What a better way to spend Election Night than watching an opera about greed and corruption, deception and selfishness?
Yes, Opera’r Ddraig could not have chosen a better choice than John Gay’s 18th century satirical romp The Beggar’s Opera.
The plot is basically how a notorious lecherous highwayman Captain Macheath juggles his new wife Polly and his heavily pregnant rival Lucy while his in laws plot how to send him to the gallows and make a killing on the proceeds.
However, every character (with the possible exception of the two poor deluded women) has his or her own way of trying to gain from the situation as they use means fair and foul, the law, deception, manipulation to line their pockets.
The result is a work that although a historical piece and here set in the period of its composition, the tale itself and the underlying lessons are still as fresh and valid in contemporary society. So expect lawyers and the whole legal system to be lampooned, love rivalry and infidelity to be put centre stage and greed to rule supreme.
The work is wildly sexist in the language and portrayal of the female characters but the portrayal of every character is intentionally offensive for satirical reasons and all the men are vilified so there is no need for any qualms.
This company has its roots and retains strong ties with the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and consistently showcases fresh, young talent, whether singers and musicians or wardrobe, stage management and technical skills. There are singers in this show who have worked with Opera’r Ddraig before and new faces who enjoy the benefit of working outside the college environment – and who share their talent and enthusiasm with audiences.
While The Beggar’s Opera is quite an undertaking with fast-moving scenes, a myriad of colourful characters to be brought to life by the players, a large amount of sung lyrics to be made understandable to the audience and that most challenging of demands – being funny – the company succeeds on each level.
Admittedly there was a bit of an odd assortment of accents but then we have singers from diverse geographic backgrounds and who is to say Georgian London was not the same? Fortunately we had no attempts at adding contemporary allusions in those lyrics or transposition of the setting as none are necessary.
The highway man Macheath was sung with a warm tenor charm by Gareth Edmunds and his acting was cheeky and appealing. The contrast between the two (main) women in his life was perfectly executed by the sopranos Rachel Mills as Polly Peachum and Beatrice Acland as Lucy Lockit. The one was sweet, the other fiery, yet both could display their feisty side and also vulnerability.
Connor Vickery sang a particularly clear Lockit, Lucy’s corrupt father (but then every character is corrupt) who is the sparring partner for Polly’s marvellously scheming father Mr Peachum. What a polished performance by Matthew Clark in this peach of a comic role and top marks too for Kate Reynolds as his drunken wife and partner in crime. Roland Harrad sings The Beggar as a particularly twisted and Machiavellian character and revels, again, in a strong character role.
It is hard to think of a polite collective term for the other female characters (hussies and whores in the words of Gay) and a deliciously naughty crew they were including Laura Curry’s manipulative Jenny Diver, while Macheath’s gang were as tricky a gang as you could care for including James Bowers as a caught with his pants down Filch.
The work is clearly not as well-known as Les Miserables nor several Gilbert & Sullivan operas but they share a similar revelry in comic and at times grotesque characters (think of the Thenardiers in Les Mis) and the political and legal lampooning in Pinafore and Trial by Jury etc.
The Gate in Cardiff has its plusses and minuses as a performance space and Erin Maddocks has created a design that works well in this venue with minimal stage setting and props but plenty of invention, helped by Charlie Lepage-Norris’ lighting.
Hannah Noone directs with style, giving all these singer actors plenty of scope to show off individual personality while keeping a firm grip on the ensemble work in this racing and racy tale. Musical director Jack Lovell and the orchestra bring the work to life as they surf the sweeping variety of songs and melodies that Gay assembles in this work.
The Gate, Cardiff
Also tonight (May 8, 7.30pm and May 9, 2.30 and 7.30pm) with double casting