United Kingdom Various Composers, Chorus: Soloists from the WNO chorus, Lesley Garrett (soprano), Chris Tudor (dancer), Chorus and Orchestra of Welsh National Opera / Alexander Martin (conductor and chorus master), Venue Cymru (North Wales Theatre), Llandudno, 12.3.2015 (RJF)
Prokofiev, War and Peace, Epigraph.
Britten, Peter Grimes. Who holds himself apart?
Verdi: The Flying Dutchman. Spinning Chorus
Macbeth, Murderer’s Chorus
Il Trovatore, Anvil Chorus
Verdi, La forza del destino, Rataplan (Lesley Garrett)
Purcell, The Fairy Queen, Hush, no more
Puccini, Madam Butterfly, Humming Chorus
Stravinsky, The Rake’s Progress, With air commanding
Weill, The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, Alabama Song
Shostakovich, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, Police Scene
Bizet, Carmen, Cigarette Chorus
Sullivan, The Pirates of Penzance, A policeman’s lot
Offenbach, The Tales of Hoffmann Barcarolle and Belle nuit (Lesley Garrett)
Janáček , The Cunning Little Vixen, Wedding Scene
Bizet, Carmen, Les voici
Sullivan, The Pirates of Penzance, With cat-like tread
Verdi, Macbeth, Witches’ Chorus
Verdi, La forza del destino, La vergine degli angeli (Lesley Garrett)
Handel, Messiah Hallelujah Chorus
Franck Panis angelicus (Lesley Garrett)
Mussorgsky Khovanschina Wailing chorus
Verdi Nabucco Va,pensiero
Leigh Man of La Mancha The Impossible Dream (Lesley Garrett)
Bernstein Candide Make our garden grow (Lesley Garrett)
Director: David Pountney
Designer: Johan Engels
Associate Set Designer: Matthew Rees
Lighting Designer: Ian Jones
Choreographer: Denni Sayers
The original concept of Chorus was conceived by Welsh National Opera and directed by David Pountney in 2004. This new version, also under his direction, celebrates one of WNO’s greatest assets, its Chorus. The items as indicated above are drawn from the broad diversity of the opera genre and are mostly sung in the languages in which the works were written. Most of the solo parts were taken by members of the chorus, all of whom will have enjoyed professional training as singers before joining the Company Chorus, which enjoys a widely admired reputation within and outside the profession. I recall a conversation a dozen years or so ago with a soloist singer who enjoyed a distinguished career in the profession having appeared at some of the best operatic addresses around the world including his own La Scala in Italy. One of the things he stressed to me was the total commitment the members of the WNO chorus gave to their performances and not merely as singers, but as involved actors as well during performances and how this was not necessarily the case everywhere and particularly in his own country. How that has been influenced by the history of WNO, from before its formal foundation in 1946, when it operated for many years with an amateur chorus where doctors and miners mixed and rehearsed in their spare time and toured during their holidays with the Company repertoire being chosen principally to highlight the strengths of that amateur chorus. The history of the WNO in the years from its foundation in Idloes Owen’s house in 1943 to 1985, are recounted in Richard Fawkes’ Welsh National Opera (Julia MacRae. 1986). Copies are still around and a follow up is needed.
The qualities I mention above are still very evident in the WNO chorus and were on show in this performance. Costumes and staging were well thought through with the music flowing, usually without interval, from one item to the next. The startling introduction from Prokofiev’s War and Peace illustrated the acted commitment and vocal diversity of the plainly dressed members. As the evening progressed, and the repertoire diversified with Verdi featuring prominently, as a reminder, perhaps, of the early years so the vocal sonority seemed to become even more intense with words and acting coalescing to give dramatic cohesion. For the Murderer’s Chorus from Macbeth, the men wore masks whilst the vibrancy of the Anvil Chorus from Il Trovatore was aided by flag waving as well as the on stage instruments representing the anvils being struck. The following Verdi introduced the guest soloist, soprano Lesley Garrett. I don’t quite know why she was chosen, except perhaps because of availability or her well-known chutzpah on the concert stage. She has hardly featured with WNO in the past fifteen or so years and her voice did not have the diversity of strength or colour for some of the items she sang, particularly the Rataplan from Verdi’s melodic La Forza del Destino whose lovely chorus La vergine del angeli was somewhat better suited to her contribution in part two. Her best vocal contributions were the final two items when the packed audience also appreciated her gown, even if it was merely glamorous rather than revealing as in the Offenbach as she soared upwards on a couch after her seductive rendition!
The stage was never over-populated by expensive sets, simplicity and simple drops being largely the name of the game. Colour was more evident in the costumes of part two where there was humour from the male dancer adding to his well-acted contributions, even in drag when he was reduced to his boxers! From his glamour puss walk on. Lesley Garrett was more suited to the last two items the audience enjoying her spectacular dress after her as a nun in Panis Angelicus and the Forza chorus. Other solo items were sung by various members of the chorus with some distinction, particularly in the extract from Musorgsky’s Khovanschina, sung in English but costumed. The only disappointment for me in the wide diversity of the chorus singing was the inclusion of the Hallelujah Chorus where a mere forty singers were no competition for the Hallé Choir or St George’s one hundred plus. At least I didn’t have to stand on this occasion.
It was a good idea to give the WNO chorus this opportunity to display their skills, on their own behalf as it were. The whole was the equal of the diverse parts, thanks to imaginative production. A packed audience appreciated the whole evening.
Robert J Farr