Review: Opera'r Ddraig - Orpheus In The Underworld @ The Coal Exchange
As Welsh National Opera starts it new season, Cardiff can also say they have their own amateur opera group. Granted there's Swansea Opera and Mid-Wales Opera, but they are further afield. Opera'r Ddraig has students and graduates from Cardiff University, but mainly from the Royal Welsh Collage of Music and Drama. I say amateur when I mean so much more. The singing here is world-class. You forget just how young they are. These are after all, the opera starts of tomorrow, to join WNO, or perhaps even overseas.
This was staged at the Coal Exchange. It's one of the most beautiful buildings in Cardiff Bay. But why one part of it has been block off with blacked out windows I'll never know. We had security for the evening as well. This wasn't really necessary. They mainly cater to gigs and them being at the opera just seemed silly. We need more interesting shows there.
With a few previous productions under their belt, we see them tackle Offenbach's Orpheus In The Underworld. You might have never heard of it, but it does in fact contain one of the most famous works of classical music ever written. The Infernal Gallop, or the can-can as it is better known. Even the thought of this extract can have people raising their dresses and kicking their legs in the air.
The idea of the can-can in a work of Greek mythology may sound quite jarring. This is not an opera, but rather an operetta, meaning 'light opera'. Musicals take some credit from them, as singing mingles with talking throughout. Most 'grand opera' have no talking, only singing and is probably what puts some people off opera in general. For someone who has never been, perhaps it would be better to recommend an operetta, The Merry Widow or anything by Gilbert and Sullivan.
I'm surprised this isn't called 'Eurydice In The Underworld'. She is the one sent down their by Pluto and therefore Orpheus has to save her, even though he can't stand the sight of her. For a title character he is barley seen in the second act, coming and going in the first. So many characters come and go, it's quite a whirlwind of a story.
The setting has been modernised. The charter of Public Opinion, sung by Catherine Jones was made to look just like Rebekah Brooks, a la fuzzy ginger wig, tight fitting suit and tiny handbag. She arrives whenever the action on stage get a little too serious. One member of the chorus had signs that read 'News Of The Underworld', which I thought was rather clever. She said that even though the News Of The World is gone, they still run the show. Hard to deny really.
Many great gags, puns and effects were used. Matthew Clark made an impressive Jupiter, who here is basically the slimy and unsympathetic prime minister (bit of a stretch, for today I know). The walls of the set as were painted in a way to give the feel of a chamber or courtroom. It was his domain and he knew he was certainly in charge. The buzzing scene as well has to be seen rather than explained in a review.
Much praise for Emma Nash as Eurydice, who was stupendous. At times her singing had to be so high, it was hard to imagine a girl so young was able to go that high. She also knew what she wanted, even with drones of men after her. When the can-can started it was great to hear it in its original context. The singers later joined in with the tune, much to my delight. Certainly was a rip-roaring moment in the show. The dancers got a well deserved ovation.
The show was stolen by Mercury played by Ronald Harrad, who although from Bristol, has the appearance of a local boy. He put to my mind the appearance of Gethin Jones, Steve Jones or even Matt Johnson. I will admit I though he was very handsome, his red suit and dance moves only helped justify this. He only had one song, which was a shame, as I could have listened to more of him. He did remain with the chorus for most of the show after his arrival. I'll move on now...
I would urge you to see this. I had a lovely evening seeing it. Cheered me up ten fold. These guys really know how to sing well. The orchestra as well were on top form.
Get to the Coal Exchange!
Orpheus In The Underworld runs until Friday 15th February 2013. 7.30pm start. Pre-show talk 6:30pm.