2117 / Hedd Wyn
Steffan Lloyd Owen, Craig Yates, Meinir Wyn Roberts, Llio Evans, Alys Merereid, Paul Carey Jones, Laurence Kirby, William Rennie; WNO Orchestra/Stephen McNeff
Ty Cerdd TCR037 91:44 mins (2 discs)
Stephen McNeff’s opera was written for a television film which seems to have fallen by the wayside. The 2014 commission for a work about the poet Hedd Wyn came from Welsh National Opera, whose choral and orchestral forces plus youth wing make a significant contribution to the end result. The young men of Only Boys Aloud also participate.
Librettist Gruff Rhys’s text places the poet in a much wider context: as the title suggests, we are in the year 2177 – 200 years after the death of the poet on the first day of the battle of Passchendaele; he would be posthumously awarded the Bard’s Chair at the 1917 National Eisteddfod. But Rhys adds further layers of complexity to the narrative: in 2177 survivors of an accident at the nuclear power station at Trawsfynnyd – Wyn’s birthplace – have formed a Welsh-language-only community which in post-apocalyptic circumstances is celebrating the poet’s achievements as a community project.
Moreover, parallels are drawn involving characters from the Mabinogi – an ancient Welsh collection of folk-tales. And there’s also a 1960s pop group. It has proved difficult to keep all these different elements clearly in play.
McNeff is an experienced and skilful opera composer, and his score is well-crafted and engaging. He’s impressively served by the largely Welsh-speaking cast (an English-speaking Officer, incidentally, is portrayed with some venom). Paul Carey Jones, Steffan Lloyd Owen, Meinir Wyn Roberts, Llio Evans and the rest of the cast do a fine job in their (sometimes multiple) roles. The composer himself conducts. Sad as it is not to have the planned film, this recording demonstrates the piece’s quality.