Bristol Hippodrome

Les vêpres siciliennes

March 2020

Golden voices + painted titties

The wonderful spectacle of the Welsh National Opera performance of Les vêpres siciliennes on Saturday night at the Bristol Hippodrome certainly gave everyone something extra for the weekend.

The title roughly translates to ‘sunset evening prayer in Sicily’ and it has all the staple ingredients of a great story – war, rape, false imprisonment, betrayal and bloodshed - but with WNO you always get lots of dramatic add-ons.

This musical masterpiece by Guiseppe Verdi is based on the 1282 massacre of the French inhabitants of Sicily.

The company sing ‘Etna’s roar as its boils with rage’ while waiting for the vesper bells to ring and signal the start of a rebellion.

Among the stars on stage singing their broken hearts out were the foot soldiers and the downtrodden peasants in the chorus.

But for this production surprise, surprise you also get contemporary ballet, gold painted titties, puppetry, mime and characters perched sky high on moveable ladders - methinks a Prince Farquaad-style moment in Shrek!

All is revealed by a series of large illuminated frames which act as a picture book, telling not necessarily in chronological order but in flashback moments a tale from the conception of an brutal out-of-wedlock pairing to a victorious ending (I think).

The visual impact of this opera is overwhelmingly hence the many whoops and hollers from fellow buffs sitting in the stalls only slightly decimated by the pandemic happening in the real world.

Debauchery is portrayed with a tableau of abused bodies on a feast laden table.

The atmospheric lighting (designed by Fabrice Kebour) with its dark shadows and glimpses of the light, the SS henchman-style uniforms of the baddies and the Sicilian black mourning dress of the women - colour comes sparingly as in the final scene with courtiers wearing flowers in their headdresses.

I did wonder when I checked-in on Facebook if the three hours and 25 minutes with one interval was going to be an evening too far.

The new theatre seats with minimal padding made the X9 bus seats journey into the city centre seem luxurious and I was forecasting a very numb bum.

However, my attention was fully focused on the stage so that the minutes ticked by at speed.

Opening the 2020 spring season this is a new production of Les vêpres siciliennes and the final instalment in WNOs Verdi trilogy.

Directed by David Pountney and conducted by Laureate Carlo Rizzi the cast includes stunning Armenian soprano Anush Hovhannysian as aristocrat Hélène in mourning for her murdered brother, with baritone Giorgio Cauduro sporting a long grey ponytail returning to WNO as sadistic ruler Guy De Montfort following his recent acclaim as Dandini in La Cenerentola.

Despite his torture of the mother the commandant sees his salvation in a fatherly relationship with his secret offspring – saying “I feel myself reborn at the words ‘my son’”.

The masked dance with skeleton creatures wearing tricorne hats and moving like an animated Gollum in Lord of the Rings or the creepy coffin scene with display of agility not usually seen at an opera – outstanding while comically horrendous.

South Korean tenor Jung Soo Yun needs little more passion please otherwise his debut with WNO as Hélène’s lover and would-be husband would have been perfect.

Raimund Bauer mastermined the Verdi Machine set of three interlocking frames and costume designer par excellent is Marie-Jeanne Lecca.

Sung in French with surtitles in English the other brilliant principals in the cast were Wojtek Gierlach as Jean Procida, as Wojtek Gierlach, Gareth Brynmor John as Robert, Christine Byrne as Ninette and Wyn Pencarreg as Le Sire De Béthune.

I can’t quite say what happened in the end – and not because I don’t want to spoil the plot but I know we had a scaffold, lots of blood red tape and the offers to sacrifice their lives for their country so I am sure no-one lived happily ever after but perhaps I will just have to see it all again – and despite the length I am happy to do this so.

Work colleague Sarah Howard-Jones was also in the audience seeing the show for the second time having attended the premiere three weeks earlier at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.

She said: “It was so good I had to come again.”

 

Carol Deacon

PHOTOS: From top clockwise Jung Soo Yun and Giorgio Caoduro; Anush Hovhannisyan; Wyn Pencarreg; Wojtek Gierlach; dancer Marine Tournet; chorus; company and Marine with support dancing; all by Johan Person 

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