Thursday, 23 December 2010

In Praise of Sherry

From the Mince Pie Club, yes, the Mince Pie Club.

Ah well, it’s that time of the year when I break out the good shampoo and conditioner in readiness for a season of being merry. I’ve been scratching my head in ponderation of what to bring you by ways of Christmas greetings and, after battling over the merits of numerous composers, singers, and productions, I decided to play it safe by insulting Wagnerians, Verdarians, Puccinarians and Mozarians everywhere by going with something completely different. But if you are looking for a seasonal bit of unpublicised opera related broadcast fare (a sentence as thick as my mince pies) – then S4C are showing Nadolig Bryn Terfel (Bryn Terfel’s Christmas) on Christmas Eve at 9.00pm, with a repeat showing on Boxing Day at 10.35pm.

Trying not to don a schmaltzy tone of scribbling I’ll move on to my gift, from me, to you, dear readers. I believe that music is a universal language, one that can unite people from different backgrounds, cultures, religious beliefs, or no beliefs like no other thing on this planet. As I sit in my armchair, the open fire basking me in its warm warmth, I take a sip of sherry and wonder what it is I want to say next. After a few seconds I remember, then wonder where my sense of tense has gone. Maybe it’s the rereading of If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler that is playing tricks with me, or more likely it’s the afternoon I spent preparing sherry trifles with a bottle of sherry and no trifles. But I digress.

He may never win the Leeds International Piano Competition, and chances are that he’ll have failed to make it past the audition stages for BBC Cardiff Singer of the World 2011, but Bruce Springsteen gives you, and I, the generous gift of music with Thunder Road.

Pass the schmaltz jar, I’ve got a few quid to add.

Wherever you are reading this, be it West, East, North, South or Mid Earth I wish you all a Nadolig Llawen – Merry Christmas – Happy Holidays – Happy Holidays to Come in the Next Few Months!

Monday, 20 December 2010

It’s Ungreased Lightning!


Before you decide to make an inspired commentary on the decay of technology by letting the grass grow over your unwanted vehicles (i.e. do a Paul Calf with your bangers and carras and leave them to rust in a neighbour's garden) you may like to take up WNO’s offer of taking them permanently off your hands.

The company are looking for a caravan, pick up truck, estate car and a hatchback all dating from the late 80s or early 90s to use in one of their new productions. A word of warning – if you are Paul Calf thinking that you could make a few quid by borrowing a neighbour’s car without permission you’ll be put off by the fact that WNO are looking towards the kindness of strangers for free vehicular donations.

Engines, MOTs and fluffy dice aren’t required. For further information say Ford Capri and click on me.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

ACW Increases WNO's Funding


News has finally reached the salon of WNO’s funding from the Arts Council of Wales (ACW). Bucking the recent trend of gloomy financial news WNO have seen their funding increased by £250,000 to the tune of £4.7 million for the period 2011 - 2012. However, in real terms the increase from ACW only claws back half of the £500,000 drop in funding from Arts Council England (ACE) for the same period, but in the current environment beggars can’t be choosers. In reality there was little doubt ACW would pull the rug from under its marquee Revenue Funded Organisation (RFO), but all the same, it’s very welcome news for the company.

Of course, with WNO’s increased funding comes the realisation that many arts groups who are as important to people around Wales as WNO is to this head of hair have suffered cuts and, in numerous cases, have had their funding withdrawn. It goes without saying that my hair finds this very upsetting but it wants to point out that WNO haven’t been the sole beneficiaries of ACW’s enforced approach to funding, with many organisations seeing significant increases in their budgets.

Attention now switches to ACE and their funding decisions for the years covering 2012-2015 in spring of next year. In the words of Alex Ferguson, that will be the true squeaky bum time. ACE is WNO’s biggest backer due to the company’s significant presence within various English regions, stretching from the south coast of England to the North West, taking in seven towns and cities, more than double the amount that WNO tours to in Wales.

Read more at Wales Online, BBC and Wales Online (again).

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

WNO's Digital Advent Calendar

Sketch by Jane Webster, taken from WNO

The countdown for the big day has already begun*, and WNO are joining in the festive fun with their own digital advent calendar. Despite lacking in chocolate goodness the gifts have been varied and enjoyable. Apart from downloading the Meistersingertastic Jane Webster desktop / iPhone wallpaper sketch you can also...make a paper WNO snowman to hang on your tree, try your hand out at being a quizmaster or simply watch an interview with Die Fledermaus costume designer Deirdre Clancy. An up to date list of the digital gifts can be found here, and with regular offerings who knows what will appear next? Now if only they could have an in-depth interview with their resident hair stylist...

*Despite the quite excusable words leaving your lips the big day I refer to is, in fact, Christmas Day, not my appearance as Principal Speaker at The Healthy Hair Conference 2011 taking place in Paris in January (tickets are still available from all good ticket outlets).

Friday, 10 December 2010

Chorus blimey guv!


I was introduced to Handel’s Messiah many years ago by my primary school teacher who took pleasure in scaring the living daylights out of his pupils by playing the Hallelujah! chorus without warning like a Ninja DJ. Apart from imparting catlike reflexes into my evolving DNA my teacher also left me with a distinct antipathy towards the piece. I think you would too if you had stapled your finger out of fright. But I’m not one to hold grudges (often) and so this Sunday evening I’m passing up my usual Serie A match and travelling to meet the old foe when it's performed by the Orchestra and Chorus of WNO, conducted by Lothar Koenigs (with soloists Laura Mitchell, Patricia Bardon, Robin Tritschler and Darren Jeffrey) at St David’s Hall.

Of course, there are those who have had a less complicated, metallic relationship with the piece, and it’s to them I now address this second paragraph. If you’ve always fancied having a crack at a chorus from The Music That Caused Fright there’s an opportunity for you to do just that on the afternoon of the concert. From 3pm to 5pm WNO are running a Messiah choral workshop for singers of all abilities – from the tuneless to the tuneful. The crescendo of the afternoon’s labours will be a performance at 6.45pm. All they ask is that you possess a ticket for that evening’s concert, have music in your heart and that you call 029 2063 5030 to sign up. But as I’ve posted this so late on a Friday afternoon I’m not sure if anyone will be around to answer the phone. If there is no-one about I’d think the lads and lasses at St David’s Hall might be able to sort something out for you if you got in touch with them.

