Years following the 1916 carnage at Mametz Wood, artist-poet David Jones wrote his First World War epic poem, In Parenthesis. Blending reportage, eulogy and autobiography with historical collective dream, the combination proves eloquent in composer Iain Bell’s new operatic setting, commissioned by the Welsh National Opera for its 70th anniversary season to commemorate the centenary of the Battle of the Somme.
Under conductor Carlo Rizzi, Bell’s richly multilayered score supports the deft interweaving of realism and mythic fantasy by co-librettists Emma Jenkins and David Antrobus. Other-worldly symbolism is maximised in director David Pountney’s deceptively simple period setting, depicting the terror, boredom and banter of life for riflemen in the trenches.
Andrew Bidlack and Donald Maxwell excelled as Ball and Dai, with Graham Clark’s Marne Sergeant a grizzled highlight. Peter Coleman-Wright and Alexandra Deshorties (Bards of Britannia, Germania and more) steered the narrative with aplomb. But each singer deserved plaudits in a strong ensemble piece, including the impassioned women’s Chorus of Remembrance/Dryads.
This is opera created for and with the community; not just in Wales, though its honouring of the Royal Welch Fusiliers exudes grace. Retaining Jones’s poetic sensibility, it is a powerful act of remembrance for all “the many men so beautiful” who fought at Mametz.