Creating new opera is the very essence of Music Theatre Wales, but creating a new opera in Welsh, on a well-known and admired play, and one that has such a significant place in Welsh language drama feels like a massive new challenge and huge responsibility. Just what I relish!
I have to say that the only way this project is possible is through our collaboration with Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru. They bring a cultural, linguistic and historical knowledge to this project as drama producers that I believe gives this project credibility as a drama, but Music Theatre Wales brings an equally deep knowledge of creating new chamber opera and the different approach this demands from mounting a play.
Gwion Thomas and Caryl Hughes go through the music with Michael McCarthy (director) Guto Pryderi Puw (composer) and Richard Baker (conductor)
But before all that, I want to make it very clear that we are not commissioning this opera because it is in Welsh. I have held an ambition to commission a Welsh language opera for many years, but this was only ever going to happen if all the correct ingredients were in place – as they need to be for any MTW commission: A composer who we believe is capable of writing an opera, an idea that needs to be an opera, and a writer who can help make this happen. And that’s exactly where we found ourselves in late 2009 when I first met with Guto Puw and discussed with him how we could support him explore the possibility of writing an opera. We agreed to undertake an R&D workshop of the start of an opera, and he immediately proposed Gwenlyn Parry’s play. I then suggested we work with Gwyneth Glyn as librettist, having worked with her on an adaptation of The Soldier’s Tale into Welsh as Stori’r Milwr. We invited Arwel Gruffydd from Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru to attend the first workshop, and the rest, as they say, is history… This is an opera that will stand alongside the international repertoire we are well-known for. The fact that it is in Welsh is a distinguishing and important cultural feature, and one which comes from the right place – the source, the composer-writer team and the dramatic identity, but this opera is also truly universal. I think it will be a good new opera, and that’s what counts!
Putting this opera on its feet with two exceptional singer-actors is a joy. The music is full of intensity, beauty, humour and sincerity. Every page of the score demonstrates that Guto Puw is a true dramatic composer, as every moment we stage seems to make immediate sense. He is inside the characters and inside the wider drama. It breathes on stage, and it sings!
And that’s another big challenge, singing in Parry’s distinct dialect. Through this process I have learned how important his use of language was as a dramatist, not just his dramatic ideas. However, singing in this way throws up many issues, essentially around how to maintain a decent sound whilst being true to the language. We spend a lot of time in the rehearsal room exploring this, and this again is where the collaboration with Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru is so important. Needless to say, both singers are first language Welsh and we have an experienced drama director from Theatr Gen working with us specifically on this aspect, but it is also a joy to be working with a conductor who is not only one of the UKs most distinguished conductors of contemporary opera but who also speaks very good Welsh and has an amazing ear for the specific demands of the opera’s dialect.
We are in good hands and I look forward to touring this opera across Wales and taking it to Buxton Festival – in Welsh of course! After all, they sing opera in English, German, Italian and French, so why not Welsh too – when it’s the right and only thing to do?
Y Tŵr by Guto Pryderi Puw; based on the play by Gwenlyn Parry; libretto by Gwyneth Glyn
In Welsh with English surtitles
Friday 19 May at 7.30pm (World Premiere)
Saturday 20 May at 7.30pm
Cardiff Sherman Theatre (part of Vale of Glamorgan Festival)
Senghennydd Rd, Cardiff CF24 4YE
shermancymru.co.uk | 029 2064 6900
Tuesday 23 May at 7.30pm
Aberystwyth Arts Centre
University of Aberystwyth, Penglais Campus, Ceredigion, SY23 3DE
aberystwythartscentre.co.uk | 01970 62 32 32
Thursday 25 May at 7.30pm
Bangor Pontio – Theatr Bryn Terfel
Bangor University, Deiniol Road, Bangor LL57 2TQ
pontio.co.uk | 01248 382 828
Monday 5 June at 7.30pm
Mold Theatr Clwyd
Raikes Ln, Mold CH7 1YA
theatrclwyd.com | 01352 701521
Thursday 15 June at 7.30pm
Swansea Taliesin Arts Centre
Swansea University, Singleton Park, SA2 8PZ
taliesinartscentre.co.uk | 01792 602 060
Monday 17 July at 7.15pm
Buxton Opera House (Buxton Festival)
Water Street, Buxton, SK17 6XN
www.buxtonfestival.co.uk / 01298 72190