Review: A Spanish Hour by Mid Wales Opera

This November I took some time off to visit the lovely village of Hay-on-Wye and attend Hay Winter Weekend. The first night I rushed from the bus stop, to my hotel, to the gorgeous St. Mary’s Church to enjoy A Spanish Hour performed by Mid Wales Opera. I was excited as I’m not very familiar with operas, and the setting was beautiful.

Onlookers enjoying a book window display in Hay-on-Wye
Hay-on-Wye is known as the town of books, and each year hosts a summer festival and a winter weekend.

For the purpose of transparency, I’ll admit that I am no expert in opera (or music), but I think I can differentiate between art and the complete destruction of a classic.

And that was only the first part.

Putting aside that the opera in question is about an unfaithful Spanish wife debating which man to take as her lover, there are a few points that must be discussed.

  1. The outfits

I want to know who came up with the idea to just stare at them disappointingly. In between a badly made polka dot dress with a little bit of frill pretending to be flamenco and a clockmaker wearing a cape (why????), I was baffled.

I mean, stereotypes are horrible things, although I understand the use of them in performative art to explain context to the audience. However, given that this is a relatively small opera company I would have liked to see a more daring approach. This is a classic in modern opera. Why stick to the basics? They were getting close – the stage was beautiful and so was the make-up – but they failed to go all the way through with some innovation.

  1. The pronunciation

You don’t have to tell me. I know I’m being a total snob. My English accent is definitely nowhere to be seen and any time I try to speak German I butcher the language so much Goethe gets up from his grave and beats me up with it. I don’t give up, either, so we’re good pals now.

Mid Wales Opera started on a good place – “Buenos dias” “Señor” “Muchas Gracias” – but swiftly moved to “signora” and “signor”, etc. I get Italian is traditionally the language of opera, but this one in particular was written in French. About Spanish people. Please understand my confusion.

  1. The adaptation

A Spanish Hour - Midwales Opera
The set during the interval

This was an all rounded shit show. The actors lacked passion and their enthusiasm fits in with the poor performance of a classic (see point 1 about not daring to innovate). I won’t elaborate, as the best part of the evening is just around the corner.

Then the second part happened.

I bet you thought it couldn’t get any worse. I thought the same. Quite frankly I was looking forward to the second part, advertised as a concert honouring contemporary Spanish music and culture.

I’ve never cringed so much in my life.

The concert started with an introduction from the director. He and the other singers were dressed in tight trousers an red frilly shirts. Cringe. Ew ew ew. See stereotypes point above.

The director narrated the story of Ferdinand, a pacifist bull, to the skilled violin of Naomi Rump. The beautiful melodies were nonetheless shadowed by the… wait for it… fake Spanish accent Richard Studer decided would be appropriate. Ew.

Up next was a flirtatious interpretation of Nana, by Lorca, that was quite disturbing seeing as this is a bedtime lullaby for children. Following this the ensamble performed some excerpts from Carmen.

And then le piece de resistance, or coup d’etat since every Spanish person in the world cringed at the same time. They sang and danced to Y Viva España. Please insert a gif or meme of barfing here while I actually barf. There is so much more I could question (Why did they choose a French opera for a Spanish themed night? Why didn’t they play any modern or contemporary Spanish music as promised?), but I’ll let this evening rest. 

I am hereby begging Mid Wales Opera to leave other cultures alone. Seeing how Welsh culture has been overwritten and underplayed again and again, I would have much rathered an evening of Welsh folklore and language.

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