Thank you to Welsh National Opera for providing us with tickets to Play Opera Live for the purpose of this review
Even before today’s Play Opera Live performance begins, we’ve already spent time learning about the backstage wizardry that goes on behind the scenes at Welsh National Opera. And while my three children have all decided they’re too old for face painting courtesy of the make up team and treasure hunts, they loved having a go at operating a theatrical light system, playing various instruments including a Steinway grand piano, and watching time-lapse videos of sets being constructed.
The activities taking place before today’s Dinosaur Discoveries-themed show are just as much a part of the event as the performing itself, helping families realise that opera is more accessible than some people would have you believe (and at £30 for a family of four it’s reasonably priced too).
Granted you wouldn’t take little kids to watch a full scale version of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman, but what better an introduction to the doomed sailor cursed to sail the seas without respite than using the music to accompany our own adventure as we set sail over stormy waters in search of an island inhabited by dinosaurs. Our host Tom Redmond (a musician and presenter on BBC Radio 3, BBC Proms and more) has us leaning left, right, forward and backwards, as we navigate the treacherous waters. We meet the Angry Fairy (WNO soprano Stacey Wheeler), dressed in a sumptous black velvet gown. She has been searching for 100 years for her love and tells us about it in the Queen of the Night Aria from Mozart’s The Magic Flute and Puccini’s Chi Il Bel Sogno; and tenor Gareth Dafydd Morris, who has likewise been searching for her for a century, as he tells us in E Lucevan Le Setelle from Puccini’s Tosca.
Tom Redmond is a brilliant, charismatic host for the afternoon. As well as the aforementioned boat trip, he has us up out of our seats and tip-toeing to Grieg’s Hall of the Mountain Kind from Peer Gynt Suite (recognisable for many from the animated film Trolls) and singing along to Dinosaur Rumpus composed by Steve Pickett, and based on Tony Mitton’s children’s book. Redomond even crawls around on the floor pretending to be a dinosaur at one point.
A couple of dinosaurs take to the auditorium to dance and meet the young audience members and of course, no performance about dinosaurs is complete without a beautiful rendition of John Williams’ Jurassic Park theme.
There’s a relaxed vibe to today’s performance; the lights don’t go down fully, there’s plenty of silliness and audience involvement and it keeps us the youngsters throughout. However there are slight moments where the orchestra and singers aren’t quite loud enough to entirely switch off from low level chatter from the audience and where the orchestra isn’t as amplified as one might have liked.
That said, seeing the 70 or so members of Welsh National Opera’s Orchestra on stage, it’s amazing to think that such a huge group of musicians and their conductor (today, Frederick Brown has the baton) are generally barely visible to the audience, not just at opera performances, but at musicals and other shows too. It’s great to see them taking to the stage for such a fun and vibrant performance, making classical music and famous operatic arias accessible to all, and looking like they’re having great fun doing it too.
Play Opera Live was at Wales Millennium Centre for just one performance, but for more information on similar future shows and Welsh National Opera in general visit the website here. WNO’s Spring Season opens this week, with Blaze Of Glory!, about a male voice choir in a Valleys mining community, and Mozart’s The Magic Flute.