Listening to operas in languages we may not speak is standard practice. One sung in Welsh, if more of a novelty for most of us, is no different. In a remarkable achievement, overcoming hurdles on the way, 2117/Hedd Wyn (Welsh National Opera/Tŷ Cerdd) – with music by Stephen McNeff and libretto by Gruff Rhys (Super Furry Animals) – has been recorded by the multiple forces of WNO’s youth opera, Only Boys Aloud and Only Boys Aloud Academi 2017, WNO orchestra and a strong lineup of eight soloists.
The title refers to the Welsh pastoral poet Ellis Humphrey Evans, known by his bardic name, Hedd Wyn. He was killed on the first day of the battle of Passchendaele in 1917, aged 30. In the plot, past present and future overlap (hence the 2117 in the title). Communities are destroyed by a nuclear disaster. The Welsh language itself is threatened with extinction. The piece romps along, full of changing moods and orchestral colour. McNeff’s lyrical gifts find affecting outlet, especially in the great choral set pieces and the harp-dominated ending.