Brecon Baroque has passed its tenth anniversary and on this, my first visit to the weekend long celebration, I could see why there is such a loyal following for what some might see as a niche event.
What a delight not only to see a full house but an audience hanging on every moment of this elegant performance of that tricky thing, a semi-staged presentation of what in itself is a difficult work to offer modern audiences.
The staging of the contrived action with mortal and ethereal beings frollicking and rollicking along was simple and therefore effective in throwing our attention to the singing and, most noteworthy, the musicianship of Trinity Baroque and the Brecon Baroque and their director Rachel Podger.
Our players were dressed in matching clothes, jackets and trousers and dresses, with no attempt to go for fairy-like or Shakespearean costumes. Similarly the set from Eleri Lloyd was a blank stage with the musicians at its centre, with ropes that descended from the skies to create a lattice effect which sort of conveyed the forest. With seemingly simple lighting onto these ropes, from Hristo Takov, an interesting lighting effect was created. The players either carried candles on to the open stage or had torches niftily tucked into the sleeves of their jackets, again generating atmospheric light and dark atmospheres as the scenes developed. The falling leaves and then snow was a nice touch.
On the other hand the web or lattice did somewhat reduce the stage direction available to Thomas Guthrie, directing the action, as the characters were limited to walking behind or around the stylised forest and the players, apart from when occasionally using the curtain stage, such as for Sarah Dowling’s dance and interactions with Oberon, acted by Simon Muller. The overall effect was gentle and refined performances of this sprightly mix of spoken speech and song, full of whimsy and brightness.
The evening belonged to Purcell and full praise to musical director Julian Podger for this opener to the festival, with scintillating playing (led by Rachel Podger) and singing equally delightful from the sparkling sopranos to high-lying tenor passages. Our singers were Rachel Elliott, Nikki Kennedy, Kate Hamilton, Miles Lallemant, Nils Giebelhausen, Julian Podger, Thomas Guthrie and Kajok Bloch Jesperson.
It may have been semi-staged but this did not detract from the magnetic charm and cheeky delight in the portrayals of character and a seemingly boundless relish in the performers’ steps.
Theatr Brycheiniog, Brecon
Main image: Rachel Podger