15 April 2021 marked the 75th anniversary of Welsh National Opera’s first fully staged performance at the Prince of Wales Theatre in Cardiff. In honour of this noteworthy occasion, we take a look back at the year just gone, picking out 7.5 highlights.
1) Our first highlight must be our socially distanced video of Easter Hymn from the first opera we ever performed – Cavalleria rusticana, sung by WNO Chorus. The Chorus wander past significant places in our history, from the birthplace of WNO, Idloes Owen’s home in Llandaff, to the Company’s current home, Wales Millennium Centre.
2) The second highlight is Intermezzo, a poem specially commissioned for our birthday. A raft of Welsh special guests recited the poem by Ifor ap Glyn, the National Poet of Wales. Tracing the transformation of WNO over the past 75 years, the poem looked forward to a brighter time from the middle of the dark theatre days caused by the pandemic.
3) Alice in WNOland. June marked an extremely moving time for WNO and our audiences as we embarked on our first live performances since the beginning of the pandemic. In the stunning National Trust gardens at Dyffryn, we hosted a series of outdoor, socially distanced, promenade performances of Will Todd’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Following their overwhelming success, and allowed by changes to the rules, we put on a limited run within Wales Millennium Centre too, incorporating the backstage area for added fascination.
4) Rearrange featured the work of four directors in short film interpretations of classic arias from Turandot, Gianni Schicchi, Le Comte Ory and Orfeo. Given carte blanche to reinterpret the arias’ settings, away from the expectations of the operas themselves, each found a way to show just how relevant they still are, from Covid to #BlackLivesMatter.
5) Pride Cymru 2021 – once again standing allied with Pride and the LGBTQIA+ community, this year we covered This Is Me from The Greatest Showman. Featuring the talents of two Welsh West End stars, Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama Theatre students and the combined power of WNO Chorus and Orchestra – showcasing every colour of the rainbow.
6) Community matters in our sixth highlight. Here at WNO our communities have always been a big part of who we are, starting off as we did with a group of like-minded singers in a Cardiff community. 2021 saw our commitment to others around the country with sessions going online, from Cradle Choir to Youth Opera, we continued to be there for all.
7) Seventh heaven: as we are passionate about sparking the imaginations and creativity of the next generation of music lovers, WNO Orchestra returned to the stage with free, afternoon Schools Concerts in Cardiff, Birmingham and Southampton.
and a half... we usually tour twice in a year, but the pandemic meant we couldn’t be live in theatres for our birthday celebrations. However, we did manage to return to the stage for a full tour – if only for half the performances we would normally do in a year – with Madam Butterfly in our first new production of the opera for over 40 years, also welcoming back our ever-popular production of The Barber of Seville. What a way to see out our 75th year.