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Commentary

Wales Millennium Centre
26 Jun 2015

Press Release: Welsh National Opera explores Madness for autumn season

Madness descends upon Welsh National Opera for its autumn 2015 season, with three new productions that will explore human turmoil through some of the finest musical expressions of madness and the human condition.

Press Release: Welsh National Opera explores Madness for autumn season

Above: Wales Millennium Centre

 

The season launches WNO’s 70th birthday year which will see the company stage seven new productions over the course of the year — including two world premières — and a classic revival.

Opening the autumn season is a new production of Bellini’s I puritani; the composer’s final opera and widely regarded as a bel canto masterpiece. Following the season theme, the heroine Elvira’s descent into madness inspired Bellini to create one of the most exquisitely refined musical portraits of insanity in opera.

I puritani will be directed by former WNO staff director Annilese Miskimmon, Artistic Director of Den Jyske Opera/Danish National Opera who are also co-producers. Following critical acclaim for both William Tell and Moses in Egypt with WNO, Carlo Rizzi returns to conduct I puritani, and celebrated bel canto tenor Barry Banks returns to sing Arturo. Rising Italian lyric soprano Rosa Feola will sing Elvira in Cardiff, Southampton and Bristol, with Linda Richardson singing the role for the remainder of WNO’s UK tour. David Kempster will sing Riccardo Forth and Wojtek Gierlach, Giorgio.

One of Handel’s greatest operas — Orlando — comes to WNO in a production that originated at Scottish Opera in 2011. It provides a fascinating insight into musical virtuosity as a metaphor for insanity as Orlando’s vertiginous descent into madness at the end of Act II is sublimely depicted through Handel’s music, balancing his inner suffering with fevered anguish to immense effect. Directed by Harry Fehr, Orlando will be set in 1940s London during World War II, providing a fitting backdrop to heighten the emotional impact of the story against the devastation of the Blitz.

Baroque virtuoso, Rinaldo Alessandrini will conduct the impressive cast which includes international countertenor Lawrence Zazzo in the lead role; his debut performance as Orlando. WNO welcomes back internationally-acclaimed Welsh soprano Rebecca Evans to sing Angelica. Fflur Wyn also returns to WNO following her performance in Autumn 2014’s William Tell to sing Dorinda. Robin Blaze and Daniel Grice will sing Medoro and Zoroastro.

The season is completed with Sondheim’s musical masterpiece, Sweeney Todd, which explores not only the madness of the protagonist but of society as a whole. This production promises a musical with all the emotional impact of opera and will be a rare opportunity to hear Sweeney Todd with the celebrated WNO Chorus and Orchestra. This production is set in the late 1970s/early 1980s and provides a fresh take on the story with echoes of Thatcher’s Britain.

A co-production between Welsh National Opera, Wales Millennium Centre and West Yorkshire Playhouse in association with Royal Exchange Theatre, Sweeney Todd will be directed by WYP Artistic Director James Brining and conducted by James Holmes in a staging adapted for WNO. This is the first time that WNO and Wales Millennium Centre have worked together as co-producers, and there will be an extra run of the production presented with Wales Millennium Centre following WNO’s autumn UK tour.

The cast will feature opera and musical theatre singers with German baritone David Arnsperger as Sweeney Todd and Scottish soprano Janis Kelly as Mrs Lovett. Anthony will be sung by Jamie Muscato, with Soraya Mafi singing Johanna. Welsh tenor Aled Hall will sing Beadle Bamford and Charlotte Page will sing Beggar Woman. Also joining the cast are Steven Page as Judge Turpin and George Ure as Tobias Ragg.

During the autumn season, WNO will be working with primary schools in Cardiff, Bristol, Oxford and Birmingham on The Sweeney Adventures. 330 pupils in total across the four cities will take place in workshops where they will use music and drama to explore the hardships faced in Victorian Britain for themselves; a key aspect of the KS2 history curriculum. The project is the third in a series of interactive adventures and follows on from the Tudors — Killing Cousins project in 2013 and My Perfect World in 2014.

Commenting on the season, WNO Artistic Director David Pountney says: “The paradox of music is that it is a highly rational means of expression, much more logically organised than the language of speech for instance, and yet it is at the same time the supreme means of expressing all kinds of extreme emotional states. Among these, madness has been a constant inspiration to composers eager to test the ability of music to penetrate the most radical states of mental disorder. Our season presents a fascinatingly wide range of musical expression dedicated to this phenomenon, from the virtuosic roulades of Handel, via the elegant refinement of Bellini to the raw craziness of Sondheim’s gruesome Barber.”

Wales Millennium Centre will also present WNO in a concert performance of Tosca on Monday 2 November featuring Bryn Terfel as Scarpia. Ainhoa Arteta will perform the title role with Teodor Ilincãi as Cavaradossi. The performance will form part of the finale of Wales Millennium Centre’s 10th anniversary celebrations.

Graeme Farrow, Artistic and Creative Director at Wales Millennium Centre says: “Working collaboratively with our resident partners has always played a fundamental role in our vision to becoming a world class Centre for the arts, and the many successes the Centre has achieved in its first 10 years have been reached with the support and expertise of our residents. It is our ambition in the years to come to create new work of exceptional quality that delights, surprises and impresses. Developing partnerships, within Wales and internationally, is essential in fulfilling this ambition, and it’s a privilege to be collaborating with Welsh National Opera with their inimitable reputation for producing exciting and ambitious opera.”

David Pountney adds: “We are delighted to join with Wales Millennium Centre to celebrate their 10th anniversary. The Centre is one of the finest purpose built opera houses in Europe, and its presence in Cardiff has transformed opera making for us, and opera going for people from Wales and far beyond. As such, it is an invaluable asset to Wales’ cultural portfolio, and a symbol of its aspiration to the highest levels of artistic expression and achievement.”

Following the autumn tour, WNO will present two performances of A Christmas Carol at Wales Millennium Centre in December; Iain Bell’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Christmas favourite. This seasonal show will be an opportunity to experience Bell’s work prior to the world première of In Parenthesis during WNO’s summer 2016 season. The one-man show will feature tenor Mark Le Brocq as Narrator alongside a chamber orchestra. Conducted by James Southall, the production will be directed by former WNO Genesis Assistant Director Polly Graham.

More information on WNO’s autumn 2015 season is available at wno.org.uk

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