by the company’s Youth Opera of Stephen Deazley’s chamber opera The Sleeper in the Cardiff Coal Exchange. I won’t go on about my loathing of promenade performance as such, but this was a highly enjoyable piece of work with a skilfully written score, resourcefully directed by Pete Harris. All the same, for genuinely mind-bending theatre in the Principality, one had to trail after the touring Music Theatre Wales, who never put on anything but first-rate work but alas can’t afford to do nearly enough of it. Their restaging of Turnage’s Greek was a high spot of the year in these parts. That may not say much for these parts, but we’ve still got the mountains, the soft rain, the dark night sky and the fresh air, so eat your hearts out, Londoners.

2011 Highlight: Not having to decide which of Romanian soprano Valentina Naforniţă, Ukrainian baritone Andrei Bonarenko and Russian mezzo Olesya Petrova should be Cardiff Singer of the World. Just listening to them was good enough for me.

2011 Letdown: Così fan tutte at WNO and Longborough, productions vying with each other for crass vulgarity in a similar genre – Naples transplanted to Clacton.

2012 Recommendation: Longborough’s Götterdämmerung, coming up in July, and completing what must be the most unlikely Ring cycle anywhere in Wagnerdom. 

Music Theatre Wales never put on anything but first-rate work but alas can’t afford to do nearly enough of it

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