The Black Spider, WNO Youth Opera

May 30, 2022 by

The Covid-delayed performances of WNO Youth Opera’s staging of the one hour show The Black Spider by Judith Weir demonstrated the enthusiasm of these your performers, supported by some clever video work and cheerful playing of the lively score.

The 1984 opera combines two dark tales involving, yes, a nasty spider, that brings death in its sting although the second manifestation turns out to have a more mundane scientific explanation.



Toben Durrant

Mica Smith

The first story is a retelling of Jeremias Gotthelf’s 1842 novella telling the 15th-century Swiss story of the consequences of breaking a promise even if the motivation is laudable. Set in Poland, peasant girl Christine makes a Faustian marriage pact with the Green Huntsman to save her villagers from the tyrannical Count Heinrich. The deal is sealed with a kiss, which infects the girl with the black spider which come to life when she break the pact. To end the spider’s destruction of the village the anchariid is captured in a guitar that is then sealed in the tomb of the recently departed king.

The second story is based on a 1983 newspaper report of deathly goings on when the tomb of King Casimir IV in, in the Wawel Cathedral in Kraków I is opened and some of those involved die, reminiscent of the Tutankhamun story. A little black spider is seen crawling from the opened tomb but the killer turned out to be a latent fatal microbe in the medieval plaster.

The production from director Rhian Hutchins and designer Bethany Seddon is redolent of the former’s work with Operasonic, the Newport-based company that has produced several young people, shools and community operatic/ music projects. The on-stage performance is interwoven with video projections that are stylised cartoons and convey a darkly comic feel to the work.

The live performance from the large cast range similarly melds conventional operatic singing styles, solo arias, chorus ensembles, with spoken dramatic scenes, over the top near panto gesture routines, and intricate work by the players to create large spooky puppet of the Green Huntsman.

The post punk style cast clearly had a good time with Rhianna Hogg a brightly sung and fiesty Christine, Mica Smith an over the top baddie Count Heinrich, Euan McEvoy playing an outlandish Carl, with fine singing from Penelope George as the Herald and Toben Durrant as the folk singer Caspar. Dan Perkin joins in the goth look of the cast (blackened eyes) to conduct the small WNO ensemble.

This is sort of a tale of good v evil but the finale is more of our time when every time the priest, sung with comic relish by Eiriana Jones-Campbell, tries to think of a moral for the tale, the rest of the cast rubbish it, leaving her exiting in a “whatever” strop.


Main image: Rhianna Hogg


Images: Craig Fuller.

Leave a Reply