Cardiff’s Festival of Voice offers the opportunity to appreciate the familiar and the new. With its diverse programme, Thursday evening saw a visit to the New Theatre to experience the Welsh National Opera. This was to be my first experience of the opera, and I am grateful that WNO’s Rhondda Rips It Up! was a perfect piece for novices and opera-goers alike.
I don’t imagine it’s the case at every opera but having the WNO Community Chorus in the Circle Bar ahead of the performance encouraging the audience to come and sing extinguished any stereotypes I may have brought with me (Pretty Woman probably being my best point of reference). An uplifting start to the evening, which was maintained throughout the main production.Rhondda Rips It Up! brings to the stage the Margaret Haig Thomas, a woman who courted controversy and admiration in equal measure. As Librettist, Emma Jenkins brought this life to the stage. The belief was impenetrable in understanding how Thomas could achieve so much as a strong woman. A woman impassioned with a clear sense of justice and at ease in invoking camaraderie.
The opera made its way smoothly through Thomas’s life. Culminating in the achievement of the Representation of People Act in 1918. Through this, it was possible not only to understand Thomas’s history but also the impact and influence of the political environment. The liberetto made it possible to understand the challenges of creating independence within a social structure opposed to equality.
Great humour is entwined in Madeleine Shaw’s personalisation of the role of Lady Rhondda. Not only enabling a complete sense of character but also a belief in how she made so much possible.The visual stimulation of Rhondda Rips It Up! is in keeping with the key theme of women’s equity. With an all female cast and creative team, there is great humour in women taking on all the roles within the piece. From prime ministers, police officers to fathers, as well as enabling humour through these roles, the political themes were conveyed. Demonstrating the strength of female roles, the staged musicians, conducted by Nicola Rose took the performances through the buoyancy, the trauma and emotion of Elena Langer’s composition.
Of course, a review of Rhondda Rips It Up! wouldn’t be complete without a mention of Lesley Garrett’s Emcee. Flamboyant in a series of top hats and tails, with a set of lyrics to entirely complement this physicality. The idea of a male role needing to underpin this piece completely torn up where Lesley Garrett excels.As first trips to the opera goes, Rhondda Rips It Up! is a force of excellence. Completely inspiring, joyous and not the least expected.
The Festival of Voice takes place from 7th-17th June across Cardiff. Check out the website for details of all the performances.
Photography Credit: Jane Hobson
Disclosure: I was invited to the performance for the purpose of this review. All words and opinions contained are my own.