Bold and brassy: Opera: Jan Smaczny reviews two new productions from Mid Wales Opera

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The Independent Culture
It's good to see that Mid Wales Opera has not abandoned an experimental tendency. In last year's Festival, the shock of the new was confined to their dark and disturbing Don Giovanni, leaving La Traviata relatively untouched. This year, both productions take an innovative line with familiar works.

Christopher Newell's production of The Tales of Hoffmann is the bolder of the two. One or two details - a bathing beauty from Footlight Parade and a Peter Greenaway swimming-pool - seem designed to keep mind and eye off balance, but in general the approach is consistent and provocative. Aided by a handsome stage design (Jeannette Pritchard) and subtle lighting (Paul Need), the opera moves assuredly, with a careful eye to the nastiness bubbling below the surface. The production's greatest strength is that it refuses to let the opera fall into isolated tableaux. Symbolism, costume and colour are used organically to create a compelling whole.

A uniformly strong cast seemed happy with the producer's surreal imagery. Adrian Clark was sensational as all four villains, camp and threatening at the same time. Fiona O'Neill copes with athletic virtuosity as all the ghastly females in Hoffmann's life, blending comedy and pathos with a thrilling range of tone. As Hoffmann, Lynton Atkinson flings himself about with convincing ardour, although I could have done with a more consistent feeling for vocal line. The triumph, however, is the chorus. Made up mainly of student singers, it is not only strong in tone, but has an energy and ability to work as a unit which puts many a professional chorus to shame. They turn an interesting production into a major event.

It's a pity that the Carry On team didn't get round to Puccini; the inhabitants of his operas hover so close to caricature that 'Carry on Butterfly' would need very little adaptation. Indeed, in the second act of Julia Hollander's production of La boheme, 'Carry on Bohemians' seemed about to materialise. Sally Ann Shephardson's bright-voiced Musetta resembled Barbara Windsor, and Alcindoro (Julian Moyle) is a role made for Kenneth Williams.

In essence, this is a conventional production with a significant number of over-the- top touches. Updating the first-act Parisian garret to a Notting Hill squat, enveloped in Tahra Kharibian's eye-catching set, worked splendidly. The only miscalculation is the white-out of the last act. For all the skill of the cast, a genuinely moving conclusion proved elusive against white plasterboard and bleached sheets. Gail Pearson (Mimi) sang with a clarity matched by Michael Preston-Roberts's Italianate Rodolfo. Among the sterling Bohemians, Christopher Maltman's Marcello emerged with particular strength. And in the pit, Anthony Hose secured a healthy sound and thrilling ensemble from his sca1ed-down orchestra.

Hoffmann: 6 Sept, New Pavilion Theatr, Rhyl. La boheme: 15 Sept, Theatr Ardudwy Harlech. Then touring Wales. Also at Adrian Boult Hall, Birmingham, 16 Oct. Further details available on 0938 500611.

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