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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera - Metcalf: Under Milkwood

03/04/2018 1:00 pm
03/04/2018 4:30 pm


Sunday Afternoon at the Opera host Keith Brown writes:

This is the third Sunday in Lent, that period of fasting before Easter in the traditional Christian calendar, during which I have broadcast a lot of religious choral music, settings of the Roman Catholic Mass, etc.

March First in the traditional church calendar is Saint David's Day, and he is the patron saint of the Principality of Wales. That day is a kind of national holiday in Wales, something like Saint Patrick's Day in Ireland, so on the Sunday following the Welsh holiday I thought it appropriate to break with the broadcasts of religious music so you can listen to a quintessentially Welsh opera: Under Milkwood (2014), by Welsh composer John Metcalf (b.1946).

The opera is based on the radio play by Wales's greatest poet of the twentieth century, Dylan Thomas (1914-53). The play was first broadcast from BBC studios in Swansea, Wales in 1954 after Thomas' untimely passing. The broadcast contained lots of sound effects. Similarly, Under Milkwood the opera is set up as a lyric radio play with plenty of "foley," as the Brits say, ie. pre-digital era noisemaking. Metcalf had to edit down the original play to get it to work properly in actual operatic performance. He trimmed back the number of characters. Dylan Thomas's Under Milkwood is to the Welsh what Thornton Wilder's Our Town is to us New Englanders. Thomas captured in his verse the spirit of an entire Welsh seacoast town.

Under Milkwood the opera was produced at the Taliesin Arts Centre in association with the Welsh National Opera, for whom Metcalf has written other operas. The recording of this opera was made in Cardiff, Wales when it went on tour. And wouldn't you know, Under Milkwood was issued on two compact discs in 2014 by a Welsh record label, Ty Cerdd Records of Cardiff Bay.