Welsh National Opera Announce Spring Season Of Intoxicating Love Stories
Two classic Puccini operas and a hidden opera gem make up Welsh National Opera's Love's Poisoned Chalice season, taking audiences on a journey of love, passion, heartbreak and tragedy through some of opera's greatest tear jerking music.
At the heart of the spring season is a new production of Swiss composer Frank Martin's Le Vin herbé, directed by former WNO Genesis Assistant Director Polly Graham in her first main scale production for WNO. Inspiring the season theme, Le Vin herbé ('the spiked drink') is based on the myth of Tristan and Isolde. Martin's composition investigates the very meaning and function of myths, as a group of people come together to narrate this tragic love story. Written between 1938 and 1941, Frank Martin's version of the lovers' tale is more in riposte than homage to Wagner, and influenced by the imminent World War as well as his own personal crisis of losing his first wife.
Iseult will be performed by Caitlin Hulcup and Tom Randle returns to WNO to sing the role of Tristan, with Catherine Wyn-Rogers singing the role of Iseult's Mother. Originally conceived for 12 singers, this production will be performed with the entire WNO Chorus taking the role of narrator as in a Greek Chorus, commenting on the dramatic action as the story unfurls. An orchestra of 7 string players and a pianist will be on stage throughout the opera, along with conductor James Southall.
As WNO Genesis Assistant Director, Polly Graham received mentorship from internationally-renowned opera directors including WNO Artistic Director David Pountney, Mariusz Trelinski and Pierre Audi. She returns to WNO following her work with WNO Youth Opera on Kommilitonen! during the summer of 2016 which received excellent reviews from the national media.
Opening the spring season is Puccini's much-loved La bohème in a production which WNO first staged in 2012 to high praise from both critics and audiences. Telling the tragic love story of Mimi and Rodolfo, this production transports audiences to the streets of bohemian Paris.
Annabel Arden's 1913 inspired pre-war production will be directed in this revival by Caroline Chaney and will feature a double cast for Mimi and Rodolfo. American soprano and rising star Marina Costa-Jackson makes her debut with WNO to sing Mimi, sharing the role with Jessica Muirhead who returns to WNO following her performance as Micaëla in Carmen in 2014. Tenors Dominick Chenes and Matteo Lippi will share the role of Rodolfo. La bohème will be conducted by Manlio Benzi who makes his debut at WNO.
Former WNO Associate Artist Gary Griffiths returns to WNO to take the role of Marcello, and Australian Lauren Fagan makes her WNO main stage debut in the role of Musetta. Jihoon Kim takes the role of Colline and Gareth Brynmor John takes the role of Schaunard.
Completing the trio of spring operas is another Puccini classic: Madam Butterfly. Joachim Herz's beautiful sepia-toned production will be directed in this revival by Sarah Crisp and conducted by Lawrence Foster who returns to WNO following his performance conducting the world première of The Fall of the House of Usher in 2014.
Punctuated with irresistible music including the Humming Chorus and the moving Un bel dì aria, Madam Butterfly tells the heartbreaking tale of Cio-Cio-San's love and loss at the hands of her American naval officer, Pinkerton. This production features a double cast for the roles of Cio-Cio-San and Pinkerton. South Korean-born soprano Karah Son will share the role of Cio-Cio-San with Linda Richardson who returns to WNO following recent performances in I Puritani and Moses in Egypt. American tenor JoNathan Burton makes his WNO debut, sharing the role of Pinkerton with Paul CharLes Clarke who returns to WNO following performances in Sweeney Todd during the 2015/16 season.
Former WNO Associate Artist Rebecca Afonwy-Jones returns to WNO to sing the role of Suzuki, and fellow Welsh favourites David Kempster and Richard Wiegold also return to sing the roles of Sharpless and Bonze respectively.
During the Spring tour, WNO will also be part of Dubai Opera's inaugural season, taking performances of La bohème and Madam Butterfly to the new opera house. The performances are part of UK/UAE 2017, a year of Creative Collaboration led by the British Council, who are also supporting a programme of learning activities with WNO. This will involve WNO working with schools and colleges across Dubai, giving young people the chance to take part in workshops and master classes with WNO singers and orchestral players and seeing behind the scenes of an opera company.
Talking about the season, WNO Artistic Director David Pountney says: "To bring Madame Butterfly and La Bohème together in one season is a luxurious offering for our audiences, but there is a delightful and no less passionate or moving sting in the tail: a small, intimate but deceptively powerful work by the Swiss composer Frank Martin, a very underrated musician. You may know by now that I take a particular delight in bringing such neglected gems to your notice! In the years leading up to the 2nd World War, Martin, from his safe observation post in Switzerland, reacted to the flagrant abuse of Wager's music by the Nazis by composing an "alternative" Tristan and Isolde, which he called Le Vin herbé - literally "The spiked drink." Martin's work is small scale, deeply intense, personal, full of pent up emotion, rather than the Tsunami's of sound that Wagner created. But Martin's work is, in its very different way, just as powerful. He gathers together a group of singers, in this case our wonderful chorus, and induces them as a collective to create for us a narrative of the famous love story. As accompaniment we have a powerfully expressive string septet plus piano. It is amazing what power and what emotion Martin is able to conjure up with these apparently slender forces, but then we remember that Britten's The Turn of the Screw, with just a few musicians in the pit, fills large theatres with its emotion and its special atmosphere. That is what Martin achieves, and every one of you who harbours that nagging bug of curiosity will want to experience this rare operatic opportunity."
WNO Orchestra can also be enjoyed in orchestral concerts around the season performances. A series of three Viennese concerts in Cardiff (Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama -13 Jan), Bangor (Pontio - 14 Jan) and Newtown (The Hafren - 15 Jan) will feature the flamboyant music of Mozart and Strauss in a programme of waltzes and polkas transporting audiences to the Austrian capital.
The WNO Orchestra return this time under the direction of Leader, David Adams with a programme of well-loved classics on 25 February at Cardiff's Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama. Edward Grieg's much loved Holberg Suite, Haydn's Cello Concerto and Mozart's Symphony No 41 (Jupiter) completes the programme.
Following a rapturous reception for his performance with WNO Orchestra, Chorus and Community Chorus of Mahler's Second Symphony during the Autumn season, WNO Music Director Tomáš Hanus returns to the concert stage to conduct WNO Orchestra for a Sunday afternoon concert on 19 March at St David's Hall in Cardiff as part of the International Concert Series. The programme for the concert will include Suk's beautiful Serenade for Strings, Dvo?ák's Symphony No 7, and Mozart's dark and haunting Piano Concerto No 20 which will be performed by the brilliant young Russian pianist Pavel Kolesnikov.
More information on WNO's spring 2016 season is available at wno.org.uk/lovespoisonedchalice.
Photo Credit: Robert Workman