A Day in the Life of….WNO’s Dramaturg

25 February 2020

As part of our regular series, we introduce Welsh National Opera’s Dramaturg, Elin Jones, and find out more about her role within the Company.

Elin, first of all could you explain the role of a Dramaturg at WNO?
The Dramaturg position can vary greatly from company to company, but I see my role as enhancing opera for the audience, whether that is editing surtitles to improve comic/dramatic timing, giving historical and political context in pre-performance talks or trying to find little-known facts to include in programme notes. I also collate biographies and head shots for all our guest artists and am Welsh language editor of our programmes. The late Nicholas John, long-time Dramaturg at English National Opera defined the role of the Dramaturg as ‘the conscience of the opera house’. 

What are your main tasks in the build up to the Season opening in Cardiff?
I read – a lot! It’s really important for me to get to know the upcoming operas inside out. My research helps shape my pre-performance talks and with choosing contributors for our programmes. This Season I commissioned an article by our Associate Artist Harriet Eyley on trouser roles for The Marriage of Figaro. Although Verdi is a firm favourite of mine, Les vêpres siciliennes was completely new to me, as well as the true story behind it.

I also study the score and listen to the opera while I prepare the surtitles. Not a lot of people realise that the surtitles are operated using a Macbook and a score labelled with numbers for every line of text. I work with the Staff Director on each production to make sure they’re happy with them too.

Is there such a thing as a typical day?
A typical day for me depends on where we are in the Season. I’m not usually involved in the rehearsal process until we get to Stage Orchestra rehearsals. These are the last rehearsals before the Dress rehearsal when the cast are on stage in their costumes. It’s the first time the Orchestra are introduced as well as being the first time I get to test out the surtitles.

This week we have our final performance of The Marriage of Figaro in Cardiff so I’ll be giving two pre-performance talks before that. We then head to Llandudno next week, so I’ve been busy translating our pre-performance talks, as they are offered in Welsh and English there. I’m looking forward to having the opportunity to give Welsh pre-performance talks in Cardiff next Season too.

What is your role when the Company is out on tour?
I’m usually based in our Cardiff office but I spend a lot of time on tour across the UK with the Company. I give pre-performance talks for nearly every main scale opera performance and feel very lucky to have visited fantastic theatres across the country. I’m from Anglesey originally so I particularly enjoy going up to Llandudno and showing my family what I’ve been up to that Season. 

What’s the best thing about your job?
People – the variety in my role allows me to work with people across the Company, it’s great to learn about what they do, and how they fell in love with opera. Our audience is also very special. I’ve got to know a few die-hard WNO fans in Cardiff and at various venues on tour; they always make me feel very welcome.