Music: Giochino Rossini
Director: David Pountney
Reviewer: Jacqui Onions
Moses in Egypt takes us through the Bible from the plague of darkness over Egypt to the parting of the Red Sea. Welsh National Opera’s production gets off to a spine-tingling start. A beautiful effect from lighting designer Fabice Kebour enables the audience to witness the sun slowly disappear over Egypt, as the plague of darkness strikes. In the dark, all other senses are forsaken as the ears are treated to the beauty of the Welsh National Opera chorus and orchestra. With nothing to distract from the sound, it is easy to get lost in the beautiful blend of voices and instruments, combining to create something truly special.
As God lifts the plague, another clever piece of lighting from Kebour enables the audience to share in the experience of being freed from the darkness. It is not until the eyes fully adjust that you can wholly appreciate the startling and unique costume design by Marie-Jeanne Lecca. Her use of colour vibrantly depicts the divide between the Hebrews and Egyptians yet subtly hints at divides within these groups.
The set design, by Raimund Bauer, initially appears to have a simple beauty, creating two walls of stone that reflect the colour divide of the costumes. However, as the production unfolds the set appears a bit more cumbersome, revealing a less than inspiring scaffolding-type structure on the reverse of the walls and causing two silent pauses in the second half during scenery changes.
The strength of this production is the ensemble, with the chorus of the Welsh National Opera being showcased at their very best. Even the characters create a brilliant ensemble, all giving strong performances and creating a wonderful chemistry without upstaging or outshining each other. That said, it is the main female characters of Amaltea, performed by Christine Rice, and Elcia, performed by Claire Booth, who really connect with the emotion of the piece as well as giving stunning vocal performances.
Since it is the big, ensemble sections that are the strongest and the driving force of the action and pace of this opera, the stiller, more intimate moments shared with just a few members of the cast – although superbly performed – feel a little drawn out and overly long. The stand out ensemble moment is the plague of thunder and hail which is both audibly and visually stunning with the Hebrews standing strong while the Egyptians are struck down by fire and Elcia finds herself lost in the middle, torn between her forbidden love and her God.
Moses in Egypt presents the chorus and orchestra of the Welsh National Opera at their very best and is well worth a visit.
Runs until Sunday 5th October 2014