Review: WNO – From The House Of The Dead @ WMC

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Welsh National Opera – Z mrtvého domu (From The House Of The Dead)
Wales Millennium Centre
Sunday 8th October 2017

WNO are in the middle of their Russian inspired season of music making. Here lies a slimmer opera than the rest on offer, but one which still packs a mighty punch.

Based on the experiences of the writer Dostoyevsky whilst in a forced labour camp (where writing was strictly forbidden), this brutal depiction of tyranny is heightened more so by the Czech composer Leoš Janáček. In short, this is an extraordinary way to spend an hour and an half.

The mostly male chorus of prisoners are the backbone of the work and a handful have the spotlight turned on them to reveal why they have been sent to Siberia. It’s an intense experience and that makes for truly barnstorming theatre. The moods created and themes developed are so rousing and moving, you almost feel as if you’re there as well. It’s a traditional staging which adds to the grime and filth of the setting. Video work of an eagle, as well as its puppet in a cage, ram home the themes of being trapped and yearning for freedom.

One of Janáček’s finest scores, this is scintillating music which the ears never get distracted from. Deeply rooted in the folk music of his home land of Czechoslovakia, the scurrying strings, dense woodwind, striking percussion and bombastic brass all add to this musical equivalent of being punched in the face. Few operas have this much power over you.

Photo Credit: Clive Barda

Whilst it can be hard to direct a large chorus at singers, the squalled mentality they portray rings true. On fine form once again, the male voices are a deep cry of pain and sorrow to return to their homes, even if they delight in telling their downfall in storytelling mode. David Pountney work as both director and translator from the Czech (which Janáček translated in his librettos from the Russian) helped to create a performance which has merit and is almost cinematic in its scope and execution.

This is a valiant effort from an impeccable ensemble. Some notable performances were: Robert Hayward, Simon Bailey (whose story for Shishkov engulfed the final act), Paula Greenwood, Mark Le Brocq, Ben McAteer and Alan Oke. Many more names to say and to speak highly of. This critic can only write so much.

Not to be missed by any account.

Morbid, striking & unforgettable.

Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

WNO continue their Russia! Culture! Revolution! season at WMC with further performances of Khovanshchina, Eugene Onegin and Die Fledermaus, then on tour.

Upcoming:

Weeping Tudor Productions present Hidden Twin Peaks: Laura Palmer Fanfiction & The Monologue Lady at madeinroath this October. To herald the return of Twin Peaks, come join The Log Lady & Laura Palmer as they tell all, in their own remarkable words. Come dressed as your favourite Twin Peaks character. Prizes for best dressed! Tuck into vegan cherry pie and other delights on the night! 20th October 2017, at Inkspot Arts & Crafts at 8pm.

Related:

Review: WNO – Khovanshchina @ WMC

Review: WNO – Die Fledermaus @ WMC

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