And in case you're wondering, there are tickets left.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Met Broadcasts at Cineworld Cardiff - As Long As You Use Them

Anna Netrebko spots my golden locks

Taking a brief break from WNO news I thought people in the Cardiff area would be interested to know that the Met Live in HD Broadcast screenings are once again up and running at Cineworld Cardiff. Anyone who has experienced the screenings will know that they are worth the (admittedly hefty) fee of £15 for adults and £12 for seniors, children and students.

Of course, Cineworld Cardiff will only continue to show the Met broadcasts as long as there are people willing to see them, and unlike other Cineworld Venues that have the whole season available for booking, Cineworld Cardiff appears to be broadcasting on a week-by-week basis. So if you can, grab a bag of popcorn and pop along to keep the broadcasts running – it would be pretty embarrassing if the home city of WNO couldn’t keep hold of their Met broadcasts.

This week’s live broadcast from The Metropolitan Opera House in New York (always wanted to say that) is Verdi’s Don Carlo. Playing in the Italian version I can vouch for Nicholas Hytner’s production being worth the trip out having seen it at the ROH. The cast is remarkably similar to the ROH one with star turns from Marina Poplavskaya (Elisabetta), Ferruccio Furlanetto (Philip II) and WNO’s recent Rigoletto Simon Keenlyside playing Rodrigo. Changes from the ROH cast include Roberto Alagna as Don Carlo, Anna Smirnova (Eboli) and Eric Halvarson (Il Grande Inquisitorrrrrrr). Doors open at 5.00pm.

A taster of what's to come. In Estonian.

Future highlights (for my hair) include the broadcasts of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor with Natalie Dessay and Joseph Calleja (19th of March 2011), Rossini’s Le Comte Ory with Diana Damrau, Joyce DiDonato and Juan Diego Flórez (9th of April 2011), and a season ending spectacular Wagner’s Die Walküre with Bryn Terfel, Deborah Voigt, Eva-Maria Westbroek, Stephanie Blythe, Hans-Peter König and Jonas Kaufmann (14th of May).

You can find the remainder of the Met Live in HD Broadcast schedule here.

A list of all UK cinemas showing the broadcasts here.

And Met Broadcasts in WNO touring regions below.

(To be on the safe side I suggest you check times and availability with your local cinema)

Milford Haven

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Cheese on Toast Donates Money to WNO

Cheese on toast, the green stuff.

Fundraising can be tricky at the best of times, at the not so best of times it becomes tricky to the power of 5,098,456. Plus infinity. I could offer a Dodgeballesque car washing service all winter long (depending on the state of my knees and frostbite) but I doubt I would raise little more than £2.89 for WNO after deducting tax and the cost of hiring a bucket and sponge, and kitchen foil. Fortunately for WNO they have people who know how to raise some coin, cash, dosh, moolah in ways that avoid rabies shots or developing a case of housemaid’s knee, wicketkeeper’s knee, superglued to the floor by your knees knee...

So what are these ideas? And are they painless to your wallet and knees?

First up there’s By following the preceding link and this mention of cheese on toast you will be taken to that gathers the results of Yahoo! Bing and searches that will, well, I’ll let them tell you what happens:

“Use easysearch every time you search the Web and we'll give 50% of the fees paid by our advertising sponsors to Welsh National Opera.

Use easysearch instead of Google or any other search engine and you can make a real difference to Welsh National Opera. By making just 10 searches a day with easysearch, you can raise around £20 a year.”

£20 may not sound like much, but depending on the numbers that use it you never know. Anyway, it’s now Hairman’s Preferred Search Engine. To use it all you have to do is either set it up as your homepage or bookmark it.

The second way for you to donate money without actually donating money is by shopping online through Again cheese on toast will take you to a website where, after registering, you will find that your purchases will include a kickback from the sale towards WNO. Again I’ll let the professionals explain:

There’s a comprehensive list of retailers on the site (including Amazon, HMV, iTunes, LOVEFilm), but I’d like to point your way towards Crotchet Classical (I can't hyperlink to pages without signing in I'm afraid), an independent classical retailer, who offer a whopping 5% donation.

As with this will only work if people act together – so why not mention it to your family, friends or even complete strangers who like cheese on toast. But you have to remember that for your purchases to count towards WNO you need to log in every time and follow the links to the retailers on otherwise your purchases will not count towards WNO.

Happy surfing and shopping!

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

We're checking our lists...

Erm, forgot where I nabbed the photo from...

If George Clooney ever gave up his day job selling coffee his next move would undoubtedly be into retailing opera companies, and where else would he be more at home than with WNO? I can see him in the twinkle of my eye walking through the doors of the WMC to the tune of La donna è mobile*, suited and booted, dancing a smile as he elegantly climbs the stairs, fending off throngs of worshippers.

But until George follows his destiny and glides along to The Armadillo on the Bay it falls to me, a man with hair, to try and fill his mighty shoes. Unlike George, I haven’t got John Malkovich to back me up, but you never know – he was once spotted on the streets of Cardiff drumming up custom for his hotel. True story. But until George, and John, both show up it falls to me, a man with yada-yada-yada...

So what am I selling today? Technically speaking I am not selling products. My role, as George would undoubtedly agree with me, is as more of a pointing man. I point towards places. This is trickier than you may think, and only after I attended a rigorous Tuesday afternoon pointing seminar was I allowed to go forth and pointify.

The pointing, of course, is mainly with a WNO finger, and in the spirit of the coming season I’ll be Ebeneezering it a little. Now rattle the change in your pocket, we’re going back to the past, which was the future at some time so feel free to hum a bit of Huey Lewis and the News.

Still with me? Good. Switch off the flux capacitor; it tends to overheat even in the coldest weather. We should have landed in the early nineties close to the time of WNO’s Pelléas et Mélisande. This beguiling bit of Debussy will be hitting the Barbican next year with Simon Keenlyside and Natalie Dessay, and if you’ve bought a ticket you might like to refresh your memory of the work with WNO’s hugely successful production that had my Gallic frères and sœurs in egalite ecstasy. Helming the musicals was Pierre Boulez and taking charge of the visuals was Peter Stein. Luckily someone had the idea to film it so you can take a gander at the production that had baguettes wilting in adoration when the production was toured to France. I shall now apologise for lame stereotyping. If it’s any consolation I like leek soup. I often sing for no reason, and one of my grandfathers was a miner.

Sadly 2010 saw too many WNO departures from our blue marvel of a planet, including chorus mezzo Anne Morgan, whom I assume would have sung under the direction of another profound loss, Sir Charles Mackerras, the former Music Director of WNO. He made many recordings with the company, among them Jenufa for the Chandos label. I know it’s not sung in the original language, but sometimes I hang my foibles on the salon coat hanger and take in a different view of the world once in a while.

