Tȇte à Tȇte Opera Festival 2019 – Her Face was of Flowers by Elfyn Jones

Elfyn Jones
Her Face was of Flowers – an opera with text and sound-design by the composer, based on the myth of Blodeuwedd from The Mabinogion [sung in English]

Blodeuwedd – Anna Prowse
Gronw – Lars Fischer
Lleu – Peter Edge

Ensemble – Charlie Sheppard-Vine (clarinet); Nancy Redman (cello) & Eluned Pierce (harp)

Elfyn Jones – Director

Reviewed by: Peter Reed

Reviewed: 8 August, 2019
Venue: The Place, Duke’s Road, London WC1

Tȇte à Tȇte Opera Festival 2019 – Her Face was of FlowersPhotograph: Claire ShoveltonElfyn Jones is a Welsh composer and soundscape artist and he has used a story from the Mabinogion, the compendium of ancient Welsh myth and magic, for Her Face was of Flowers, a three-hander relating the sad tale of Blodeuwedd, unhappily married to Lleu, and her mystical attraction to the stranger Gronw, a story similar to Siegmund’s and Sieglinde’s, but without the incest.

In a press release, Blodeuwedd was described as made of flowers for a man (Lleu) cursed by his mother, and the opera retells the myth from her point of view. That may well have been in Jones’s text, but without surtitles, that amount of detail failed to register. Jones’s score, however, did register strongly, an atmospheric sound-design evoking the bleak beauties and scudding clouds of the Welsh landscape anchored by a trio of clarinet (plus bass clarinet, used to great effect), cello and harp that subtly imposes the human element of anguish and passion, and, through Jones’s skilful harp-writing, an instantly recognisable Welshness.

Anna Prowse dominated the empty stage with her luxurious mezzo – a good match for the colours of the score – she sustained the music’s lyricism with a lovely, easy tone, and her portrayal of the poor girl’s plight was very convincing. As Gronw, tenor Lars Fischer went to the heart of the lover’s eloquent, otherworldly ardour; his voice has a baritone grain to it could be right up Pelléas’s street one day, and his stage presence was attractively direct. Peter Edge delivered the baritone role of Lleu with a strong grasp of the husband’s bewitched desperation and rage, and his good diction, astute characterisation and expressive singing could suit many a role.

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