Monday 6 October 2014

WNO 2015/16 season announcement

David Jones whose In Parenthesis forms basis for new opera for WNO; Credit: The Royal Welch Fusiliers Museum; The Estate of David Jones
David Jones whose In Parenthesis forms basis
for a new opera for WNO
Credit: The Royal Welch Fusiliers Museum;
The Estate of David Jones
Prior to the first night of their new production of Rossini's Mose in Egitto (see my review) Welsh National Opera announced details of its 2015/16 season, a season, a season which culminates in the company's 70th birthday celebrations.  The season encompasses further exploration of bel canto, new productions of core-repertoire, revivals, two new commissions (including one based on David Jones In Parenthesis) and a musical, nine works in all in three seasons; quite a feat of imagination and financial conjuring in the present economic climate. The Autumn 2015 season is entitled Music and Madness, and David Pountney in his introduction commented how apt this was as you had to be mad to make music in the current financial situation.

The 2015/16 season continues a number of themes which Pountney has introduced. The three seasons (Autumn, Spring, Summer) are each themed, and new productions in the same season often share the same scenic environment. The current trio of operas, Rossini's Mose in Egitto and Guillaume Tell and Bizet's Carmenm might seem a stretch on paper especially as they are being toured. But Carmen is a revival and the two Rossini operas share the same scenic environment, though their actual look is very different; a challenge to the designer, but a rewarding one.

Other themes pursued in 2015/16 include the exploration of bel canto, building on the performances of Rossini this year and Donizetti last year, and the development of new repertoire.

Sweeney Todd - David Birrell, Gillian Bevan & Ensemble  Credit: Manuel Harlan
Sweeney Todd at West Yorkshire Playhouse
David Birrell, Gillian Bevan & Ensemble 
Credit: Manuel Harlan
The Autumn 2015/16 Music and Madness season includes Bellini's I Puritani, Handel's Orlando and Sondheim's Sweeney Todd. I Puritani will be directed by Annilese Miskimmon who is a former staff director at WNO and now director at Den Jyske Opera in Denmark with whom it is a co-production. The performances feature Barry Banks as Arturo, David Kempster as Riccardo and will be conducted by Carlo Rizzi. Handel's Orlando will be seen in Harry Fehr's 2011 production from Scottish Opera which uses the contrast between the roaring 1920's/30's and the blitz to explore what David Pountney called 'one of the definitive explorations of madness'. The production features a strong cast with Lawrence Zazzo as Orlando, Rebecca Evans as Angelica and Robin Blaze as Medoro. The production of Sweeney Todd is being done in association with the West Yorkshire Playhouse, and will be an adaptation of their production directed by James Brining, artistic director of the West Yorkshire Playhouse, and conducted by James Holmes. It is also a collaboration with the Wales Millennium Centre. This is the first time that WNO and WMC have collaborated and the production will return to Cardiff for a further run after the Autumn tour. One hopes that this is a sign of further collaborations.

Spring 2015 is titled Figaro Here, Figaro There and features new productions of Rossini's Barber of Seville and Mozart's Marriage of Figaro along with a new opera Figaro's Divorce by Elena Langer. All three are set in the same scenic environment designed by the veteran designer Ralph Koltai (now 90, amongst his past designs is the legendary ENO Ring conducted by Sir Reginald Goodall). Rossini's opera is directed by Sam Brown, with a cast which features Claire Booth as Rosina, Andrew Shore as Bartolo and Nico Darmanin and Nicholas Lester as Almaviva and Figaro. Darmanin and Lester made a great effect in the Opera Holland Park production of Barber of Seville this year (see my review). Mozart's opera is directed by Tobias Richter and conducted by Lothar Koenigs, includes David Stout as Figaro, Elizabeth Watts as the Countess, Naomi O'Connell as Cherubino and also features Susan Bickley, Richard Wiegold and Alan Oke.

Some of the cast are in common with Elena Langer's Figaro's Divorce which includes Stout, Watts and O'Connell in the same roles but also includes a new role of the Major for Alan Oke. The libretto is by David Pountney and is based in Beaumarchais' La mere coupable, Horvath's Figaro gets a divorce along with some ideas of Pountney's own. Langer talked about her work and explained how the opera will be a stand along piece and not have references to Rossini and Mozart. It features familiar characters, but takes them in new directions; 20 years after the Mozart opera is set, Cherubino is now sleazy and fat. It will also have melodies, the role of the Major is evil but charismatic and he gets tempting music.

 Frontispiece to 'In Parenthesis', 1937  Credit: The Estate of David Jones; Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales
Frontispiece to 'In Parenthesis', 1937
Credit: The Estate of David Jones;
Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales
The Summer 2016 season features a revival of Elijah Moshinsky's production of Cav and Pag with Gwyn Hughes, Jones, David Kempster, Camilla Roberts and Anne-Marie Owens, but has as its centrepiece the second new commission, In Parenthesis: An Artist's Vision of the Somme. This is an opera based on the artist David Jones's remarkable poem In Parenthesis which describes his experience of the Somme, a work which is both factual and mystical. The libretto is by Emma Jenkins and David Antrobus, and Jenkins described how the storyline was essentially simple, soldiers going to the front line and dying at the Somme, but that there is a mystical, otherworldly dimension to the piece, which they have extracted from Daniel Jones's sprawling poem. Jenkins feels that their new work is something of an Orphic rite of passage. The hero combines a visceral experience of conflict, with dipping in and out of a mythic world.

The composer is Iain Bell, whose operatic work has so far included a Hogarthian prostitute and Dicken's Christmas Carol complete with its ghosts. He described how the piece was a challenge, combining the militaristic world with the astral, aetherial world. For the hero (the poet/Daniel Jones figure) Bell wanted to have a sense of otherness and decided to use a voice type not often used in contemporary opera, the Rossini tenor voice and the role of Private John Ball will be created by the American tenor Alek Shrader, with a cast which also includes Peter Coleman-Wright, Alexandra Deshorties (last seen in Cardiff as Elizabeth I in Donizetti's Roberto Devereux, see my review), Marcus Farnsworth, Graham Clark, Mark le Brocq and Donald Maxwell. The opera will be directed by David Pountney and designed by Robert Innes Hopkins.

Previous summers, WNO has used money from the Getty Foundation to put on contemporary opera, but this will not be used for In Parenthesis. The Getty money is for operas which are already written but not performed in the UK and a final one will be presented in 2017. In Parenthesis is supported by the Nicholas John Trust, with 14-18 NOW, WW1 Centenary Art Commissions. The performance of In Parenthesis at Covent Garden in Summer 2016 will coincide with the anniversary of the Somme.

Full details of the announcement are on the WNO website, including a video of the event which was streamed live.
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