The holy grail of any opera company is surely the next generation. Yet neither Monty Python, nor Star Trek, ever succeeded in going where no man, woman or flying livestock has gone before - getting kids / young adults interested in opera. Now I can’t guarantee that Operavox (starring WNO and a raft of animators) will spark a lifelong love of opera in anyone who thinks nineteen is old, twenty-one getting on in years, thirty ancient, and forty and above truly historic, but it might be a better way of introducing them to opera than tying them to a chair on Christmas Day and acting out Wagner’s Das Rheingold dressed in a rented He-Man costume and wielding a rusty hoe. The DVD is made of six thirty-minute abridged versions of well known operas including Carmen, The Magic Flute and, of course, Das Rheingold. By the power of animation!

Oi! Leave Tiny Tim’s cake alone, next we have a date with James MacMillan’s The Sacrifice. It’s not often I can say I was at the World Premiere of anything, let alone an opera, but I was there in 2007 when the curtain went up and down for the very first time on the WNO commissioned opera. Hand on heart I have to say I wasn’t taken with the piece first time around, despite some sterling performances from Christopher Purves and Lisa Milne on the night. In the intervening years my opera going has grown at the same rate as my hair and having coughed up the dough I returned for some more sir, despite my reservations, and I’m glad that I did. It’s still a challenging piece, and you won’t be humming merrily along (I still cringe at the electric guitar bit) but if you like your plots turbulent, and your music atmospheric, then you’ll feel at home with this.

Next up is Bryn Terfel with his new CD, Carols & Christmas Songs. His backing band are the Orchestra of WNO, hence the inclusion on this list. An interesting side note is that the CD – a bilingual affair with English and Welsh versions of some of the same songs – was recorded at BBC Hoddinott Hall in the days following the end of the Meistersinger run. Not sure about the cover though – is it Brie or Gorgonzola?

The penultimate goody on offer is a book celebrating WNO’s 60th anniversary, which came out a few years ago. Full of production photos and reminiscences from WNO staff it’s the kind of book you delve into and go, Ooh – I hope they do that again soon. On an informative tangent those of you who listened to the recent BBC Radio 3 Ariadne broadcast and were trying to imagine the end of the production you can glimpse it on the front cover of the book. Prices vary, and if you’re strapped for cash I suggest heading towards Amazon’s independent sellers, who have taken a significant chunk off the rrp.

And what’s the final object of my pointing? Well, it’s not exactly WNO, but they’ll be appearing during the event next year. It’s the 20th anniversary DVD celebration of BBC Cardiff Singer of the World. Although it was released close to ten years ago, and misses a few of the recent winners, it’s an interesting testament not only to the competition, but also to fashion – ever wondered what Elaine Padmore was wearing in 1983? You get to see the winning performances of each competition, in addition to the Lieder prize winners, strutting their stuffs. In addition to the performances there’s a finely crafted documentary with contributions from the likes of Karita Mattila, Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Bryn Terfel that should get you excited for next year’s event.

And there you are. A small selection of WNO orientated Christmas gifts you may like to buy for a loved one, yourself or for someone you don’t like in the hope that they throw the present back at you. Better use bubble wrap if you’re going for the third option in case you’re near a pavement, a clogged roadside drain or if you have the reactions of an inebriated turtle.

If WNO isn’t your thing perhaps you’d like to invest in a gift starring your local opera company – I’m sure they’d appreciate your attention, and in turn you can appreciate their hard work. And in the same spirit of spreading the love if Amazon are getting too big for your liking Hairman’s Favoured Sellers are Presto Classical, MDT and Europadisc. Adding a bit more mistletoe to this post I thought you’d like to check out the last posting dates involving the wee chappies and chappesses of Royal Mail.

* We all know Gorgeous George is far nicer than Il Duca, and he’ll have better hair as well, so maybe I should have chosen something more fitting for his character. Any ideas?

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

BBC Cardiff Singer of the World 2011 News and Order Form

Photo from BBC

The first concrete example of how the recent Comprehensive Spending Review will affect the arts in Wales has come in the shape of a shrunken BBC Cardiff Singer of the World 2011. The number of contestants for the biannual competition will be at its lowest since the inaugural competition in 1983. Back then the number was a modest eighteen. Next year it will be a slightly less modest twenty. Generally speaking the average number of contestants has hovered around the twenty-four to twenty-five mark. The zenith was a whopping twenty-nine in 1989 – the Battle of the Baritones competition. Although no word has seeped out yet why the number has fallen it would take a fantasist not to believe the financial boa constricting of the BBC by the Conservative / Lib Dem government is the sole reason for such a considerable reduction in numbers.

So what does this mean for everyone concerned?

Quite obviously five singers will miss out on career boosting opportunities to advertise their wares to the many international agents and houses who view CSW as one of the major talent spotting competitions in the world. For singers far from the operatic hubs of London, Vienna, New York CSW has given them an invaluable opportunity to (pardon the pun) make their voices heard. Taking away this opportunity is not only unfair to the singers themselves, but if continued in the long run will take the gleam off the competition itself as some of the biggest successes have come from entrants who didn’t win the competition; Elina Garanca, Anja Kampe, Michael Volle, Marius Kwiecien and Nina Stemme to name a few. One of the reasons why CSW has been such a success is that it includes singers from all parts of the globe, but if finances begin to decline so too will the budget for travelling to hear singers off the beaten track. But it’s hard to see, given the financial straight jacket the BBC finds itself in, the numbers rising above the twenty mark for the considerable future. Hopefully it goes no lower.

What about the audience?

With the smaller number of singers comes the inevitable loss of a preliminary concert; four instead of five for 2011. Not that this has affected the season ticket prices with them remaining more or less at the same level as 2009 - £190, £120, £80 and £50. It has to be pointed out though that unlike 2009 the ticket includes entrance not only for all four preliminary concerts and the main final, but also the Song Prize Final, which was a separate ticket for 2009. This is okay if you like recitals, but not everyone does - so perhaps a fairer option would to have been two season tickets - one at a lesser price for the orchestral concerts, and another for the same price with the Song Prize added on.

To book your season tickets you can follow this link to a downloadable pdf form. Please note that applications are by post only, with orders being processed in February 2011. You can pay by cheque, credit card or you can spread your order over three payments. Booking for separate concerts will take place from the 1st of March onwards in person, by telephone or online.

Best of luck in your ticket ordering, and even bigger best of luck for the fortunate twenty competitors!

