Bold British debut to popular musical for Bard-themed season from WNO

September 1, 2016 by

Welsh National Opera continues its themed season of programme from Artistic Director David Pountney with three very different Shakespeare inspired works. The season includes  a UK debut, a co-production with Northern Ireland Opera and what should prove a more “bums on seats” musical that will also return for a week at WMC in December.  The season is part of the official Shakespeare400 celebrations to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the bard’s death.

It will include the adventurous choice of the British premiere of André Tchaikowsky’s The Merchant of Venice alongside safer bets, a new production of Verdi’s Macbeth and a staging of Cole Porter’s classic musical Kiss Me, Kate that was originally created by Opera North .

Opening the season is Macbeth in a co-production with Northern Ireland Opera (NIO).  This new production places Verdi’s classic opera in a contemporary setting, allowing for a new exploration of the tale of state violence, corruption and superstition.  Macbeth will be directed by NIO Artistic Director Oliver Mears and conducted by Andriy Yurkevych.  Spanish baritone Luis Cansino sings the title role in his debut performance with WNO.   Mary Elizabeth Williams returns to WNO following her  performances with the Company in Nabucco and Tosca to sing the role of Lady Macbeth in Cardiff and Bristol, with Miriam Murphy singing Lady Macbeth for the remainder of the tour.

Keith Warner returns to WNO following Peter Pan, which received very mixed review in 2015m to direct another British premiere, The Merchant of Venice, which was first performed at the Bregenz Festival, of which David  Pountney is artistic director,  in 2013.  Composed by André Tchaikowsky, a Polish-Jewish composer and pianist who died very shortly after creating this opera, The Merchant of Venice is a powerful and serious attack on prejudice with themes closely felt by Tchaikowsky himself who was smuggled out of the Warsaw ghetto with false identity papers and survived the Holocaust in hiding with his grandmother.

American baritone Lester Lynch makes his debut with WNO to sing the role of Shylock.  He is joined by soprano Lauren Michelle who makes her UK debut with WNO in the role of Jessica, following her appearance at Cardiff Singer of the World in 2015 where she was a prize winner representing the USA.  The Duke of Venice will be sung by Miklós Sebestyén who performed with WNO in Moses in Egypt during the 2014/15 season.  The Merchant of Venice will be conducted by Lionel Friend.

The season ends on a populist note  with Cole Porter’s classic musical Kiss Me, Kate in a co-production with Opera North based on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew with songs including  ‘Too Darn Hot’, ‘Another Op’nin’ Another Show’, and ‘Brush Up Your Shakespeare’. The show will feature operatic and West End singers alongside the WNO Chorus and Orchestra.  The cast is led by Jeni Bern as Lilli Vanessi/Katharine and Quirijn de Lang as her ex-husband Fred Graham/Petruchio. They both starred in this production in 2015 at Opera North.

Jo Davies will direct Kiss Me, Kate having directed the production at Opera North, and James Holmes returns to WNO to conduct following his performances in Autumn 2015 with Sweeney Todd.  Featuring spectacular costumes, dazzling choreography and hit after hit, the show will be a feast for the eyes and the ears.

WNO’s Autumn season will open at Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff, before a UK tour.  Further performances of Kiss Me, Kate will take place at WMC in December following the tour. This formula was adopted with the recent production of Sweeney Todd.

David Pountney said: “For our autumn season we join in the nationwide celebration of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. Music is everywhere in Shakespeare, from the fools and clowns whose songs pepper his works, to the sublime musicality of his use of language. It is hardly surprising that he has inspired so much music, and in this wonderfully diverse season you can enjoy him as tragedian, psychologist and witty entertainer.”

Professor Gordon McMullan, Director, London Shakespeare Centre and Academic Director of Shakespeare400 says: “It’s a real privilege to be able to include WNO within Shakespeare400. When the team at King’s College London were putting together the Shakespeare 400 initiative, we were keen to ensure that all art forms had equal representation so as to reflect the extraordinary impact of Shakespeare’s’ life and works right across the creative range. Theatre is of course the mainstay of any Shakespeare enthusiast, but the influence of Shakespeare goes far beyond this, reaching into every area of arts and culture, both in the UK and across the world, and opera offers an astonishingly rich array of creative reimaginings of Shakespeare’s plays. I very much look forward to the productions from WNO and am especially excited about the British premiere of André Tchaikowsky’s, The Merchant of Venice.”

Alongside WNO’s mainscale opera season, WNO Orchestra and Chorus will be joined by WNO Community Chorus to perform Mahler’s Symphony No.2 ‘Resurrection’ in concert on Thursday, October 20 at St David’s Hall, Cardiff under the baton of WNO’s new Music Director Tomáš Hanus.

David Pountney continues: “Tomáš’s conducting of the revival of our From the House of the Dead in Savonlinna this summer was incandescent, so I am extremely excited about him joining forces with our wonderful orchestra and chorus. He will be an inspirational musical leader for the company.”

More information on WNO’s Autumn 2016 season is available at

Image: Opera North’s Kiss Me Kate

Leave a Reply