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The opera is based on a story in the Mabinogion. The opera is set in some sort of non-specific present, in a hotel in a war zone during a civil war. Costumes are vaguely 1950s (with some earlier references) but modern technology is present. I had read in advance that the piece was set in the future, but this is not referred to in the programme book and the designs were in no way futuristic.
The General (Christopher Purves) is hoping to engender peace by marrying his daughter Sian (Lisa Milne) to Mal (Peter Hoare), the leader of the rival tribe. Sian is in love with Evan (Leigh Melrose) but accepts that she must marry Mal for the good of peace.
Act 1 depicts the tense lead up to the wedding. During the last scene, the wedding feast, the profoundly jealous Evan deliberately injures Mal. Evan and Mal are depicted as almost two sides of the same coin -- violent soldiers with a strong sense of jealousy. Evan cannot accept that Sian must marry Mal.
Then, during Act 2, which takes place seven years later, we see Mal's jealousy of Evan has come to poison his relationship with Sian. Evan has been in jail but returns and at the end of Act 2, kills Gwyn (Mal and Sian's son), the heir who was supposed to bring the two sides together.
Act 3 takes place straight after Act 2. The General understands that he has failed, and references the story of the Wounded King. He dresses himself in Evan's clothes, arranges a meeting with Mal and allows Mal to shoot him thinking he is Evan. The resulting Threnody brings the opera to a close, though the staging (Evan appears to confront Mal just as the curtain comes down) and the music (the opera concludes with hammer blows in the orchestra) lead one to question what will happen next.
Copyright © 11 October 2007
Robert Hugill, London UK