In closing this CSW update I would hope that the organisers will see fit to pay tribute, during the 2011 edition, to two figures who did so much to raise the profile of the competition and who have sadly passed away in recent times - founder J Mervyn Williams and late patron Dame Joan Sutherland.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Ariadne auf Naxos on BBC Radio 3 Saturday, 13th of November 6pm

Owen Webb (Harlequin) Gillian Keith (Zerbinetta) (Pictorial presentation Richard H Smith BBC)

Har, har! Avast ye opera lovers! Come circle round this here roarrrrrring fire while I tell ye a tale o’ stereophonic news that’ll have ye setting course f’r BBC Radio 3 t’morrow ev’ntime. Har, har, har, har, har, har, har-har-har-har!

The cap’n o’ the fair ship BBC Radio 3 has set the ship’s sails in search o’ a desert island called Naxos, that be in’abited by a fair damsel call’d Ariadne. T’arrive at this fair damsels shores ye need to tune in at 6pm UK time so ye can board the ship WNO with cap’n Baton Rouge Koenigs at the helm with ‘is fine crew the WNO orchestra. Paying their way be Sarah Connolly, Gillian Keith an’ Orla Boylan with Ricardo Tamura up in the crow’s nest. I did shiver me timbers with this lot in the ten month o’ this year! It awlso be a mystikal appointment as ye can ‘ear it f’r a whole sev’n o God’s days aft’r the show on i-Player.

Fare thee well me hearties! But look out f’r me parrot Polly, she be eatin’ a galley’s worth o’ mints today. Har, har, har, har, har, har, har-har-har-har!

---------- It's an update - hence all this redness and new fontage ----------

In addition to the performance you can also listen to Sarah Connolly, Orla Boylan and WNO’s dramaturg Simon Rees being interviewed by Donald Macleod on the Ariadne page. But hurry up – you only have until Saturday evening to listen to everything before it’s packed away.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

WNO's Meistersinger Wins TMA Award

Bryn Terfel as Hans Sachs (Catherine Ashmore WSJ)

Awards ceremonies can be funny old things. Just ask Jarvis Cocker or Roberto Benigni...maybe not Mick Fleetwood. Most fair minded people would accept that comparing the artistic merits of books, films, blow drying and tinting is impossible given the variety of tastes on offer to human taste buds. Having sat on some judging panels myself I can now, after fifteen years of reflection, admit that my casting vote for Wagging Tongue’s Salon Conversationalist of the Year 1995 was weighted not for the winner’s patter but because she reminded me of Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star. But I am just a mere mortal on this spinning, spherical, circular...erm…planet, my dear, dear readers.

Fast forward to 2010.

The place? The Lyric Theatre in Old London Town.

The prize? The TMA Achievement in Opera Award 2010.

The nominees?

Glyndebourne (Billy Budd). Opera North (Ruddigore). WNO (Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg).

Are you feeling tense? Nervous? Heart racing like a pneumatic drill set to Being Chased by Villagers With Torches and Pitchforks Level 8? Are your eyes chewing the screen? Is sweat cascading from your curled hands? Your voice, is it rising rising louder, and louder, and louder as you read this to your colleagues in your office, your parakeet back home or to a carriage full of strangers on your way to / from work?

I’ll get on with it.

And the winner, ladies and gentlemen, is, was...WNO for Die Meistersinger!

Okay, so you probably guessed the result by the very fact I’ve written this post, and while I do take awards with a hefty pinch of salt I can’t deny I was pleased to see Meistersinger recognised in this way. Sadly I wasn’t there to shout out Yes! Yes! Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeees! before charging onto the stage, grabbing the award and thanking everyone on the panel for giving me, the opportunity, to thank everyone I had ever met (with the exception of Kevin “The Sand in your Eye Kid”) for inspiring me to win the award for World’s Greatest Ever Blinker.

Fortunately for, WNO, John Fisher was in attendance and he had the following to say...

"This is a great honour…I want to stress that this award has been won by the whole company; it is recognition for every person who works at WNO, and acknowledges their extraordinary commitment in meeting the enormous challenge of performing such a complex and ambitious work. It also highlights again the magnificent cast led by Bryn Terfel, the marvellous conducting of Lothar Koenigs, WNO’s Music Director, and the brilliant production of Richard Jones and his team."
(nabbed from WNO website)

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Arts Cuts and WNO


When I first started this blog I never imagined I would be discussing funding cuts and fiscal years, but following last week’s Comprehensive Spending Review my hair demanded I return and take a look at what has gone on. The short analysis is this – the arts, as was expected, have taken a rather large kick in their collective non-gender goolies.

The longer analysis goes something like this...

Over the following four years 29% will be cut from Arts Council England’s (ACE) budget with a (largely) blanket 6.9% decrease in funding for organisations announced this week for the 2011 – 2012 fiscal year. “So what?” I hear you say, WNO are a Welsh company.” Well, they are a Welsh company, but they also tour to many cities in England and, as such, a sizeable chunk of their funding comes from ACE. £6.29 million (2011 – 2012) to be precise, which is down from the current (2010 – 2011) £6.76 million. This is leaving a (circa) £650,000 gap in WNO’s funding for 2011 – 2012.

But this is just the beginning of the fun. The crucial decisions with regards to long-term funding will take place in spring of 2011 when ACE announces its plans for the 2012 – 2015 fiscal years. WNO could see its funding increased, decreased, or stopped altogether depending on how ACE tackles the £100 million pound budget savings it has to make.

The troubling aspect, from WNO’s point of view, could be a significant decrease in what Dame Liz Forgan (Chair of the Arts Council) described as a budget for strategic opportunities for artistic work - this will be reduced by £21m (64%) next year. This supports work such as touring…In the future we will be asking funded organisations to take on more responsibility for furthering our strategic goals, particularly in the areas of touring and audience development. As ACE describe WNO’s funding as towards core costs of 14 weeks of touring to seven cities in England it would appear that WNO’s funding may come under the budget for strategic opportunities for work, although as usual the devil, or the angel (in this case), could well be in the detail.

What ACE’s final decision will be is, of course, impossible to tell, but it would be foolish not to envisage calls from English based organisations demanding the end of WNO’s funding, despite the fact that WNO tours to cities in England that Opera North and ROH do not visit. Far be it for me to suggest such a thing but perhaps folks who take in WNO performances in Birmingham, Bristol, Liverpool, Milton Keynes, Plymouth, Oxford and Southampton may like to voice their opinions to ACE, or their local MP’s, over the coming weeks and months...

