Mid Wales Opera’s touring production of Puccini’s Il tabarro demonstrates that this is a company with more sense than money which necessitates proof that less is often more. Here the evidence is abundant.
The set is the deck of a working barge, owned by a hardworking dour husband Michelle and his clearly miserable wife Giorgetta, which is tied up for the night on the banks of the Seine. Simple lighting gives the allusion of moving water, and the backdrop comprises three panels of ropes and scaffolding, reminiscent of Paris in the industrial age.
Three low paid workers drown their sorrows in beer and head off for the night. One has a partner whose modest dream is to have a small cottage with a garden, but reality is she picks up discarded rubbish from gutters. Another drinks to numb his life. A third is the young lover of the barge owner’s wife who is distanced from her husband following the death of their young son who they used to shelter under a cloak (this Il tabarro). Attempts by the husband at a reconciliation fail and the wife has planned another secret meeting with the lover. You can guess the ending.
The music is intelligently arranged for four musicians, led by musical director Jonathan Lyness from keyboard: Alexandra Callanan (Bassoon), Laurence Kempton (violin), Elfair Grug (harp). The singers are mainly Welsh and uniformly excellent, acting their sharpy drawn characters and both delighting and chilling with Puccini’s music which characteristically entwines heart wrenching beauty with dark pathos and so frequently obscured grittiness and social commentary.
There is no need for a director to insult the intelligence of his or her audience by laying it on with a trowel or castigating the viewers for enjoying a story that is redolent of contemporary times as much as when it was written. Yawn.
Rather, director Richard Studer enables clear telling of the story, allows the characters to explain through song and acting their individual inner trauma, frustrations, disappointments, dreams, and plight as victims of the cold, merciless early industrial age.
Philip Smith and Elin Pritchard
Elin Pritchard shines as the damaged woman who would rather be beaten than ignored be her similarly deeply wounded husband, played sympathetically by Philip Smith. Robyn Lyn Evans is the handsome, angry young lover Luigi who rails against the system but quickly accepts defeat when reality hits him in the face, Huw Ynyr is the drinker Tinca who finds escape through the alcohol while Emyr Wyn-Jones and Stephanie Windsor-Lewis are the realistic, struggling but surviving older couple, La Frugola and Talpa, who take life as it comes despite their simple but unachievable dreams.
The second half of the evening is a cabaret of Paris/France inspired songs (ranging from Cole Porter to Debussy with plenty of popular tunes along the way)which enables each of the singers to both showcase their strong voices, and Stephanie Windsor-Lewis, is an accomplished accordionist.
Next spring the company stages Puccini’s La Boheme
Images: Matthew Williams Ellis
Main image: Elin Pritchard and Robyn Lyn Evans
October 1, Theatr Brycheiniog, Brecon
October 2, SpArC Theatre, Bishops Castle
October 6, Theatr Colwyn, Colwyn Bay
October 8, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Cardiff
October 9, Neuadd Dyfi, Aberdovey
October 12, Congress Theatre, Cwmbran
October 14, Pontio Arts Centre, Bangor
October 19, The Holroyd Theatre, Oswestry – Hafren Satellite Stages
October 20 ,The Courtyard, Hereford
October 22, Ludlow Assembly Rooms
October 23, Trefeglwys Memorial Hall, Hafren Satellite Stages
October 27, Aberystwyth Arts Centre
October 29, St. Andrews Church, Presteigne