Blodwen (Welsh pronunciation: [ˈblɔdwɛn]) is an opera in three acts composed in 1878 by Dr Joseph Parry to a Welsh libretto by Richard Davies. It was the first opera ever written in the Welsh language.
It was well-received, with one reporter from the Welsh-language magazine Y Faner going as far as to say that the opera was the “most charming piece of music” he had heard.
Following the first performance in Aberystwyth, Blodwen was taken on tour through the counties of Glamorgan and Monmouthshire, and was performed by the Welsh Representative Choir in Bristol and at Alexandra Palace in London. They travelled with cheap trains from Aberdare to London, and Parry wrote to the press to say that people were welcome to join the singers on the journey.
By the summer of 1879, the composer claimed that his opera had been performed approximately fifty times, and that his next aim was a grand, full-scale performance “with costumes and appropriate appearance”. That occurred in Aberdare on 26 December 1879, when the work was performed by the Choral Union under the direction of Rees Evans, and with Llew Llwyfo as one of the singers.
The opera had racked up 500 performances by 1896.
The scene opens in Maelor Castle, which has seen great excitement and activity over the last few weeks because Elen of Maelor is marrying Arthur of Berwyn the following day. The final preparations are being made, and everyone is awaiting the arrival of the guests of honour, Sir Hywel Ddu (Howell Black) and his beautiful adopted daughter, the eponymous Blodwen (a popular given name, from Welsh blod-, root of blodyn or blodeuyn, meaning "flower", and -wen, soft mutation of gwen, meaning "white, fair, blessed").
Blodwen offers a rose to Elen, and a monk performs the marriage ceremony. Afterwards, everyone gathers in the main hall and celebrates. Just as the festivities are reaching their high-point however, a group of Plantagenet soldiers arrive and demand the keys to the castle, in the name of King Henry of England. They threaten to kill everyone in the hall, but Lady Maelor sends them away with a patriotic speech, which is echoed by the guests.
It’s early in the morning, and outside the castle, hunters are preparing to go out and catch a deer. As they leave, Iolo enters and predicts that bad news is on its way.
Sir Hywel decides to say at the castle, and, thinking he’s alone, sings about how much Blodwen means to him. Blodwen, surprised to hear Hywel's voice listens in, and tells him she feels the same way.
The hunters return, and are singing happily, but their joy is cut short when a messenger arrives to say that Henry's armies are marching on Wales, and that the Prince of Wales has issued a call to arms to defend the country.
In Maelor Castle, Sir Hywel and Arthur strengthen each other's resolve, and join the armies waiting to march into battle. Elen expresses her grief that her newlywed husband is about to leave for battle, and attaches her favour to his breastplate. Blodwen does the same for Sir Hywll, and the army marches off.
In her room, Lady Maelor receives news of a bloody battle, and that both Sir Hywel and Arthur have shown exceptional bravery, but Iolo predicts that the chance of a Welsh victory is slim.
Arthur has been mortally wounded in battle, and is carried back to the castle. Despite his terrible wounds, he is calm and happy to be in the care of Elen. He expresses his love for her one last time, and then dies. The scene closes with a solemn funeral procession.
Lady Maelor's messenger brings news from the battlefield that the Welsh have been defeated and that they are now retreating towards Snowdon. Blodwen anxiously waits for news of Sir Hywel, but Iolo arrives to the news that the Welsh have been vanquished, and that Sir Hywel is now a prisoner.
In Chester, Sir Hywel is sitting in his cell when Blodwen and Lady Maelor visit. Sir Hywel sings a farewell song to Blodwen and returns her favour, which is now covered in blood.
Suddenly, a loud knock is heard at the prison doors, and a stranger insists on being shown to Sir Hywel's cell. Iolo seeks to discover the newcomer's identity, and it turns out (to the surprise of all) that it's Rhys Gwyn, Blodwen's supposedly long-dead father.
Blodwen rushes into her father's arms, and he explains that he brings good news: the king is dead, and to mark the mournful day, all prisoners of war are to be set free. The prison doors are thrown open, and the opera ends with a huge song of celebration.
- Huw Williams: Booklet to the CD Blodwen