Popular West Wales tenor Aled Hall is sporting the biggest of smiles this week after making his first ‘stage’ appearance in seven months.
The pandemic has decimated Aled’s concert diary, but the ‘have suitcase, will travel’ operatic tenor was back on the road at the weekend to appear in Pagliacci in London.
“It was great to get that buzz back again,” said Aled, 52, who has spent most of the pandemic in rural isolation in the lovely setting of the family smallholding in Dolgran, Pencader.
“Seven months down the line, you wonder have you still got it? Have you still got the voice? Thankfully, it is it still there! I love live performance and this version of Pagliacci was a joy to do.
“It was excellent, working with a great bunch of people – singers and production staff who really know their stuff.”
The performance featured Elin Pritchard and Robert Hayward, with Aled Hall playing the role of Beppe in Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Italian opera.
It was staged at St James’ Church in Islington.
The Stage magazine review of the production said: “Director Christopher Luscombe manages to create lust and longing among the cast at two metres’ distance, and virus-carrying props are reduced to Nedda’s belt, with which she beats off Tonio’s advances.
“Aled Hall excels as Beppe – needing no more than a reversed baseball cap to support his comic persona.”
Aled revealed the Pagliacci performance had started as a discussion with operatic friends over what to do in the ‘new normal’ world of Covid-19.
He said: “Basically, we were trying to think outside the box and put something on. Everyone is out of work, so we thought it best to try something ourselves. Something that didn’t involve too many people.
“Pagliacci is perfect – it’s an hour and 20 minutes, no interval and you can do it with a small cast.
“We had six singers, a conductor, a director, a pianist, cellist and a violinist – and an eight-strong chorus (two of each voice) from British Youth Opera, who were socially distanced down the side of the church.
“We put it together in a short space of time, keeping all the social distance rules in the production. If we sang to each other, for example, we made sure we were at least three metres away to stay within the rules and advice.
“It was a big challenge to put a production on.
“We were allowed 70 in the audience, but just to be sure we kept it to 50 just to make sure everyone was safe. And we sold out.
“The audience went crazy at the end because they hadn’t heard live music for seven months. A few of the national theatre critics even paid for their own tickets as well.
“It was a very slick production exercise. Basically, I took the train up early Thursday morning and went straight into rehearsal. More rehearsals on Friday and a dress rehearsal at 4pm. And then the show at 8pm on Saturday.
“It was great fun. It was a huge challenge because we are so accustomed to being up close and personal with each other on stage.
“It was an absolute joy to hear music again and hear singing again. I have been here in my bubble (near Pencader) and haven’t heard any other singers. It was great being back ‘in the room’ with great friends and great singers.
“Hopefully, this may start something. People will have seen this little troupe has put on a show.
“Pagliacci is about a small group of entertainers, so it was a perfect story for us to put on. The audience were delighted and there was a standing ovation at the end.
“We are setting up a little company called Opera Ensemble. The plan is to launch this week and the idea is to target smaller venues.
“For example, if somewhere like St Peter’s Church in Carmarthen wanted us – and if the social distancing rules can be followed – it would be a case of seeing if we could do the date, checking the singers are available. And then we all turn up a day before to rehearse and the stage the show.
“Hopefully, people will hear about what we have just done and people will want us to do it again. Islington was very much an experiment. The vicar of St James’ Church offered us the venue for nothing and we did it all ‘at cost’, so to speak, just for expenses.
“Hopefully, in setting up Opera Ensemble, we can get some sponsorship or arts funding to make the project get lift-off.”
You can follow Opera Ensemble on Twitter @OperaEnsembleUK
Aled, who is one part of Tri Tenor Cymru (The Welsh Three Tenors), is now widely recognised as a ‘go-to guy’ for the character tenor repertoire in opera, both in the UK and abroad.
Aled’s lengthy CV reads like a guide to top flight opera.
Highlights, both in the UK and abroad, have included the following roles: Valzacchi, Der Rosenkavalier (Royal Swedish Opera); Pang, Turandot, Spoletta, Tosca, the Dancing Master, Manon Lescaut (Royal Opera House); Don Curzio, Le nozze di Figaro (Aix-en-Provence, Tokyo, Baden Baden); Mr Upfold, Albert Herring (Salzburger Landestheater) Valzacchi, Der Rosenkavalier, Maintop, Billy Budd, and Gherardo, Gianni Schicchi (Opera North).
During the coronavirus crisis, this column will not be featuring events, but will be putting the spotlight on west Wales singers and choirs. If you have news of cancelled and postponed events, email email@example.com
There’s good news today for fans of South Wales bakery Jenkins.
The firm is planning a phased re-opening of shops starting next week.
The first four shops to be re-opened will be –
The Avenue in Llanelli
Thomas Street in Llanelli
The shops will re-open from Tuesday, June 9,.
From that date, they will trade from Monday to Saturday between 08:30 and 14:00.
“First and foremost, we want to thank our customers, suppliers and staff for their continued support, loyalty and patience,” said general manager Richard Mynott.
“It seems like a long time ago now, but we took the decision to close back on Friday, March 27, because we felt it was the correct thing to do for our customers and staff during the coronavirus pandemic.
“At the heart of that difficult decision was a sincere desire to make sure everyone remained safe and well.
“Now that lockdown restrictions are starting to lift, we will start a cautious approach to re-opening.
“A great deal of work has gone into our re-opening plan and we have made sure that all the risk assessment procedures, including staff surveys, are in place and that we have the proper control measures in place to ensure everyone has confidence in the new way of working and trading.”
Mr Mynott added: “We will not be able to offer the full range of products and customers will notice a new way of shopping. At the heart of everything we do will be the safety of our customers and staff.
“We are planning a phased approach to re-opening in order to gain an understanding of how the market-place has changed and to trial the various control measures we have had to implement.
“Given that we will be initially only opening four shops, not all staff will be returning to work, with the vast majority of the workforce remaining on furlough for the present time.
“As we increase our knowledge and understanding of the “new normal” for our business we will be able to make further decisions as to which other shops to open and when.”
Mr Mynott said he was grateful for the continued support, loyalty and patience of staff.
He added: “Staff will find a different work environment to the one they left in March.
“We have always prided ourselves on the highest standards of hygiene, quality control, customer service and staff safety. There will be new rules and disciplines we will have to adhere to during the course of business. They are there for the benefit and safety of our fantastic workforce, our customers and our suppliers and contractors.”
The Jenkins Bakery team will begin taking orders for celebration cakes from next week.