There’s a fine art to putting together a programme for a New Year’s evening of Viennese music. Pack it with too many well-worn Strauss hits and it could end up sounding like an overplayed Greatest Hits album. Go too light on the old favourites, however, and it runs the risk of no longer feeling like a celebration at all.
Welsh National Opera’s orchestra, who have been touring such concerts for a number of years now, know a thing or two about ringing in January in style. They’re also pretty adept at shaking up their repertoire, and opted to kick off 2024 with a beautiful rendition of Weber’s Invitation to the Dance. It proved to be an inspired decision musically, but also appeared to have caught the Swansea faithful off-guard, who made the faux pas of applauding minutes before the end, offering charismatic leader and concertmaster David Adams the opportunity to joke that “you fell into our trap!”
The orchestra players themselves were on sizzling form and soon back on more familiar territory, racing through a selection of waltzes and polkas with a collective smile on their faces. In an auditorium that, acoustically at least, feels custom made for the orchestra, the likes of Dvořák and Delibes rubbed shoulders with Stolz with Suppé in a swirling selection of foot-tapping dances.
The mostly orchestral evening was punctuated by appearances from two WNO associate artists who will both be working closely with the company throughout the year. First up was mezzo-soprano Beca Davies, who impressed with Schubert’s Ave Maria, followed by soprano Emily Christina Loftus, who served up the highlight of the evening with an electrifying performance of Richard Strauss’s Beim Schlafengehen that crackled with energy and crisp diction.
The ideal way to start the new year.