Review: Blaze of Glory at Milton Keynes Theatre

‘My only frustration at the pinnacle was that it was over before you realised’
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The Welsh National Opera was founded in 1943 by a group of people from across south Wales, including miners, teachers and doctors whose aim was to build a company that truly represented the rich reputation of the ‘land of song’.

‘Blaze of Glory’ which was commissioned to celebrate the Welsh National Operas’ 75th Anniversary in 2021, follows the story of a Welsh Valleys mining community, struggling to come to terms with a mining tragedy.

The former choir master Mr Pugh is persuaded by one of the young men to reform their male voice choir as a panacea to raise morale and take the community forwards. With Mr Pugh as director and the smitten Miss Price as the accompanist, we follow their adventures through the local Eisteddifod (festival of literature, music, and performance,) involving love, spying, kidnapping, a link up with Paul Robeson and finally on to their ultimate triumph.

Cast of Blaze of Glory! Photo credit Kirsten McternanCast of Blaze of Glory! Photo credit Kirsten Mcternan
Cast of Blaze of Glory! Photo credit Kirsten Mcternan

This is not what I was expecting from an Opera. What instantly took my appeal was the accessibility of the work, which was almost reminiscent of Sondheim, with an interesting weave of musical styles, hinting at Leonard Bernstein, Glen Miller, Latino, Gospel, Lindy Hop and The Blues, all of which made it very engaging, it was easy to follow and drew the audience in. The libretto followed a more traditional but modern operatic style and it knitted together nicely.

It was wonderful to have a live orchestra, the first time I had seen the orchestra pit in its entirety. At times it was hard to hear the words over the orchestra, however, the provided subtitles were a welcoming aid.

The clever use of props and scenery which transform before your eyes from front doors into the coal face and the swanky bar to a charabanc added to the ingenuity of the piece.

This was a celebration of how communities pull together in shared endeavour, when faced with adversity, and in this case through the healing power of song. The best moments for me were the arousing songs of the men’s choir, particularly when reinforced by the accompanying guest Oxford male voice choir who sang from the sides. These were the moments where the hairs stood up on the back of your neck.

WNO Blaze of Glory! - Cast of Blaze of Glory! Photo credit Kirsten McternanWNO Blaze of Glory! - Cast of Blaze of Glory! Photo credit Kirsten Mcternan
WNO Blaze of Glory! - Cast of Blaze of Glory! Photo credit Kirsten Mcternan

My only frustration at the pinnacle was that it was over before you realised, I was expecting more. Slightly sad too, those in the audience who felt it necessary to talk throughout.

Blaze of Glory has all the ingredients. If you missed it, check out their website for further performances in Bristol, Birmingham, Southampton.