Blaze of Glory – WNO, Birmingham Hippodrome, 06 May 2023. Then at Southampton 20 May 2023. 5**** David Gray & Paul Gray

‘Hireath’ is a Welsh word often regarded as untranslatable.  It evokes a kind of nostalgic yearning or longing for an idea of Wales, possibly a Wales that is lost in the past.  Anyone with any roots or connection to Wales will experience as least a twinge of this as they watch WNO’s new opera, Blaze of Glory.

The opera is set in a 1950s mining community, peopled by characters that would teeter on the brink of Welsh caricature if it weren’t for the fact they are so real and recognisable. 

The village has been touched by tragedy – a mining disaster.  An opening chorus of women tells us this in an opera about men, which is partly true.  The disaster has left the men of the village struggling to know how to be.  No community can thrive when half its population is lost, so the story is really about the whole community finding itself again through the power of music.

Mr Pugh, played with exceptional charisma and richness by Jeffrey Lloyd Roberts, is persuaded to reform the village’s Male Voice Choir as a Glee.  The story follows the trials and tribulations of the Glee as it strives for Eisteddfod triumph.

This is a real ensemble show, dramatically and musically.  The interplay between the characters is a joy.  The petty rivalries among the members of the choir are explored with humour and underscored with warmth, affection and respect.  The collective feel for comic timing displayed by the whole cast is remarkable.  There really isn’t a weak link.

Composer, David Hackbridge Johnson draws on 1950 swing and blues for much of his musical palette.   Dance rhythms underscore most of the dramatic scenes, but over these rhythms Hackbridge Johnson creates flexible, expressive vocal lines which allow drama & character to constantly develop.  It’s tremendously accessible and the energy and momentum never flag.

A female vocal trio, Welsh Rarebit, energetically performed by Angharad Morgan, Nafissatou Batu Daramy & Angharad Lyddon, form a kind of Greek Chorus and initiate much of the swinging musical fun.

Inevitably, this being a show about a Welsh Male voice Choir, there is a lot of Welsh Male Voice choir singing.    Much of this in integrated into the action to great comic effect, highlighting the absurdity of some of the music written for competitive Eisteddfod singing over the years.   Occasionally, however, everything just stops and the choir sings.  The result is utterly, heart-stoppingly magnificent.

Perfectly nuanced story telling by librettist, Emma Jenkins, balances the comedy and poignancy of the narrative.  There is darkness towards the end, but this is well modulated in dramatic terms and the show lifts to end in, well, a blaze of glory!  A triumphant end to a joyful and uplifting evening.


Mr Dafydd Pugh – Jeffrey Lloyd Roberts * Anthony – Themba Mvula * Miss Nerys Price – Rebecca Evans * Bryn Bevan -Feargal Mostyn-Williams * Emlyn – Adam Gilbert * Bronwen – Angharad Morgan * Blodwen – Nafissatou Batu Daramy * Branwen – Angharad Lyddon * Caradog Probert – Mark Llewelyn Evans * Mr Bebb – Gareth Dafydd Morris * Mr Powell – Simon Crosby Buttle * Mr Christmas – Martin Lloyd * Adjudicator 1 – Fiona Harrison-Wolfe * Adjudicator 2 –  Sarah Pope * Agent – Dafydd Allen * Mr Jenkins – Owen Webb * Miss Jenkins – Rosie Hay * Mrs Owen – Stella Woodman * Miss Hoskyns – Carolyn Jackson * Mr Howell – Gary Watkins * Mr Evans – Julian Boyce * Mr Jones – Huw Llewelyn * Policeman – Michael Clifton-Thompson


Composer – David Hackbridge Johnson * Librettist – Emma Jenkins * Conductor – Stephen Higgins * Director & Choreographer – Caroline Clegg * Designer – Madeleine Boyd * Lighting Designer – Elanor Higgins

David Gray & Paul Gray are Reviewers for Birmingham, West Midlands and (often) the Three Choirs Festival. If you would like David & Paul to come review for you, drop us a line at

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