But before ACE delivers its crucial decision on the 2012 – 2015 fiscal years focus will shift to the Arts Council of Wales (ACW) and its December funding announcements. Will they cover WNO’s ACE loss for 2011 – 2012 or will they be forced to lessen their support? With a far smaller budget than ACE (ACW records for 2008 – 2009 showed that their grants totalled £22 million, £4 million less than ROH’s ACE grant alone for the same period) ACW’s ability to help WNO will be lessened even further following last week’s CSR given that the Welsh Assembly Government (ACW’s principal sponsor) is facing a £1.8 billion fall in its budget over the next four years. It’s been previously suggested that ACW will look favourably on WNO given its proven track record and the knock on financial benefits it creates for businesses in Wales, but if ACW’s own budget is squeezed then they can only do so much to support WNO.

All of this leaves WNO, like many other organisations, holding its breath. Inevitably the financial restraints will inhibit ability to invest in new productions, and audiences may have to put up with more revivals than they would like. But given a choice between revivals or new productions I will take revivals any day of the week if it means keeping the core strength of WNO intact, the chorus and orchestra, to avoid the disturbing fate of Scottish Opera with its dismantled chorus and part-time orchestra. Not that I would want WNO to retreat into a cocoon of Italian Top Ten Hits. Lothar Koenigs' appointment has undoubtedly breathed new life into WNO and it is important that he has a strong say in the make-up of future seasons.

It seems ridiculous that in the same year WNO produced an unforgettable Meistersinger, which was received with ecstatic abandon from Cardiff to the Royal Albert Hall via Birmingham by, among others, HRH Prince Charles and an emotional Stephen Fry on BBC TV that its future might about to be drastically affected through no fault of its own. Ask audiences, those far removed from London, just what it means to have WNO tour to within reach of their villages and towns and I suspect the words grateful and happy (a simple, but enjoyable emotion) will be mentioned quite often. You need look no further than this blog for evidence of the wonders of WNO. I am, at heart, a generally very cynical person – it’s true I’m afraid. So it’s a mark of WNO’s moreish addiction that I’ve kept up with this blog.

In writing this post I may be imagining the worst for WNO (what do you expect – I’m Welsh!). The case may be that WNO emerges with greater funding. Or, who knows, maybe one of the Ryder Cup entourage who attended WNO’s special performance on the eve of the contest might like to invest in the company? What I do know is that the endgame for the CSR is only a few months away, and the reality is that many organisations will suffer. Some will sadly disappear, and I assume larger organisations will suffer as well. All I can hope is that WNO isn’t one of them. Because at the end of the day WNO is made up of people who earn their living from giving people something that money can’t buy. Joy.

Orchestra and Chorus of WNO Wach auf!

Thursday, 14 October 2010

The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Combing…


As WNO hits the road I’ll be trimming my blogging for a while, but worry your frown lines not – I’ll add the odd post here and there with WNO related news, or anything which grabs my fancy in addition to some tweeting.

But before I don my nylon cape and stride off into the sunset with my pearl handled comb in one hand, and my Fabergé mirror in the other, I just have time to bring your attention to a few extra bits of WNO news.

The Orchestra of WNO will be performing a concert sans singers at St David’s Hall on Friday the 29th of October. The programme consists of works by Rachmaninov, Webern and Stravinsky with the orchestra being joined by pianist Jean-Philippe Collard for Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G. The conductor for the evening will be WNO Music Director Lothar Koenigs, and to read his thoughts on the programme just follow this link to an online flippy page brochure. You can also read ahead to check out the orchestra’s other St David’s Hall concerts taking place next year.

The last bit of news is that Welsh National Youth Opera are on the lookout for singers from the ages of 16 – 25 to join them as they work towards the 2011 world première performance of The Sleeper, a collaboration between composer Stephen Deazley and poet Michael Symmons Roberts. Interested parties can find more details, and an application form, here. But don’t dawdle; the closing date for applications is the 12th of November 2010.

Anyway, the hills are calling out to my hair and I must be away. But I’ll be taking copies of Die Fledermaus, and Il Trovatore, with me as I prepare for WNO’s Spring Season. For those of you who are catching WNO on tour this autumn I hope you have great nights out, and for those of you who aren’t – give in to the love I’m sending your way and pop along for an evening!

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Ariadne auf Naxos - WMC 9th of October

Fggfgju iiook;;k;lkghgfgh890jddffggj, 4yullohijk.

I haven’t discovered an Icelandic volcano, or a new health drink. Not even the chemical compound of good luck. With uncanny stubbornness my monitor decided to pack it in over the weekend, so deciding not to lucky guess my typing skills I waited until the fog cleared and I could type Ariadne, and not Anadin, or Agfkyik.

Less of the gibberish – it’s time to get to the reason you’re reading this.

The last note, by now, has long echoed on WNO’s final performance of the year at the Armadillo and in a Jahr that saw a triumphant Meistersinger there can have been no finer way to say auf wiedersehen than with another stellar performance of a German language work. Saturday evening’s performance of Ariadne auf Naxos was a revival of Neil Armfield’s celebrated production and was, in the words of my neighbour on the evening, one I’ll always remember. The I’ll, of course, applies not only to my neighbour but, judging by the cheers at the end of the performance, to many others in the audience. Do I count myself as one of the I’ll? As sure as my name is Hairman Bouffant Bob Pompadour the 19th Earl of Silver Comb the answer is...what do you think?

It’s a yes.

Who is to thank for bringing Joy to my Curls? Nigh on everybody who was involved in the production. First of all there’s Richard Strauss and his librettist, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, for creating the work in the first place. But specifically, for WNO’s effort, the thanks, according to guest reviewer, Armchair Critic (erm, me), go to...

Director Neil Armfield (and revival director Denni Sayers) for their pointing skills. The direction is a treat and gifts the performers with a clear sense of character and purpose. The Prologue crackles and fizzes with an energy and a fluidity that never feels forced while the Opera, working on many levels, has been approached carefully so that the potential quagmire of the commedia dell’arte scene is cannily navigated (with the aid of a wonky bratwurst and some hamper gymnastics), paving the way for an ending that is genuinely touching, and moving.

Helping the direction are Dale Ferguson’s designs, especially the Prologue set. An enjoyably detailed creation it invites the eye to roam around the backstage with props-a-plenty bedding in the authenticity. The Opera set is, at first, an intentionally wishy-washy drab affair with tattered sets. But within the course of events it houses a red curtained comedy, Bacchus’ mini-ship and aerially descending gangplank before dwindling to a darkened space illuminated by a constellation of stars.

