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Blaze of Glory

Welsh National Opera

David Hackbridge Johnson, Libretto Emma Jenkins

Venue Cymru, Llandudno

April 1, 2023; 2 hrs 10 mins

The town is in crisis. The pit may close, a consequence of a mining disaster that saw the death of 20 miners, many of whom sung in the local male voice choir. Will the heart be ripped out of the community?

This is the backstory of WNO's new work, in which the formation of a glee club is hoped to provide cohesion and purpose to see a town through good and bad times.

The subject matter could have gone the austerity route - the life of a miner was tough and dangerous, and mining communities often suffered oppression. The facts of this are drawn out well in early sections of the opera.

But what follows is the meat of the work, a jolly, joyous celebration of Welsh working class culture. The recreation of a male voice choir is central to the plot and acts as a catalyst to give diversion and purpose to life for the miners beyond the daily grind of going underground.

The day-to-day squabbles of a community are played out with great humour, which helps to make this an opera to laugh along to - especially so in the second part of Act 1, with charming tongue-in-cheek comedy.

The plot also gives us the opportunity to revel in the richness of the male voice choir. WNO has worked with local male voice choirs (in this case, Cor Meibioin Maelgwn) and incorporated them in the introduction to both acts and the finale.

The two leads, Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts as Dafydd Pugh and Rebecca Evans as Nerys Price, are excellent, but so are the remaining cast and creative team. The set is simple but imaginative, the music varied, with rock and roll and jazz rhythms incorporated into a general 1950s setting. There is plenty of social comment, aligning the struggles of miners with the civil rights struggles of the United States. There is even a vote for gender equality: Miss Price ends up as the first female leader of a male voice choir.

WNO has tapped into the distinctive contribution to music history made by Welsh working class culture and provided a celebration of the genre and a lasting memory.

This is a hugely enjoyable production with a jolly, feelgood vibe as well as offering plenty of social commentary along the way .


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