Review 'Wythnos yng Nghymru Fydd'

Ben Ridler

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Clearly a new opera in Welsh is to be welcomed, and especially one that brings new life and attention to a novel as important in the recent history of the language as Wythnos yng Nghymru Fydd.  But it's worth asking:  what can really be added to a prose classic by revamping it in the clothes of another genre?   An answer can I think be found in the remarks of Leusa Llywelyn included in the programme.  'What better medium is there than opera to convey the despair, hope, pure love and overwhelming longing to be found in this important work?'  Leusa refers also to 'the strong emotions that predominate in Islwyn Ffowc Ellis's novels'.  Here we have a key to the success of this venture as a whole  -  the sheer emotional impact on heart and memory for anyone who experiences a live performance.

'As a whole'  -  its deep effect depended on a combination of many artistic and technical skills, and it is perhaps unfair to pick out individuals given that it was as a totality that it was so moving and memorable.  But credit must of course be given to key figures, first and foremost the two prime creators, composer Gareth Glyn and librettist Mererid Hopwood.  To the latter fell the challenge of breaking a long novel down to two coherent acts with their own momentum, enriched here and there with original lyric touches as in Mair's aria at the end of Act 1  -  'What is time but the measure / that binds the beating heart'?  (Thanks to the company for providing a printed libretto to enjoy afterwards.)  Above all, Gareth Glyn's score (for a dozen players) was the evening's 'motor':  music that seemed to speak naturally and was by turns agile, thrilling, full of varied colours, and light or imposing according to need.  For freshness and energy it never faltered from first note to last.

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I'm sure both composer and librettist will have taken pride in the interpretation and performances they witnessed.  Conductor Iwan Teifion Davies was authoritative throughout; director Patrick Young's staging had his hallmark economy and clarity of focus.  It would be hard to overpraise the five main singers, who played a number of roles between them.  Robyn Lyn Evan's stamina was extraordinary, his protagonist Ifan being onstage in every scene; there seemed no strain in his mellifluous tenor, which projected all the angst of Ifan's' overwhelming longing' for Mair, the girl of his dreams  -  realised in all her glamour and dignity by Gwawr Edwards.  Euros Campbell's robust baritone projected fully the alternating hope and despair in Tegid's fight for his language.  It was hard not to tremble, like Ifan, before the mighty voice and presence of Captain Steele (bass-baritone Sion Goronwy), whose obsession with a return to 'the golden age of the Wales of the past' delivered  a menacing outburst not easily forgotten.  And thanks are due to Sian Meinir for putting her very soul (and rich mezzo voice) into the story's climactic scene, in which (in a magnificent duet with Ifan) she is led back to the remnants of her Welsh through the words amd melody of the 23rd Psalm.

Add in the impressive senior chorus (four strong soloists) and youth chorus, chamber group Ensemble Cymru, ingenious and effective set-design (Lois Prys) and lighting (Gwion Llwyd)  -  and you have a 'gesamtkunstwerk' to celebrate as a tremendous achievement that augurs well for the prospects of opera in Welsh, and the future of this pioneering company.