Into this richly devised world steps an astutely cast group of singers. English mezzo, Sarah Connolly, dressed in a writerly suit, was the marquee name on the cast list and she lived up to expectations as the Composer, capturing the comedy, the passion and the hysterical naivety of the character both vocally and visually. Whether it was mournfully pouring a cup of water over her head, falling for Zerbinetta’s wiles or raging at her teacher she played the Composer with an earnestness that never felt overcooked.

Playing the role of Prima-Donna / Ariadne was Ireland’s Orla Boylan. Our first sighting of the soprano was of her in a dressing gown and playing up to her character name. Come the second act she was in second character mode and displaying a voice capable of rising over the orchestra, but which she wisely muted at times to allow a delicacy into her singing that aided Ariadne’s woes to be shown (in between glimpses of a finely tuned straight woman comic sensibility). Having never sung Ariadne on stage (or even in the shower) I’m not sure how difficult it is to switch between overblown emotion to the more honest, naked variety but Boylan, at the climax of the opera, was making me still my breath with the honesty of her singing.

Also stilling my breath was Canadian soprano Gillian Keith (Zerbinetta). Diminutive in size, with a voice as flexible as her ballet bar stretches, Beckmesser would be frothing at the mouth with her coloratura. But as he wasn’t there I decided to take up froth duties, especially after her hugely enjoyable Grossmächtige Prinzessin. The impressive aspect to her singing though wasn’t that she could colar-t until the cows came home but that through her singing and acting she made Zerbinetta a far warmer character than I envisaged her being. Oh, and for the record she was the night’s recipient of my now fabled Golden Lock Award™ for her aforementioned Grossmächtige Prinzessin.

Rounding off the last of the main roles was Brazilian tenor Ricardo Tamura. Like Boylan and Keith he was making his WNO debut (forgot to add those bits earlier...and he also made his UK debut) and as debuts go it was impressive stuff. Like Boylan he had to split personality his way through the performance, with 99.999999999999999999999999999999999999999% of his singing coming at the end. Can you have a sweet heldentenor voice? If so then Tamura has one that he used to powerful effect on Saturday evening as the dramatic heart and soul of the work built to its crescendo. In the (sort of) words of Meg Ryan, I’ll have what he’s having.

Gillian Keith (Zerbinetta) Sarah Connolly (Composer) Photo by Richard H Smith taken from The Arts Desk

Of course, you can have all the gold in the world leading your cast, but if all that’s there to support it is a heap of scrap then your display will look more like a junkyard than a Rolls Royce (I know it’s a weak analogy but ignore its lameassness). Scroll a few paragraphs upwards and you’ll remember I mentioned something about astute casting? Go on. Have a look. Well, the astute casting, apart from being directed towards the Fab Four is also targeted towards the remainder of the cast.

A wonderful trio of nymphs melded their distinctive voices beautifully in harmony, especially at Bacchus’ entrance. Joanne Boag was an elegant Echo, Mary-Jean O’Doherty a sprightly Naiad and Patricia Orr a rich Dryad.

Z’s commedia dell’arte troupe were an example of Teamwork to a T! The quality of their performances were marked by my not wanting to send for Special Agent Seeley Booth to give his critique on the clown work. Applause please for a cunning Owen Webb (Harlequin), a lithe Aled Hall (Scaramuccio), a deeeeeeep voiced Julian Close (Truffaldino) and the bratwurst wielding Wynne Evans (Brighella).

In the smaller roles the quality was no less satisfying with Stephen Rooke making a good impression as the Dance Master, Eric Roberts smug and despotic as the Major-Domo and the ample voiced Robert Poulton (Music Master) bearing an uncanny resemblance (at a distance) to former WNO Director of Music, Carlo Rizzi.

And how were things in the pit? For once I think I’m able to comment without a sense of trepidation. Lothar Koenigs coaxed some sublime playing from the orchestra, especially the cello section. And in a rare event their playing of the overture for the Opera garners the second Golden Lock Award ™ of the evening – the first time two GL’s (as they’re known in the biz) have been handed out for the same performance.

I know I tend to be quite enthusiastic about most WNO productions (apart from Madame Butterfly – we just don’t get on) but even so this was a memorable performance by anyone’s standards, and was reflected in the chatter of happy voices as I skipped out of the building. With the WMC to my back I made my way home on a high, but with one nagging downside to the whole production – it was only given two dates in Cardiff. Not enough in my books. With this melancholic thought drifting towards the back of your mind I suggest you check to see if WNO visits a town, or city, near to you, and if it does take the night off from the TV / pub crawling and treat yourself to a night you’ll genuinely remember. As for me, I’m looking forward to the November 13th broadcast on BBC Radio 3 of one of the (two) Cardiff performances.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Hairman at the Opera gets to know...Richard Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos (Part 2)

Photo by Clive Barda taken from WNO

Apologies for the delay in this closing instalment, unfortunately my technical #fail is still living up to its hash mark, but I’ve enlisted some help from You Tube, so settle in for a brief delvidge into the remainder of the work.

Gone are the backstage hysterics of the Prologue with the stage now set for the Opera* within an opera – Ariadne auf Naxos. To say that little goes on in the Opera is misleading, but a straight explanation of events reads like a Saturday afternoon b&w melodrama / musical from the 1940’s...

Ariadne (Prima Donna) has been left high and dry by her lover (Theseus) on the island of Naxos. Bewailing her fate she wishes to die, despite the protestations of a trio of nymphs. Trespassing into this realm of misery (and the Composer's Ariadne auf Naxos) comes Zerbinetta and her commedia dell’arte troupe to attempt to enliven Ariadne's spirits. After her boys make little progress with Ariadne, Zerbinetta makes an attempt to sing some sense into the Queen of Mope, but she too hits the rocks and Ariadne skulks offstage to find solace with a bottle of gin and a copy of Tess of the d'Urbervilles. Zerbinetta delivers her less gloomy outlook on matters of the heart, before her boys return to do a slapstick routine. Once the slap has been sticked they make way for Mr Loverman, Bacchus (Tenor). Thinking that The Seventh Seal's most pale faced cast member has turned up Ariadne reappears. After a heart to heart, things begin look up for Ariadne as she forgets all about death and settles for being transformed into a constellation. I wonder what would have happened if a shipwrecked unicyclist from Genoa had turned up? Anyway, end of opera.

