I’ll be the first to admit I’m a complete newbie to opera. I couldn’t tell a Sondheim from a Wagner piece if it falsettoed in my face. So earlier this week, on the train from Birmingham to Cardiff I was frantically googling the plot and history of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, as I was heading for the dress rehearsal of Welsh National Opera’s new production of this show – which features their own chorus alongside those from a musical theatre background.
I was lucky enough to have been invited down to Wales for a press trip, ahead of the opening night of Sweeney to watch the first dress rehearsal of the show. I took journalist Richard Bratby with (watch out for his upcoming piece in Birmingham Post!) and there were two bloggers from Southampton. We were greeted by the lovely Sam and Branwen from the WNO Press Office and started out the day with tea and welsh cakes (how else?!).
After we had been fed and watered we were then treated to a backstage tour by Company Manager Ian Douglas. Wow. I thought backstage at Birmingham Hippodrome was huge! With three full size rehearsal rooms with enough space to fit sets in, it’s absolutely enormous. We followed Ian around the rabbit warren of corridors past wig rooms (they use real hair), the wardrobe department, the technical area and then front of house. Ian was full of facts and I learned that every material used to build the Wales Millennium Centre was sourced from Wales, and the architect even used Welsh beaches as inspiration for the pattered panels on the doors into the auditorium – very patriotic!
Then came my favourite part of the day, a tour of the Sweeney Todd set with Stage Manager Katie. We got up close and personal with a number of props from the show including Mrs Lovett’s pie oven, a realistic looking meat grinder, and Sweeney Todd’s infamous barber’s chair – which I didn’t care to sit in! It was such a privilege to be allowed on stage looking out into the auditorium, not something many people get to experience unless they are performers. My Instagram snap below shows the sheer beauty of the auditorium at Wales Millennium Centre. It must be breath-taking to perform here for real!
After a second tea break it was time to take our seats in the auditorium. There was a real buzz in the air as it was a working dress rehearsal, so all of the people from WNO involved in the show were seated around us, ready to see the dry run through for the first time. I won’t reveal any more as I wouldn’t want to ruin the show, however I will say that the show was stunning. For someone who is new to WNO ( it was my second visit, I saw Peter Pan earlier in the year) this really gripped me from start to finish and I will be making sure all of my family and friends come to see it when it is in Birmingham from 19-21 Nov 2015. You can book tickets here.
I would like to say a special thank you to Branwen, Sam and Penny from WNO for inviting me, and to Richard Bratby for coming along to write about the dress rehearsal for Birmingham Post. This is a fantastic opportunity for new audiences to experience the acclaimed WNO.
Sweeney Todd opens in Cardiff tonight and during the interval there will be a live Q&A streamed from the orchestra pit. To join in follow @WNOtweet on Twitter and look out for the link they will be posting at around 9pm tonight (8 Oct 2015).