Blaze of Glory!, Welsh National Opera’s terrifically entertaining new production, is not – strictly speaking – an opera, said Rian Evans in The Guardian. Set in a Welsh Valleys community in the 1950s, it tells the story of a small group of miners who re-form their male voice choir to raise local spirits following a mining disaster. For her libretto, Emma Jenkins drew on real-life histories, and composer David Hackbridge Johnson used Welsh hymns as his cornerstones, while incorporating everything from jazz, pop and doo-wop to Gilbert and Sullivan and 19th century French choral works. Bowling along with “a warm, often suitably blazing, energy”, the evening becomes a “remarkable” testament to community spirit, and the restorative power of music-making.
It’s also “properly laugh-out-loud funny”, said Rebecca Franks in The Times, with “comic characters and capers, slapstick moments, amusing wordplay and almost too much innuendo”. The first half, especially, is “bliss”, said Alexandra Coghlan in The Daily Telegraph. Soprano Rebecca Evans is “irresistible” as the choir’s accompanist Miss Price, and is well matched by Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts as foreman and choirmaster Dafydd, the object of her determined affections. From Madeleine Boyd’s “just-homemade-enough” designs to the “magpie” score and the “tooth-achingly wholesome jokes”, the whole show is “pitched just right”. The second half “wanders” a bit plot-wise, with “more climaxes than a tenor’s cadenza”. But, all told, this is a big success: an “irrepressibly buoyant, emphatically Welsh brand of music theatre”.
Director Caroline Clegg’s staging “unerringly hits the precise tone for scenes alternating comedy with heartache”, while swerving sentimentality, said George Hall in The Stage. The leads are excellent, but the “undoubted” stars of the show are the singers of the “justly famed” Welsh National Opera Chorus. Augmented by members of local male-voice choirs, the “emotional charge” they bring to traditional hymns and folk songs is “utterly thrilling”.
Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff, then touring until 20 May (wno.org.uk)
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