Music Theatre Wales & Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru – Y Tŵr (The Tower)
Friday 19th May 2017
Wales has always been the land of song…yet where are all the full scale opera in Welsh?
Filling the void here is a collaboration between Music Theatre Wales and Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru, in perhaps the most celebrated Welsh language play. Y Tŵr (or The Tower) by Gwenlyn Parry is a metaphorical duologue between a couple only ever billed as Female and Male.
They dwell in this supposed tower, as if a matrimonial home wasn’t good enough. When the time is right or provoked upon them they ascend the stairs to the next level of the tower, as if implying the next phase of their relationship and later, their inevitable demise.
Here, the play is transformed into a familiar ideal of the themes. The music by Guto Puw is evocative, yet rarely packs a punch (soft maraca shakes for the train motives are a nice touch). His first opera, it’s an intimate affair in keeping the tradition of Britten, with just a few musicians, along with the two singers.
Having heard some of his previous music, I craved some of that wild nature from before. Perhaps Puw’s future commissions should be a larger, full scale project with WNO? Gwyneth Gyln’s libretto feels faithful, along with a few cheeky updates. With my poor Welsh skills, I was left to squint at the less eloquent English translation, I’m guessing was also done by Gyln.
Our crazed couple are none other than Caryl Hughes and NTW stalwart Gwion Thomas. It’s a jarring mix of singers in two separate generations, only matching properly once we see both characters ageing together. Hughes is warm, considerate and loyal, whilst Thomas is cheeky, panicked and rather bullish in his lusting over other women, to the dismay of his partner.
Their singing is on formidable form and the Welsh (I’m sure) is clear and considerate. Each bring out heart breaking integrity in the third act, as the two of them are in their twilight days, soon to move on to the next level.
Direction is by Michael McCarthy, who is the big cheese at MTW. He makes some interesting decision here, though like Puw’s score, could aim higher in boldness. The set by Samal Blak is simple and no nonsense. With a handful of props for both singers, all of which are used in some sort of way, rest above the easily foldable floor. The stairs up to the next level loom over everything, in their never ending temptation towards ascension. *Spoilers* In the final scene after his demise, the stairs snap in two in a heart rending moment, the only true emotion of the evening.
Whilst the second act had more bite to it, with it’s intriguing dissonances and compelling depiction of senile activities, as a whole the work does little to disrupt the lacking desire to make more opera in Welsh.
Put simply, it is a niche of a niche.
Rating: 3 stars
Y Tŵr continues on tour to Aberystwyth, Bangor, Mold, Swansea and Buxton.
Music Theatre Wales’s productions of The Golden Dragon by Peter Eötvös has its world premiere at Sherman Cymru on 22nd September 2017.
Click here for the next Sprout Editorial Group meeting.
It’s free and quick to comment below but we recommend signing up with your email or as a guest to keep usernames Sprouty and anonymous (and never post personal details!).
If you want more info on staying safe online, check out our online safety section.