Welsh National Opera is going mad at The Mayflower

Sweeney Todd by the WNO is coming to the Mayflower this autumn. Picture: Manuel Harlan
Sweeney Todd by the WNO is coming to the Mayflower this autumn. Picture: Manuel Harlan
Tom Chambers as Bobby in Crazy For You. Picture by Richard Davenport

REVIEW: Crazy For You, at Mayflower Theatre in Southampton

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Mad about opera? Then you’ll be in luck this autumn.

The Welsh company that also serves the English regions will explore the turmoil of insanity in three productions at the Southampton Mayflower from October 13-17.

In one of them, Welsh National Opera even steps away from operatic convention and outside the regular repertoire – by following the musical-theatre practice of amplifying the voices in Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd.

That was performed to massive acclaim at Chichester Festival Theatre with Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton in the leading roles, but now it will feature both operatic and musical-theatre singers.

Sweeney Todd, to be staged from the Wednesday to Saturday, deals with society’s madness as well as the barber’s, and WNO is promising all the emotional impact of opera.

The production is set in the late 1970s/early 1980s with echoes of Thatcher’s Britain, emphasising Sondheim’s message that it is not only Sweeney who is insane but society itself with its corruption and inequality.

Orlando also features in the Welsh National Opera's autumn programme at the Mayflower. Picture: Richard Campbell

Orlando also features in the Welsh National Opera's autumn programme at the Mayflower. Picture: Richard Campbell

But first up at the Mayflower on the Tuesday will be Bellini’s I Puritani, the composer’s final opera and a masterpiece of the Italian ‘bel canto’ (beautiful singing) repertoire.

The heroine, Elvira, inspired Bellini to create one of opera’s most exquisitely refined musical portraits of insanity.

Former WNO music director Carlo Rizzi returns to conduct I Puritani, with celebrated tenor Barry Banks returning to sing Arturo and rising Italian lyric soprano Rosa Feola as Elvira.

One of Handel’s greatest operas, Orlando, will be staged on the Wednesday, showing musical virtuosity as a metaphor for insanity.

Madness has been a constant inspiration to composers eager to test the ability of music to penetrate the most radical states of mental disorder

David Pountney

It will be conducted by baroque expert Rinaldo Alessandrini and set in London during the second world war to heighten the story’s emotional impact.

WNO artistic director David Pountney says: ‘The paradox of music is that it is a highly rational means of expression, much more logically organised than the language of speech, and yet it is the supreme means of expressing all kinds of extreme emotional states.

‘Among these, madness has been a constant inspiration to composers eager to test the ability of music to penetrate the most radical states of mental disorder.

‘Our season presents a fascinatingly wide range of musical expression – from the virtuosic roulades of Handel, via the elegant refinement of Bellini to the raw craziness of Sondheim’s gruesome barber.’

Tickets for each production cost £8 to £44 (concessions available) from (023) 8071 1811 or mayflower.org.uk.