55. Figaro Here
Wednesday is Quiz Night at The Packet and I rarely miss it, but for one Wednesday in February Ms Keogh, my cherished companion, and I had tickets for the opera. The Welsh National Opera are producing a series of three operas; Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, and Elena Langer’s Figaro Gets a Divorce. This last one will be premiered by the WNO. I bought tickets only for Rossini’s opera buffa and we were accompanied by Ms Keogh’s oldest brother and his wife.
The Wales Millennium Centre, home for the WNO, but also an arts center for several other institutions, is not a beautiful building, yet endlessly fascinating and enjoyable. It is an earthy monolith of different colored slates with a façade of copper-coated metal sheets.
Large words appear cut out of the metal façade like stencils and are lit at night from the glass windows behind. The words were selected by the Welsh poet Gwyneth Lewis. The Welsh reads, “CREU GWIR FEL GWYDR O FFWRNAIS AWEN” and the English, “IN THESE STONES HORIZONS SING”. The one is not a translation of the other.
The interior incorporates woodwork joined with a diverse number of woods. This building is Wales, a reference to its nature and its industries. The theater, with excellent acoustics, is not gilded and garish; rather, it is subdued with different tans from wood and stone.
We had excellent seats in the mid stalls of the Donald Gordon Theatre, named for a South African businessman who made the largest donation. The orchestra pit was invisible to us. We did not see the conductor arrive and only knew it when clapping began from the balconies. Briefly, we saw the conductor, James Southall, wave a hand above the orchestra pit, but the music began almost an instant after his arrival.
I noticed two large flat-screen monitors mounted on the face of the first balcony pointing back towards the stage. I wondered about them and investigated. They are for the performers. The monitors provide a live broadcast of the conductor. The singers need not look into the orchestra pit for their cues, but can peer out into the audience. It creates the illusion they are addressing the audience while they are really watching the video of their conductor.
A thing occurred I have never seen before. As the overture played, the curtain came up, and behind a diaphanous screen appeared "dancers" cloaked in black, holding giant silver scissors. I suspect they were not dancers, but the chorus repurposed, and it was the spotlighted scissors that were the focus of the dance. The scissors opened and closed in sequence, while the performers circled and marched Busby Berkeley style in accord with the music. I have never seen a ballet performed during an overture and it set the tone of the production. The opera was considerably slapstick and bawdy and hilarious. (You can get an idea of the production style from the video trailer available online.)
The singers pranced and twisted across the stage. No fat ladies here. They were all fantastic voices, I could not fault a one. I did not know any of them by name.
The stage set was designed by the 91-year-old Ralph Koltai. It consisted of two suspended walls, partly translucent and roughly hewed so as to be stark and almost abstract. The two walls could be revolved forming the inside or outside of Doctor Bartolo's home, or joined to be one long wall, or pushed aside to use the whole stage. The set was moved by the singers as they performed and not by stage hands. As for the costuming, it was by Susan Blane, who was the costume designer for the original Rocky Horror Show, both on stage and when it was filmed as The Rocky Horror Picture Show. There were strong similarities.
Is there any country where song is more prevalent than Wales? The opera house is less than a twenty minute walk south from where Ms Keogh and I reside. (St David's Hall is less than twenty minutes north.) This was the first opera we’ve attended, yet I was so taken with the talent, I intend to subscribe. Now it is only a question of securing the right to reside in the United Kingdom from the Home Office. No word yet on my impending oral tribunal.
Selected Suburban Soliloquies, the best of Mr Bentzman's earlier series of Snakeskin essays, is available as a book or as an ebook, from Amazon and elsewhere.