Under Milk Wood
John Metcalf's new Dylan Thomas opera
There's an underwash of gentle pastoralism to John Metcalf’s opera Under Milk Wood, a new setting of Dylan Thomas’s radio play. Written in time for Thomas’s centenary this year, this opera is a heartfelt and dreamy tribute to the great Welsh poet and his 1945 masterpiece.
That we should sit back and be charmed by the everyday goings-on of the residents of Llareggub (‘bugger all’) rather than expect high operatic drama was clear from the start at its premiere run.
Waves lapping on the shore lulled the audience; dappled golden light, in a film projection of sunshine through leaves, created an aura of nostalgia. The colour palette of the five musicians is in soft, folk-inspired hues, including harp, flute, viola and the traditional Welsh stringed instrument, the crwth. Neatly, the scenes take place over a 24-hour period, each based around one of the 12 notes of the chromatic scale, beginning and ending in that comfortable home of C major.
All this warm Sunday afternoon fuzziness could have threatened to induce a nap – and more variety of pace and tone would have been welcome – but the uniformly good cast kept the interest alive. Eight singers each took on a large number of roles, with Wyn Davies even hopping over from directing the ensemble from the piano to singing the role of Organ Morgan.
The radio play roots weren't forgotten, either, with director Keith Turnbull setting the action in a radio studio of the time. Captain Cat sat in a rocking chair at the centre of the stage, with the singers making use of the whole stage to create the various domestic vignettes, as well as becoming Foley artists to create a whole host of everyday sound effects.