WNO presents La mamma morta on World AIDS Day

1 December 2023

This year, Welsh National Opera commemorates World AIDS Day with the release of the third instalment in our Three Letters project – an extraordinary rendition of La mamma morta from the opera Andrea Chénier. 

The Three Letters project launched in 2021 and saw the Company work in collaboration with Fast Track Cymru to raise awareness and tackle stigma surrounding HIV, while supporting Cardiff’s ambitious journey towards zero HIV transmissions by 2030.

This year we took inspiration from the landmark film Philadelphia, which was released to critical acclaim 30 years ago this year, and collaborated with star of It’s a Sin, Nathaniel J Hall. The 1993 film was one of the first major motion pictures to portray people afflicted with AIDS in a positive light, and during one of the film’s many emotional scenes we hear the aria La mamma morta playing. While the film does not portray HIV in a judgemental way, it is one of a canon of films that displays HIV as a life-limiting illness. The aim of our rendition of La mamma morta is to reshape the narrative that surrounds HIV and show the progress and reality of life with HIV in 2023.

Philadelphia tells the story of Andrew Beckett, a man who is wrongfully dismissed from his workplace due to suspicions surrounding his sexuality and the chance that he is living with AIDS. Beckett attempts to sue the company for the discriminatory behaviour, as his condition worsens throughout the film. The film itself contains many examples of the social stigma and lack of understanding concerning HIV and AIDS.

La mamma morta is an aria from the 1896 opera Andrea Chénier by Umberto Giordano. The aria is sung by the character Maddalena di Coigny, as she explains how her mother was killed in the French Revolution. Although the aria is deeply sorrowful, it also contains a message of hope, and its inclusion in Philadelphia elevates the scene to new highs.

We worked with Fast Track Cymru to produce this new video, and features Nathaniel J Hall reading a new spoken-word text by Andrew Loretto in locations around Cardiff, including the renowned Golden Cross pub in Central Cardiff. Nathanial said: ‘Philadelphia exists in a canon of work about HIV and AIDS - along with Angels in America and Rent – and while these are all incredible pieces of work, they focus on HIV as life-limiting because of the time-period they cover. It's important now to use storytelling and music to celebrate how far we've come and raise awareness of the modern-day realities of living with HIV. Sadly, people still face stigma, discrimination and rejection from others because of this virus and there's absolutely no reason why they should.’

We continue to support Fast Track Cymru in raising awareness of AIDS and HIV and remains committed to reducing the social stigma that surround these topics. Explore our Three Letter’s project here