An overture ranging in to history

Wlliiam tell

David Kempster as William Tell and his trusty crossbow. Picture: Richard Hubert Smith

William Tell

Welsh National Opera


FROM the original play by Schiller, William Tell, was first seen in Paris in 1829 and 185 years on Welsh National Opera bring Rossini’s classic, and its most famous of overtures, to a twenty-first century audience.

The opera tells story of Tell, a Swiss patriot, fighting against Austrian rule from the governor, Gesler.

It is a gripping tale of rebellion to free Switzerland from Austrian rule and part of WNO’s Liberty or Death autumn season with Carmen and Moses in Egypt, performed earlier in the week.

The opera is full of action as it tells its moving story over three and a half  with David Kempster in the title role as the pauper patriot. Tell has a huge ambition to protect both his country and his family. Kempster’s talent showed an emotional and touching connection with Tell taking the audience on his moving journey with him.

Similarly, the character of Arnold, son of Melcthal, played by the roaring Barry Banks gave an inspiring portrayal of a bold and loyal man. Banks’ approach to Arnold’s character was a pleasure to behold.

The emotional range of this epic story is clear as the audience are carried along on Tell’s journey from act to act. When we finally see Gesler, the governor of Austria, there is a strong dynamic from Clive Bayley who played the commanding leader was played with perfect expertise.

Director David Poutney relays this stirring tale with incredible ease. One example of this is through the use of the wonderful WNO chorus, who were an asset to the whole production.

Creating the atmosphere of each scene from act to act, the ensemble were the driving force to keeping the story alive. They moved the story forwards with bountiful energy and gave great credibility to Poutney’s vision.

There we also gripping performances from the women of the cast, including Camilla Roberts who had a wonderful approach to Mathilde and Fflur Wyn who played William Tell’s young son, Jemmy.

Of course, an addition to this awe-inspiring opera was the tremendous and multi-functional set.

Two high gauzes made of steel were used as to set each scene and produce the appropriate atmosphere, along with the orchestra as the backbone to this. The set was later turned around, revealing a tall steel frame, giving the allusion of an oppressive and cold atmosphere under Gesler’s rule. Grey costumes and dark lighting showed the demise and loss of hope for Switzerland.

The addition of physical art with dancers was another entertaining factor to the already gripping opera. Dancers Megan Griffiths, Sophia Preidel, Sophy Ribrault, Kit Brown, Nicolas Keegan and Pim Veulings certainly injected a deeper sense of emotion to the moving tale.

The artistic elements created by the dancers allowed the audience to connect even more with the story. The dancers had the power to make us roar with laughter, especially in a humorous sequence of marriages of young couple’s of Tell’s Swiss village.

Equally, the dancers also portrayed the dark and hard-hitting moments, specifically in acts two and three where Gesler’s regime took their rule.

There was an uplifting end to the tale of huge emotion completing a colossal journey with Gesler’s defeat in the final sequence. Here we saw the entire cast take a stand on stage with inspiring song in a beautiful end to the touching production.

Welsh National Opera’s style makes opera accessible to all and William Tel’sl is a moving story and the excellent WNO orchestra, under conductor Carlo Rizzi, and cast make it nothing short of entertaining from beginning to end.

Elizabeth Halpin



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