Welsh National Opera explores Madness for autumn season
The Bristol Hippodrome
Tuesday 20th – Saturday 24th October 2015
Madness descends upon Welsh National Opera for its autumn 2015 season, with three new productions that explore human turmoil through musical expressions of madness and the human condition. I Puritani, Orlando and Sweeney Todd will be performed at The Bristol Hippodrome from 20 until 24 October. The season launches WNO’s 70th birthday year.
Opening the autumn season in Bristol is a new production of Bellini’s I puritani, the composer’s final opera in which the heroine Elvira descends into madness, following the season’s theme.
The director Annilese Miskimmon’s background of growing up in the conflict of 1970’s Northern Ireland provides the tumultuous backdrop for the tale of the two lovers in this brand new production that tells a Romeo and Juliet style story with a twist!
Bellini’s I Puritani is based on the story of star-crossed lovers from opposing religious factions and in this interesting interpretation, Director Annilese Miskimmon draws from two significant historical periods, centuries apart; the English Civil War and “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland.
The performance opens in 1970s Northern Ireland with Protestant Elvira whose father has promised her to Riccardo, his chosen Protestant suitor, but Elvira’s already fallen for Arturo who’s a Catholic and eventually her father is persuaded to let her be with her true love.
We go back in time to see seventeenth century Elvira (Rosa Feola) in a wedding dress. She’s preparing to wed her lover Arturo (Edmund Choo), amidst a large throng of Oliver Cromwell’s supporters. Modern Elvira, still dressed in a contemporary suit, looks on bemused as she witnesses the spectacle.
An agitated mystery woman appears amongst the puritans and is revealed as Charles I’s Catholic widow, Henrietta. Upon hearing her terrible plight, Arturo decides to aid her escape thus saving her from execution by the puritans. Elvira, unable to find her lover on her wedding day, thinks he’s betrayed her, becomes distraught and descends into madness.
Back in 70’s Northern Ireland, Arturo returns from exile and the lovers are re-united. Riccardo (David Kempster) and his protestant supporters discover the couple together, jealousy and hatred prevail and Arturo is tragically murdered.
The opera is sung in Italian with surtitles in English (and Welsh in Cardiff and Llandudno)
The set remains virtually unchanged and is stark and depressing during both eras. Fluorescent tubes seem to fill every corner of the stage with harsh light in the 70s scenes whereas front lights cast giant menacing shadows onto the back of the stage, giving a spooky, austere, candle lit atmosphere when we go back in time. Most of the costumes are plain too with the exception of Elvira’s wedding dress.
As Elvira’s madness takes hold, she tears up her wedding bouquet and prayer book and spins around wildly. Flashing ceiling lights, giant shadows and the overlapping of the shifting time periods add to the confusion.
This is definitely one for a child-free outing. We didn’t take the boys and I’m under no illusion that it would have held their interest, particularly with a running time of around three hours.
Initially we find the jumps from one period to another rather confusing, but it all makes sense once we’ve read why it’s been directed in this way. I’m not sure whether modern Elvira needs to remain on the stage for so long after the historical action has begun though, as she does seem a bit of a spare part after a while!
We’re not familiar with Bellini’s score, however WNO Orchestra is recognised as one of the leading orchestras in the UK and as soon as we spot Carlo Rizzi conducting, we know we’re in for an absolute musical treat!
Vocal performances throughout are worthy of praise but we’re especially impressed by Rosa Feola who mesmerises us with the light and shade of her beautiful, expressive yet seemingly effortless singing.
WELSH NATIONAL OPERA
Tuesday 20th – Saturday 24th October
Tuesday 20th October at 7.00 pm
Wednesday 21st October at 7.15 pm
Thursday 22nd – Saturday 24th October at 7.15 pm
Tickets: from £11.40
Concessions available at certain performances
- Welsh National Opera is the national opera company for Wales. WNO is funded by the Arts Councils of Wales and England to provide large scale opera across Wales and to major cities in the English regions.
- I puritani is a co-production with Den Jyske Opera/Danish National Opera supported by John Ward, WNO Bel Canto Syndicate, Peter & Veronica Lofthouse, and The Kobler Trust
- More information on WNO’s autumn 2015 season is available at wno.org.uk
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DISCLOSURE: WE RECEIVED TICKETS FOR THE PURPOSES OF THIS REVIEW. ALL OPINIONS ARE MY/OUR OWN.