Theatr Ardudwy opened its doors on Thursday and Friday of last week to the first onstage rehearsals of OPRA Cymru’s latest exciting Welsh opera project: a new opera by Gareth Glyn and Mererid Hopwood, based on the iconic futuristic novel by Islwyn Ffowc Elis, ‘Wythnos yng Nghymru Fydd’.
Cast principals Gwawr Edwards, Sian Meinir, Robyn Lyn, Sion Goronwy and Euros Campbell have been rehearsing throughout the week under the direction of young up-and-coming conductor Iwan Teifion Davies, in advance preparation of OPRA Cymru’s premiere touring production of the new opera. The company returned to its familiar rehearsal home in Capel Bethel Llan Ffestiniog with three days of intense music coaching and rehearsal: an opportunity not only for the performers to get to grips with the principal roles, but also a sneak preview for creators Gareth Glyn and Mererid Hopwood, hearing their new work live for the first time.
The company moved down the road to Theatr Ardudwy in Harlech on the Thursday to try out the work in a full theatrical context, and in preparation for a play-through on the Friday morning to other creative partners in the project, such as designer Lois Prys and director Patrick Young, as well as Artistic Directors of Pontio and Ensemble Cymru, Elen ap Robert and Peryn Clement Evans, respectively. Also in attendance at the Friday play-through were a number of other interested parties: staff from lead commissioners of the new work, Bangor University, and from Caernarfon-based digital media company Galactig, who are adapting the new Sibrwd phone app technology – which has been effectively used by Theatr Genedlaethol in recent productions – for the medium of opera.
The premiere production of the new opera goes on tour in November later this year, under the management of the world’s only Welsh-language opera company OPRA Cymru. Performances are being presented with the permission of the Islwyn Ffowc Elis Estate and Gwasg Gomer (Llandysul), and in collaboration with Bangor University and Pontio Arts and Innnovation Centre, Ensemble Cymru, and Ysgol Glanaethwy. The tour is being funded by the Arts Council of Wales, with additional support from the Ashley Family Foundation, the Community Foundation in Wales, Widening Access Centre (Bangor University) and the Park Jones Charity Fund.
2017 marks the sixtieth anniversary of the publication by Plaid Cymru of Islwyn Ffowc Elis’ dystopian novel ‘Wythnos yng Ngymru Fydd’, a work in which the author’s vision for a flourishing bilingual Welsh homeland is set alongside the dire possibility of the ultimate death of the Welsh language. Never has the underlying message of the novel needed to be more urgently reaffirmed than now, and poet Mererid Hopwood and composer Gareth Glyn agree that the book’s ‘clarion call to action’ is at the heart of their new operatic version of the work. Said composer Gareth Glyn, “Along with thousands of others, reading Wythnos yng Nghymru Fydd was an arresting and formative experience for me, and although it’s been 60 years since it was published by Gwasg Gomer, its message is as strong as ever. I’m glad that this unique company, OPRA Cymru, will be staging the work, and eagerly look forward to working with them over the coming months.”
Elen ap Robert, Pontio’s Artistic Director said, “Pontio is pleased to be a partner in this exciting venture. With the wordcraft of Mererid Hopwood, the musical talent of Gareth Glyn and OPRA Cymru, as well as the powerful and timely themes for contemporary Wales, this promises to be a very special and significant production.”
OPRA Cymru’s Artistic Director Patrick Young was delighted by the achievements of the cast and conductor during the week: “It’s an inspiration to hear some of Wales’ finest voices bring Gareth’s and Mererid’s vision to life. I am looking forward to working with designer Lois Prys in helping these great performing talents translate Ffowc Elis’ unique morality tale from the page to the stage. It’s particularly gratifying that the message of the novel is so closely aligned to the mission of our company: for Welsh is a rich and thriving cultural heritage in this country, and as it happens it is also inherently a really wonderful language for opera. Gareth’s and Mererid’s combined achievement is perfect proof of that. Following this exciting week’s work on the piece, I am confident that the performances of the new production in November will be hugely popular.”
Wythnos yng Nghymru Fydd is a co-production between OPRA Cymru, Ensemble Cymru, Pontio Arts and Innovation Centre and Bangor University. With the kind permission of the Islwyn Ffowc Elis Estate and Gwasg Gomer.