Perhaps that was a touch heavy-handed explanation, and the bit about the constellation may be slightly wrong, except that there’s more than just plot to this opera. Though I’ve come to appreciate the work as being a cut above most others I’ve come across it didn’t start out that way. Reading Hugo von Hofmannsthal's libretto, the decision to create a behind the scenes approach in the Prologue jarred with me when the second part of the work, the Opera, took centre stage. How could I treat it seriously when it was such an artificial piece of work? These grand, yet distant, figures from Greek mythology had little in common with the earthbound creatures who had bickered throughout the Prologue. You could draw some lines of continuity between the characters played by the Prima-Donna and Zerbinetta's gang; Ariadne’s fragility with men foreshadowed by the Prima-Donna’s constant enquiries about the host’s whereabouts, and though Zerbinetta is a far more lyrical version of her earlier self, she still carries the same Woman of the World message. And it's Zerbinetta, and her gang, whose presence in the Opera is the trickiest. At times they undercut the seriousness of the plot, deflating the woe is me vibes given off by Ariadne and her Damsels in Depression.

But fret not my fretted readers – things are not as bewildering as they appear. Comedy's cheeky jowl doth sit by tragedy's furrowed brow! Thanks to the music. Reading the libretto, is one thing. Listening to it is another kettle of fish and fingers. In its own way, the work, is similar to Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, in that it shakes up an audience's perception of what to expect. And in a way Strauss trusts that we'll buy into his musical ideas for the work. Of course the music has to be able to withstand the toing and the froing of the onstage action and it succeeds in doing this. On times the arias felt slightly generic in nature – Zerbinetta's coloratura mega marathon and the Ariadne / Bacchus Wagner-like getting to know you bit – but they are high class generic arias (and in a way most work carries echoes of other composers). More importantly the comedy sits nicely with the tragedy, deflating the self-indulgent woes and in turn allowing the honest to goodness beauty of the score to bloom at the end of the work. Because, believe me dear readers, you may want to take a tissue or two in with you for the finale. Or pretend that you've just poked yourself in the eye with a comb.

Bringing this edition of the barely thought out Hairman at the Opera gets to know... I've come to see Ariadne auf Naxos as being a beguiling work. The philosophers among you may want to point out that Strauss illustrates the school of thought that there's a narrow divide between comedy and tragedy, and there is more than a kernel of truth to that observation. Others may like to highlight the reality present in the work, in that it shows you don't need to be the loveliest of human beings to be able to create works of art. Those of you, who are so inclined, may wish to draw attention to the work's solidarity with composers / writers subjugated by commercial vultures. Then there'll be those sick and fed up of maudlin pretentiousness who will lap up the pricking of a bubble or two. Without forgetting, of course, those who find that it's less the plot, rather than what the opera has to say about love, and how it says it, that's important. As with any work of substance it defies classification. It's qualities change the more a listener encounters it. At the moment I'm a mix of all of the above and, whether or not I stumble upon further changes of heart, these thoughts will do me fine for the time being.

With a nod towards your patience it's excerpt time.

Ariadne (Jessye Norman) taking a trip down memory lane, before taking a trip down misery lane. Still, it's good stuff.

Zerbinetta (Natalie Dessay) dispensing wisdom to a disinterested Ariadne (Katarina Dalayman) - Part One.

Zerbinetta (Natalie Dessay) dispensing wisdom to a disinterested Ariadne (Katarina Dalayman) - Part Two.

Get your tissues and combs ready! It's the finale, as sung by Gundula Janowitz (Ariadne), James King (Bacchus) and co.

*When I refer to Opera it's the second part of Ariadne auf Naxos, as opposed to the opera as a whole.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Hairman at the Opera gets to know…Richard Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos (Part 1)

Photo taken from WNO

The sharp eyed among you may have noticed a change of emphasis in the title of this post. I may be many things – Supreme Hairdresser-in-Chief to the Stars, a daring shark tamer, the world’s greatest blinker – but as yet my opera plot untangling skills aren’t quite there to lay claim to Meisterteller levels just yet. You may want to close your eyes as I begin my quest to find Ariadne, Naxos and, if I’ve got the time, auf.

The first thing that struck me even before I get round to listening to the opera was the character list:

  • Prima-Donna / Ariadne
  • The Composer
  • Zerbinetta
  • The Tenor / Bacchus
  • A Music Master
  • The Major-Domo
  • An Officer
  • A Dancing Master
  • A Wig-maker
  • A Dancing Master
  • A Footman
  • Harlequin
  • Scaramouche
  • Truffaldino
  • Brighella
  • Naiad
  • Dryad
  • Echo

Can you spot what it was that kapowed me? With the exception of Zerbinetta all the characters are referred to by their occupation or as figures from the commedia dell'arte and Greek mythology. Hardly personable stuff. It reads more like an Ikea character list. Fancy writing an opera? Then follow this blueprint and you’re half the way there! And then there was the description of the work as being an Opera in one act with a Prologue. Hmmm. Not what I’m used to seeing and though I’m not usually a creature of habit, I like to know where I stand with a work, and all I was seeing with Ariadne was distancing effects.

Hiding my reservations with a heavy dose of optimism I started in on the libretto. The story for the Prologue goes something like this…

The setting is a rich man’s house in Vienna where two groups of artists are preparing their separate performances for an unseen moneybags’ dinner party entertainment. One group is very serious, or with pretensions of high art. The second group is far more light-hearted, and realistic in their approach to their work.

The Composer heads the first, and most prominent, of the two camps. Passionate and serious about his art, prone to dramatic outbursts and submissive of anything that hints towards enjoyment / fun he’s like an angst ridden A-Level English Lit student. There is one important aspect to the role – it’s actually a trouser role, so expect to hear a mezzo, not a tenor.

Backing up the Composer is the Music Master, a pliable man of art who learns that a bit of comedy is to follow his pupil’s solemn work of art. Something that won’t go down well with the sulk.

Prima-Donna and the Tenor, both of whom are concerned about how great they are as artists, make up the rest of the gang. They probably have the best known bit of Moonlight Sonata as their ring tones and stride around Tesco, grandly placing a Pot Noodle into their trolleys.

The second group of performers is led by Zerbinetta, a Mae West character. She cares little for the overly serious approach to life and art. For her life is to be enjoyed. In her corner of the ring are her four sidekicks Harlequin, Scaramouche, Truffaldino, Brighella and the Dancing Master.

Gluing both these camps together is the Major-Domo or, as he should have been called, Major Ass Kisser. Smugly delivering His Master's Verbals he unloads the priceless bit of information that his boss wants a mash up of both works so he can fit in a fireworks display before the end of his dinner party.

Cue Composer losing it, Music Master pointing out that they aren't endangering Gramophone Magazine's Top 1, 000,000 Lowest Earners List and that they need the gig. The Composer's will wobbles and is completely wobbled when Zerbinetta flashes her lashes. But not for long. The Composer freaks out when the reality hits the fan of what will happen to his work. Exit Composer stage left, carrying fan.

