Representing Wales in Dubai

7 December 2021

Our Autumn Season may have come to an end, but our work this winter is by no means over. As Welsh National Opera prepares to perform the world premiere of Al Wasl at the rescheduled Expo 2020 Dubai, WNO General Director Aidan Lang shares insight into the process of preparing the opera.

‘This week, 165 members of WNO fly to Dubai to present Al Wasl, a new opera at the rescheduled Expo 2020 Dubai. Commissioned by Expo, Al Wasl is written by the Emirati composer Mohammed Fairouz to a libretto by Maha Gargash. Following hard on the back of COP26, it is an opera about climate change and man’s inability or reluctance to learn from history. Its three acts are set in the past, present and future, and depict the devastating effect of deforestation and climate change, as each ensuing generation lives with the mistakes of their predecessors.

Welsh National Opera was incredibly honoured to receive an invitation to be the presenting Company for the opera, which is the centrepiece of Expo’s cultural programme. But more than this, the visit also provides us with a wonderful opportunity to help promote Wales and the UK at such a prestigious worldwide gathering, and we are delighted that we will be joined by members of the Welsh Government at the opening night on 16 December.'

'The trip, however, is not without its challenges. The logistics of touring a Company of 165 to the Middle East are difficult enough in normal times, let alone amid the ever-changing Covid travel regulations. The trip was made possible due to the extraordinary work of our Company Managers and Health & Safety team, who have made sure that all aspects of the Company’s safety and wellbeing have been covered.

And we cannot forget the challenge of putting on the work itself. An opera starts its life in a rehearsal studio, and then moves seamlessly to the stage where the sets, costumes, wigs and make-up are added; for Al Wasl, this process was by necessity interrupted by travel, and familiarisation in a completely different theatre. The scenery was shipped out to Dubai back in mid-October, and the costumes and most of the props need to be air-freighted, ready to receive the singers on their arrival. Consider also what our technical crews will face once they arrive. Normally, we tour overseas with productions that are well established in our repertoire, not by opening a brand-new production. In Wales Millennium Centre, we have our workshops close to hand for when the inevitable odd glitch occurs, not so in Dubai Opera House.

A fascinating part of the rehearsal process of any new opera, as opposed to an existing work, is that it only truly reveals itself, once all the components come together - in particular, the sound world. Rehearsing with a piano reduction in the studio can be deceptive for the singers, and a new opera can sound very different once the orchestra join. This moment comes relatively late in the overall process, and the singers have little time to recalibrate themselves to a completely different sound.

But if there is one Company that can overcome all these obstacles, it is Welsh National Opera. When we all return to Cardiff on 20 December, we can reflect on the fact that despite these extraordinary times, not only will we have managed to bring opera back to our own stages in Wales and England, but we will also have done so on an international stage.’