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Music Theatre Wales, National Dance Company Wales, London Sinfonietta, Exaudi Vocal Ensemble & Sound Intermedia – Passion

Wales Millennium Centre

Tuesday 23rd October 2018

We’re still recovering from the diversity debate which has been with us for an intense year now. Whilst some of the decisions made by MTW have been questioned, they have played it safe with a stimulating look at Greek myth, turning on its head assumed gender roles. Orpheus and Eurydice is a staple myth which has been part of the operatic canon since it conception. Though the story has the bum note of Eurydice dying, due to the carelessness of her husband Orpheus, this fresh look at the story has no fear of death nor the power she conveys in her departure. 

French composer Pascal Dusapin has (in one of his more recent operas) given Eurydice a much more engaged role in the story, though here the total focus is on her death and Eurydice coping with this. With a small ensemble of live musicians, the staggering London Sinfonietta we were also graced with lush electronics and synths all special additions to the music. The real question remains: is the score accessible? The answer is mostly no. Having said that it does have heightened time of dense drama, manic clusters and some odd harmonies. Some exquisite moments came when both singers match the musicians in tender realities, for some agonising bars of beauty. These were the moments of true loss in the story. 

Dance in opera has had a rocky history. Granted, a ballet sequence was a main stay of opera for centuries (Parisian audiences booed Wagner who putting it in the wrong act of his opera). A collaboration between NDC Wales (at the time called Diversions) with WNO for Kurt Weil’s Seven Deadly Sins, though this was not a success and we’ve seen little like this after. The dancers at times add mood and abstract responses to the tension on stage, though at in other moments they clog the stage with odd twigging, gyrating and other concerning actions. They may be our demons in the underworld and have other roles, though they are at their best playing the ladder, orange cloth and light box which graced for us a while on stage. 

Two strong operatic leads are lingering on stage here in Passion. Jennifer France is our content heroine, keen in death though also sad to lose her husband. With a sweet voice which pierces through the orchestra she is always a safe bet in new operatic work. Johnny Herford is our hero, of sorts who can’t quite fathom his loss and appears to go through most stages of grief when on stage. With a high sounding baritone, he may be shrill at times but usually engages in his affirmations about lose, longing and the attempt to move on. The two never appear to be near one another, as the frantic dancers are usually in their way. 

The opera overstays its welcome for about 20 minutes and could have been a tightly compressed opera, though it still has a lot going for it though. 

I think patience and an open mind would help when seeing this Passion. 

Rating: 3 stars

Passion continues on tour to Snape Maltings, Salford & Mold. 

Weeping Tudor Productions present Bernstein Bash! At St Edward’s Church, Cardiff on Saturday 1st December 2018. Join us for songs from West Side Story, Candide and other shows. Expect recital songs and also stimulating piano piece. Join us for the rumble! Book here: 

Photo Credit: MTW Website 

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