Play Opera Live from Welsh National Opera, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff

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Thanks to Welsh National Opera for providing us with review tickets for Play Opera Live

As Tom Redmond, our host for this afternoon’s family concert, jokes, the orchestra of Welsh National Opera are used to performing in the pit underneath, so it’s great that they didn’t get lost trying to find the main stage. He adds that while it’s the singers that generally get all the glory and applause, the orchestra are just as important too. And indeed they are; it’s great to see the 70 or so musicians of Welsh National Opera’s orchestra showcasing their many talents in Play Opera Live, a fun and engaging performance designed to introduce children and their families to opera, classical music and the orchestra, with a few modern pieces of music thrown in too.

Tom is brilliant as host. Best known for presenting the BBC Proms and on BBC Radio 3, he’s incredibly charismatic, full of humour and really engages the young, and not so young, audience. He has us shouting bravo and mambo on command, stamping feet and clapping hands, and even gets us up on our feet and dancing some very strange moves indeed. He shares anecdotes and jokes that seamlessly tie a diverse programme of music together. Who would have thought opera and The Avengers would have so much in common?!

Some of the songs are orchestral only but others feature soloists Isabelle Peters and Aaron O’Hare performing a range of operatic numbers including Rossini’s La Danza from Soirées Musicales and La ci Darem la Lano from Mozart’s Don Giovanni, as well as I feel Pretty from West Side Story, Noel Coward’s I’ll See You Again and Somewhere Over The Rainbow from The Wizard of Oz.

There were a few occasions when the proximity of the singers to the orchestra meant we couldn’t always hear them as much as we would have liked. Microphones are not traditionally used in opera but perhaps on this kind of occasion a little amplification would have helped.

One of my children’s favourite musical moments was Rossini’s William Tell Gallop, an upbeat and widely recognisable piece of music which had the small children in front of me physically bouncing up and down in their seats, and the entire audience clapping along. Great fun. We also enjoyed the beautiful arrangement of the traditional song Loch Lomond where the entire orchestra put down their instruments and sung in harmony. It was very moving.

With the past couple of years meaning concerts such as this have not been able to go ahead, it was wonderful to see the WMC’s Donald Gordon Theatre full of families enjoying the music, as well as taking part in pre-show activities, including watching some incredible transformations from the make up and wigs teams.

Opera is often deemed as elitist and very serious, but this afternoon’s performance showed that it can be fun, vibrant and accessible to even young children. After all, they are the audiences of the future.

The concert was in Cardiff for one day only but is now touring to Theatre Royal Plymouth on 10 April, Stafford Gatehouse Theatre on 24 April, Venue Cymru Llandudno on 30 April and MAST Mayflower Studios in Southampton on 14 May as part of WNO’s spring tour.

For more information on Play Opera Live, visit the Welsh National Opera website.

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