The Welsh National Opera presents a theme of madness this season with the three operas: ‘I Puritani’, ‘Sweeney Todd’ and ‘Orlando’, with each exploring this deep topic with their own musical and dramatic expression.
Orlando by Jack Harrington and Greg Beavis
We attended their rendition of Handel’s Orlando which tells a story of a great soldier, Orlando, dealing with a betrayal from his love, Angelica, which causes a descension into insanity. The orchestra executed Handel’s manipulation of musical techniques to match the fierce struggle Orlando experiences: dramatic rhythm changes and switching time signatures.
While some operas resort to excessive use of subtitles, leading to distraction from the performance of the actors and orchestra, and others use too little so the plot is unclear, the Welsh National Opera strikes a perfect balance.
All the characters were performed expertly but it is Lawrence Zazzo’s portrayal of Orlando that shone through. Lawrence exhibits Orlando’s range of emotions very convincingly from the fiery passion for Angelica to intense trips to insanity upon discovery of her duplicity.
Indeed, Orlando successfully depicts the journey to insanity with flare, purpose and intensity that leaves the audience wanting more.
I Puritani by Lottie Mogridge and Maeve McGonigle
On the 17th of November 2015 the Hippodrome’s stage was host to the ensemble of ‘I Puritani’ and their resonant voices. The Chorus’ potent vocal sound came to no disappointed as they portrayed the Italian ardour of two lovers who were, at first, disapproved of marrying: this echoed Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’. The scene is set at the height of the Protestant and Catholic revulsion during the time of Cromwell and the English civil war. However, the stage was set as if were a village hall, which gave a relatable, modern vibe despite the period costumes. The stage also came apart and moved to create heights to reflect power struggles and status at later points in the play.
Nevertheless, the costumes by the Welsh National Opera looked true and elegant. Linda Richardson, who played Elvira (the female protagonist), was ordained in a simple yet graceful, floor length dress and later a wedding dress; this affirmed her status as a striking damsel. Whereas the men looked suave and commanding in their stiff, regal costumes. This compared to Arturo played by Barry Banks who wore a ruffled, Bachelor-like suit with a sword. The effect of this for the audience, whom could not all speak Italian, was their inclusion in the play and their understanding that these were the lovers.
I Puritani is a Bel Canto masterpiece. Musically, this is a magical evening as The Welsh National Opera’s took over the stage with their fabulous singing. With a chorus that was on impeccable form alongside the orchestra who played enchantingly under conductor Carlo Rizzi the show succeeded at keeping the performance moving at pace and despite it being a lengthy three hours there was never a dull moment. The success of the production was inextricably bound to the quality of the singing, and in this production the singing was extremely beautiful, resulting in the audience appreciating many impressive performances by exemplary artists.