Welsh National Opera has announced its plans for 2020-21 including its 75th anniversary.
Autumn 2020 will open with WNO’s 2008 production of Janáček’s Jenůfa in a continuation of the Company’s Janáček Series. Jenůfa (below) will be conducted by WNO’s Music Director Tomáš Hanus who has recently signed a new contract with the Company, extending his artistic role with WNO until 2026. The cast for this production includes American lyric soprano Amanda Majeski who will make her role debut as Jenůfa.
Also in the Autumn Season is the premiere of a new opera, Migrations. Migrations will form part of the Mayflower 400 Commemorations as 2020 marks 400 years since the Mayflower began its voyage with 102 passengers bound for a new life in America.
Five writers – Shreya Sen Handley, Edson Burton and Miles Chambers, Eric Ngalle Charles and Sarah Woods – have worked with Sir David Pountney to create the libretto of six stories, influenced by their own personal experiences of migration and working with refugees. With music by British composer Will Todd, Matthew Kofi Waldren will conduct and the opera will be directed by Sir David Pountney who will be supported by a team of associate directors. The cast of 100 performers will include Lester Lynch, Marion Newman, Simon Bailey, Tom Randle, Musa Ngqungwana and Meeta Raval, along with a gospel choir, Bollywood dancers and a children’s chorus.
The Autumn Season also includes the continuation of the tour of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville from the Summer featuring one of opera’s most colourful characters, the inimitable Figaro. Former WNO Associate Conductor Kerem Hasan returns to conduct.
On 8 November, the WNO Orchestra will close the cross-Cardiff Beethoven 250 celebration year with a landmark performance of the Ninth Symphony (Choral). Part of the International Concert Series at St David’s Hall, the concert will be conducted by WNO Music Director Tomáš Hanus and will feature Mary Elizabeth Williams, Madeleine Shaw, Peter Berger and James Platt who will perform alongside WNO Chorus and Orchestra, WNO Community Chorus and BBC National Chorus of Wales. Two further concerts for WNO Orchestra with Music Director Tomáš Hanus follow in the International Concert Series on 31 January and 25 April.
WNO Orchestra will continue to extend the Company’s reach through its winter tour in January 2021 directed by Leader and Concertmaster David Adams, Family and Schools concerts throughout the year in Cardiff and WNO’s Hub venues, and by collaborating with regular festival partners in the summer including the Welsh Proms and Fishguard Festival.
The Spring 2021 Season marks the launch of WNO’s 75th year with a new production to WNO of Gounod’s Faust, a co-production with Theatre Magdeberg. Faust was one of the first operas performed by WNO in April 1946. This will be the UK premiere of the production directed by Olivia Fuchs, with Alexander Joel returning to WNO to conduct. Joining the cast is Mariinsky Theatre artist Natalya Pavlova who will make her UK operatic debut in the role of Marguerite.
Rebecca Evans returns to reprise her role as The Marschallin in Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier in the Spring, a role which she first sang with WNO in 2017. She will be reunited with Lucia Cervoni as Octavian and joined this time by Soraya Mafi and Julie Martin du Thiel as Sophie. Tomáš Hanus conducts this production which triumphantly marked the start of his tenure as WNO Music Director in 2017.
Completing the Spring Season is Verdi’s Il trovatore, last performed in 2011, which sees the return of WNO favourites Mary Elizabeth Williams, David Kempster and Linda Richardson in the cast. Pietro Rizzo conducts.
The Summer Season will see a continuation of WNO’s commitment to take new and relevant work to more people in more places, this time with a new commission, Blaze of Glory! Caroline Clegg (director) and Emma Jenkins (librettist) join forces once more at WNO following their collaboration on Rhondda Rips It Up! in 2018 with a new piece that highlights the vocal talents of the male members of the WNO Chorus. Set in the 1950s, Blaze of Glory! follows the fortunes of a group of miners in a small mining village who embark upon a musical odyssey by forming a male voice choir as a means of uniting the community after a mining disaster. Composed by David Hackbridge Johnson, the score features close harmony singing traditionally associated with male voice choirs, as well as big band, jive, lindy hop and African gospel music. Opening in Cardiff’s New Theatre, the production will tour to mid-scale venues across Wales and England.
To celebrate the Company’s 75th year, WNO will commission a new creative experience that will pose the question, ‘What might an opera look and sound like 75 years from now?’ Building on recent award-winning digital initiatives, and as part of WNO’s digital strategy, this will provide an additional public platform to highlight how technology, storytelling and opera can work together and can delight and immerse audiences of the future. We hope this will create a space for dialogue and debate, and the findings will feed into a new digital main scale commission for 2022.
For the Company’s 75th year, WNO Youth Opera will take to the main stage of Wales Millennium Centre in September 2021 for a new production of Shostakovich’s Cheryomushki. Following the roaring success of 2019’s Don Pasquale, Daisy Evans returns to WNO to direct the Youth Opera in what will be a reimagined version of the opera with a contemporary take. The production will be under the baton of conductor Alice Farnham. As well as singers from WNO’s Youth Opera and Youth Opera alumni, the production will include assisting roles, technical placements and student instrumentalists.
WNO’s 75th year will culminate with a special concert at St David’s Hall on 9 December 2021 which will be a moment to celebrate the last 75 years of singing at WNO, whilst looking forward to the future of opera. This concert will be a celebration of all WNO’s talent from the illustrious Orchestra and Chorus through to Youth Opera, Community Chorus, Associate Artists and school children from WNO’s 5-year schools programme. The programme for this concert will be inspired by WNO past, present and future, and will encompass pieces from the operatic repertory as well as Wintery choruses and traditional Christmas songs. This concert will be the perfect way to celebrate what WNO represents – the joy of singing – reflecting the Company’s amateur singing roots.
WNO General Director, Aidan Lang (above) said: “Opera has been around for a very long time – 420 years, to be precise – and in that time it has continually changed and reinvented itself. In the 19th century, at the height of its popularity, opera was a ‘popular’ art form in the truest sense of the word, one that connected directly with the lives of its audiences. But as other entertainment forms were born, opera’s star gradually faded, and its place in people’s lives was usurped. As WNO embarks on its 75th year, we look to reclaim that position once more.
“Our purpose as a Company is to harness the visceral nature of music with potent drama to provide a wide range of operatic experiences, be they on the big stages of our main touring venues or in the intimacy of one of our schools or community projects. In our increasingly fractured world, opera has the capacity to bring people together and unite them in their shared humanity.”