Blaze of Glory, WNO at Bristol Hippodrome

THERE is a dramatic tragedy lurking in the story of a group of about-to-be-made-redundant Rhondda Valley miners reforming their Male Voice Choir, as the once-dominant coal industry begins shrink into insignificance during the 1950s. At its height there were 53 coal mines in the Rhondda. By 1990, only one was left in production.

Composer David Hackridge Johnson, librettist Emma Jenkins and director/choreographer Caroline Clegg decided not to go down that line, and instead created a much lighter, more optimistic view of the time and place, inhabiting it with some characters that could have stepped straight out of the writings of Dylan Thomas. The spinster piano accompanist Miss Nerys Price (Rebecca Evans) and Dafydd Pugh (Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts), the foreman miner and former conductor of the local choir, whom she persuades to reform the choir in face of the pit’s imminent closure, would sit happily in any Dylan Thomas play – as would their diffident romantic coming together.

While several members of the choir would also fit this mould, there were others like Themba Vula’s ex-GI, who brings a soul like quality to his lament about what is happening to the adopted home, the first place in his life where he feels he belongs. Feargal Mostyn-Williams yodelling alto Bryn Bevan, poached from the Treorchy Male Voice Choir to help the newly formed Bethesda Glee, (known locally as the Bee Gees), to sing Ambroise Thomas’s Le Tyrol at the Porthcawl Eisteddfod.

In the same vein were the splendid Bronwen (Angharad Morgan), Blodwen (Nafissatou Batu Daramy) and Branwen (Anghard Lyddon) who, in addition to singing close harmony in the style of the popular 1940s-50s American singing group The Andrews Sisters, moved the props on Madeleine Boyd’s cleverly designed multi-purpose set with the dexterity and speed to match any long-serving stage hand.

Conductor Stephen Higgins had the job of blending a mixture of traditional Welsh songs and hymns, 19th century French music, Big Band sounds, operetta and gospel, with a few others thrown in for good measure. With the aid of a middle-sized WNO orchestra, the quality of accompaniment never faltered. Nor did his own obvious delight in the combination of male voice choir and orchestra, which was musically and delightfully the dominant factor of the evening.

He sang as lustily as the fine chorus on stage and the members of the Blaenavon Male Voice Choir, who entertained audience members in the circle bar prior to curtain up, and then joined in the traditional songs that opened each half of the opera.

This WNO production finishes its all-too-short tour in Southampton’s Mayflower Theatre on Saturday 20th May.


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