Best of Welsh Classical and Opera 2023

Best of Welsh Classical and Opera 2023

It’s that time of year again! With Christmas nearing and 2023 drawing to a close, we take a look back at some of the best art and cultural offerings to come out of Wales this year. Today, we’re naming our favourite Welsh Opera of 2023.

2023 saw some exciting new writing for opera and classical music – but that’s not to say we haven’t enjoyed our fair share of traditional opera – sometimes with some refreshingly modern twists! Here are our top recommendations of the year:

Blaze of Glory – Wales National Opera

2023 brought with it the WNO’s original work Blaze of Glory, which tells the story of a Male Voice Choir. Exploring the landscape of 1950s music with an expert eye – the score moves from choral, to cinematic, to orchestral (well- you’d hope so), to teeny-bop and even yodelling! An excellent cast – Jeffrey Lloyd Robert, Dafydd Pugh, Rebecca Evans, Fergal Mostyn-Williams – brought this production its mischievous, winning energy. You can read the rest of this review here.

Hansel and Gretal – Mid Wales Opera

Director-designer Richard Studer’s wittily crafted production Hansel and Greta locates his new opera in a mining village, with the father (Philip Smith) presumably a pit worker. Not quite the industrial unrest of the 1980s but  a premonition of soon-to-be-inaugurated Thatcherdom. The singing is a delight, in both its adult and teenage manifestations, and the final chorus is co-operatively heartfelt and moving. Lyness conducts the orchestra with the kind of aplomb essential for a story that is both in the mind and in the flesh, and both bleak and, finally, triumphant. You can read the rest of this review here.

British Piano Concertos Vol 2: BBC Now

Lyrita’s second instalment of British Piano Concertos forms another significant addition to the catalogue, providing a valuable spotlight on three rarely performed 20th century works. In short, this rewarding disc comes highly recommended. As ever, the BBC NOW is marvellously alert and responsive to this repertoire, Simon Callaghan an exceptionally fine soloist and conductors Stephen Bell and George Vass are exemplary tour guides. No less admirable is the recording’s sound quality – Lyrita once again producing a first class compilation.

La Traviata – Wales National Opera

Sometimes there’s nothing wrong with a healthy dose of tradition, which is exactly what the Welsh National Opera have offered up in this poignant, but lively revival of David McVicar’s production of La Traviata, with an excellent cast Stacey Alleaume is outstanding as Violetta. You can read the rest of the review here.

Ainadamar – Welsh National Opera

Director Deborah Colker’s outstanding achievement in this work is the profoundly resonant chord she strikes in the balancing of the two themes of courage and tragedy. Ainadamar dramatises of the memories of actress Margarita Xirgu, a close friend and muse of Lorca’s, to whom he dedicated the play, Mariana Pineda.  It recounts the circumstances of Lorca’s death.  Following the poet’s execution, Margarita takes it upon herself to keep the fire of his work alive through her replaying of the title character of Mariana Pineda. An impressive performance, all round.

The Magic Flute –  Welsh National Opera

Mozart’s The Magic Flute is one of the most popular operas of all time, which has been adapted by Daisy Evans to be is a new version of the fairy tale opera, with a modern twist. She has done so exceptionally – including Welsh accents, and colloquialism. Most refreshingly, the story of romance is altered to one of companionship through shared values, evading the undertones of misogyny. A brilliant opera that succeeds in widening the audience of a genre already loved by so many. You can read the rest of the review here.

Candide – Welsh National Opera

This year, WNO have taken on Leonard Bernstein’s less-than-adored  Candide. Ed Lyon is a carefully light Candide, entitled and idealistic but likeable; Claudia Boyle is an energetic Cunégonde (who does a fabulous job with her showstopper). Dafydd Allen, Mark Nathan, and Madeleine Shaw are all enormous fun. Every actor takes their turn to steal the show – fantastic. We wonder if WNO have mounted the best of all possible productions of Candide? You can read the rest of the review here.

Opera Play Live: A Space Spectacular – Welsh National Opera

When you think of opera, you might not think of a family day out – but Welsh National Opera have created its own ‘family-friendly-opera-show.’ The plot itself hinges on experienced children’s presenter Tom Redmond, who uses his role as a man longing to attend an alien tea party on the planet Zum Zee to guide his audience through a series of well-known opera pieces from the likes of Strauss, Puccini and Mozart. We should be looking at events such as Opera Play Live, which run alongside the main WNO season, as an opportunity to secure the place of opera within our national culture for years to come. You can read the rest of the review here.

Branwen: Dadeni, Wales Millennium Centre & Fran Wen

Wales Millenium Centre and Fran Wen have joined forces to produce this brand-new Welsh language dramatic musical, Branwen: Dadeni, written by Hanna Jarman, Elgan Rhys and Seiriol Davies, with lyrics and music by Seiriol Davies. It draws talent from across Wales for a contemporary reimagining of the legendary yet tragic tale of Branwen, from the ancient mythical tales of the Mabinogion. You can read the rest of the review here.