Out of the shadows . . .

polceman's lot

A policeman's lot could be a lot worse at Welsh National Opera if you bother to look in your locker . . .

Chorus!

Welsh National Opera

****

IF operas consisted of arias, and more specifically the well known arias we all know and love, then a night at the opera would either be a somewhat fleeting visit or an evening of opera’s greatest hits.

The arias might be the jewels of opera but it is the chorus who give them their setting, creating bands of peasants up in arms, brigands, aristocrats at Parisian soirees , Russian revolutionaries or whatever the story calls for and providing the film like incidental music and themes to set the mood and carry the story along.

So in any opera the chorus deserve recognition, particularly as in some productions they are even omitted from the curtain calls at the end, but it is a brave move by WNO to give them a show of their own, although, to be fair, they pull it off.

And adding a helping hand, a name to help put bums on seats, is soprano Lesley Garrett, the Yorkshire Lass who has helped popularise opera and make it more accessible to a wider audience.

There are, of course, immediately recognisable chorus numbers which are planted cleverly in the programme so that a familiar friend appears at regular intervals, items such as the Anvil Chorus from Il trovatore or The Humming Chorus from Madame Butterfly or the Cigarette Chorus from Carmen - which sung by the scantily clad mezzo-sopranos and sopranos, was almost enough to make you take up smoking again.

And there were lighter moments such as Stephen Wells, a bass for the chorus, telling us how A Policemen’s Lot is not a happy one, from The Pirate’s of Penzance while fellow bass George Newton-Fitzgerald led the chorus of thieving pirates With Cat-like Tread.

But perhaps it was neither opera nor Gilbert & Sullivan which made you sit up and notice, but that most glorious of anthems of any oratorio, the Hallelujah Chorus.It was just magnificent and even the constant movement of bass, tenor, mezzo-soprano and soprano animated rather than detracted from Handel’s masterpiece. In that one piece you knew how good this chorus was – the individual quality emphasised even further by its own members taking the solo parts in items such as the extended scene from the Wailinglesley garrett Chorus from Musorgsky’s Khovanshchina with bass Alastair Moore as Khovansky, tenor Simon Crosby Buttle as Kuzka and fellow tenor Michael Clifton-Thompson as the Scribe.

Lying down on the job: Lesley Garrett reclines on her levitating lips

 Martin Lloyd also stood out as a powerful deep bass as Sleep in Hush, No More from Purcell’s The Fairy Queen.

Garrett appeared to be enjoying herself from the moment she first appeared as a somewhat stern officer in Rataplan from Verdi’s La Forza del destino, vamping it up in the Alabama Song in Brecht and Weill’s The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahogonny and we even saw her suspended draped within a giant set of lips in Baracolle from The Tales of Hoffmann.

She was more sombre in the second half though with Verdi’s beautiful La Vergine degli Angeli from La Forza del Destino and the haunting Panis angelicus.

And Garret showed she has a foot firmly in both camps, opera and musical theatre, with a final solo, The Impossible Dream, from Man of La Mancha and the final number, with tenor Howard Kirk and of course, the chorus, Make our Garden Grow from Bernstein’s Candide.

There was even an encore with each section having its say as to why it was the most important, including Garratt throwing in her two pennyworth as the diva, followed by her red-suited lap-dog/nuisance, dancer Chris Tudor, who had made mischief all night long in a clever setting and design from Johan Engels.

Instead of trying to recreate scenes from operas director David Pounney created little stories in their own right to give the songs context outside their opera.

The Police Scene from Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. for example, with Stephen Wells as the Chief of Police, taking part in an NYPD precinct house locker room, which quickly becomes a Penzance bobby’s changing room, guv.

Dancer Tudor was part of this, a figure at times hunted by the authorities and hidden by the people, or flitting around and even, I suspect, a drag queen at one point.

As always the WNO orchestra under conductor Alexander Martin played their part superbly.

It was not perhaps opera as we know it, Jim, but t was an entertaining evening with an appreciative audience.

Roger Clarke

04-03-15

WNO spring tour continues with The Magic Flute Mar 5 and 6 and Hansel and Gretel, Mar 7 

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