That, in a nutshell, is the Prologue. On the surface of things it's pretty much a comedy with well-defined characters. You could say stereotypical characters, but their words are far more interesting for them to be labelled as run of the mill creations. They touch on quite thoughtful questions with regards to art and love and, in a way, life in general. It's a bit like X Factor, except no one is dredging a tear up for the camera or loving everybody.

So how's the music? Unfortunately, due to a technical #fail, I can't bring you the excerpts I wanted to. This leaves me to fill in the gaps with some pesky words. RomanticbelcantovaudevillegospelWagner is a term not used too often by music critics, but it should be. The score plays like a river, sometimes gentle, sometimes choppy, and sometimes raging – but never dull and with moments of heartbreaking melancholy.

Stay tuned for my encounter with the second part of the opera (known as Opera), by which time I hope to have thumped some sense into technology with a brick thick book and be able to bring you an example of Ariadne aufing it on Naxos. The book, in case you are wondering, is War and Peace – not a novel I'd suggest you read, but it makes a great founding stone on which you can balance all manner of PC related junk.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

WNO's Rigoletto on BBC Radio 3

From Top Left: Simon Keenlyside (Rigoletto); Sarah Coburn (Gilda) and Gwyn Hughes Jones (Duke); David Soar (Sparafucile); Keenlyside, Coburn, Leah-Marian Jones (Maddalena) and Hughes Jones. All photos Clive Barda - taken from BBC

Just a reminder that WNO’s summer production of Rigoletto, with Simon Keenlyside making his debut in the title role, will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 this Saturday (2nd of October) at 18.00 UK time. If you can’t listen in don’t be downcast. It will be available on the BBC i-Player for seven days after the broadcast. The rest of the cast includes Gwyn Hughes Jones (Duke), Sarah Coburn (Gilda) and David Soar (Sparafucile).

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

The Magic Flute - WMC 24th of September

Ever since its premiere scientists, mathematicians and statisticians have argued over the exact ratio of ZACKY present in Die Zauberflöte / The Magic Flute. Arguments have raged, punches have been thrown and abaci throwdowns have been swift and violent with tiny wooden balls marking the places where much ZACKY has been spilled. General consensus among ZACKY scholars had been thought impossible, until recent happenings brought about a nodding of heads and puffing of pipes at the 218th International ZACKY Conference in London, where I, dear fellow zachies, was, of course, the fulcrum of events. After much debate, it was decided, following my daring speech, in which I used my pearl handled comb and Fabergé mirror to demonstrate my calculations, that The Magic Flute is indeed nine tenths zany and one tenth wacky. In purely scientific terms it is known simply as the far catchier 9ZA1CKY.

Armed with my superb new discovery I blew dried my hair with exultant fervour and headed towards the Armadillo eager to see if WNO's The Magic Flute would be 9ZA1CKY or its poorer relation 7ZA3CKY.

Fellow ZACKY scholars, for the duration of this paper I shall have to talk to those less fortunate than you or, especially, I, in a manner that their sadly undeveloped ZACKY minds can understand...

Okay, a giant lobster, a set made of a corridor situated among blue skies and fluffy clouds with the addition of high heel wearing birds (oh come on, the feathered variety) and bowler hat wearing Oranje chorus rates as bona fide 9ZA1CKY. Dominic Cooke (director), Julian Crouch (set designer) and Kevin Pollard (costume designer) give us a Flute that lives up to the fantastical nature of the plot with heavy doses of Magritte and Monty Python(?). Of course there are more than enough nods towards the Masonic threads that framework the opera but this is a Flute that can live on many levels, especially as a visual treat for any children who find themselves dragged along by their parents.

Photo by Bill Cooper taken from MusicWeb International

On a personal level I have to admit that although I like The Magic Flute, it's not my favourite bit of Mozart, so if I was going to enjoy myself a lot would depend, not only on the look of the production, but also on the sound of the production.

Peter Wedd (Tamino) is a muscular sounding tenor, and it was the strength of his voice (no pun intended) that threatened to waylay his performance, but as he settled down his singing softened (maybe not as much as I would have liked) and he gave an all out performance. I quite liked the way he played Tamino with a touch of the berk of the role included, and fair damsels and dudels among the audience do not fear, he looks the part of a dashing prince.

As his dame in distress Elizabeth Watts (Song Prize champeen of BBC Cardiff Singer 2007) brought a burgeoning reputation to the stage and showed what the fuss is all about with a superb role debut as Pamina. Gloriously moreish like a box of Lindt Lindor Truffles her Ach, ich fuhl's, es ist verschwunden* was the recipient of my Golden Lock of the Night Award™ in recognition of the pin drop moment of the performance.

But Watts wasn't the only BBC Cardiff Song Prize winner on stage, and in Neal Davies (1991 champeen) Papageno was brought to life with elegantly crafted singing that on times had the intimacy of lieder to my ears. Of all the singers he seemed most at ease with his character and was not only my personal favourite of the evening, but also the audience in general judging by his reception at curtain call time.

The rest of the cast weren't lacking in substance on the night either. Laure Meloy looked, and sounded, the part of the Queen of the Night, managing her thunderfoot / tippy toe Der Holle Rache with the same confidence as she did her dress / ballgown / tent. The Three Ladies (Camilla Roberts, Carolyn Dobbin and Joanne Thomas) dressed as Victorian maids, in keeping with the vibe of the production, served their mistress finely and played the production's comedic angle with aplomb. Pa-pa-paing her way quite nicely Claire Hampton (Papagena) once again showed the quality of WNO chorus members, as did Howard Kirk, who was suitably booable as Monostatos. Tim Mirfin's Sarastro was elegantly delivered but lacked in vocal heft on the night. A special mention too for the three boys, who blended together to achieve that admittedly creepy harmony that works so well in the opera. They were three of these six listed Guy Roberts / Rory Turnbull, Robert Field / Henry Payne, Erwan Hughes / Josh Morgan.

The chorus, as usual, did their bit with aplomb from the most unlikely of places – often with only their heads poking up from the stage floor. The orchestra, under the batonage of Gareth Jones played nicely, if a little tame at times for my liking – but this could well be more to do with Mozart than those in the pit.

A quick recap is that this Flute is suitably bizarre, playing up to the pantomime feel of the work, with performances from the cast, especially Davies and Watts, making it a night worth trekking out for.

*Although the opera is sung in English I prefer to stick to the original German when discussing arias.