An open letter to the Arts Council of England from WNO Music Director, Tomáš Hanus

1 March 2024

Dear Colleagues at Arts Council of England, 

I am Music Director of Welsh National Opera, a role that I feel privileged to be in and I feel obliged, together with my distinguished colleagues Sir Bryn Terfel, Carlo Rizzi, Sir David Pountney, Geraint Talfan Davies, Dame Judith Weir, Mathew Prichard, Natalya Romaniw, Professor Paul Mealor and Rebecca Evans to make the following statement as a result of the massive financial cuts that are detrimental to the existence of WNO. 

  • Welsh National Opera is widely considered as one of the most influential and interesting opera companies in Europe with a great international reputation, great history of achievements, and the highest artistic standards. As a National Opera Company, it has provided an irreplaceable cultural and community service to the whole country. WNO is and should be understood as an asset and a treasure of the whole United Kingdom. 
  • The funding WNO receives jointly from both ACE and Arts Council of Wales enables the Company to work at the highest level of excellence locally, nationally and internationally. This joint funding arrangement has endured for 40 years, and it ensures England and Wales have access to a major world class opera company at a fraction of the cost for each country. However, WNO will struggle to maintain its National Opera identity and standards on a budget that is not even sufficient for a small regional theatre, by comparison to other European countries. The Company will suffer from the inevitable reduction in opera titles and performances over the coming years. It is comparable to asking a Premier League football team to play and win matches with six players instead of 11! The integrity of the joint funding agreement has always been recognised as being a great strength and so the decision to cut at such a significant level without consultation appears disrespectful and reckless. 
  • WNO is a vital part of the UK music ecology providing professional engagement and training programmes for English conservatoires, associate artist opportunities, education work and projects for children, and making a positive social impact through our extensive community work in typically underserved areas. As Lord Murphy detailed during a House of Lords debate in February, it is only when you reduce performances and when production ceases in various parts of the country that you make opera elitist, and it needn’t be. Opera should be for everyone. 
  • The purpose of opera is not only to entertain, but to tell important and even difficult stories, ask questions and search for answers. Therefore, opera is an important public service that goes far beyond the artistic community, enriching and enhancing the life of the society. The combination of music and words, of hearing and seeing, makes it a unique form of art that unites people and communities. 
  • WNO Orchestra has achieved great international success in recent years including performing the opening concert of the Prague Spring Festival in 2023 to a rapturous welcome and performing at the opening event at World Expo Dubai in 2021. This confirms the role and importance of Welsh National Opera in 21st century cultural life and the ability of the Company to represent Wales and the UK on the international stage. 
  • We fully understand the logic of the government’s “levelling up” agenda and consider WNO as an opera company performing to regional cities, as delivering precisely what this policy requires. However, this is an extremely difficult task with such a large reduction in funding. 
  • What attracted me, a Czech conductor that travels the world and other musicians (singer, conductors, directors) of international standard to work with WNO is the quality and breadth of work that this company has reached and the love and passion for opera that we share with audiences all around the UK. 

We understand that the Arts Council of England is undertaking a review of opera in the UK, and we hope that this letter will be considered as an important contribution to this process. It is certainly a challenging time for opera companies to look at fresh ways of engagement, but to do this they need to be properly resourced. 

As a result of this financial cut, Welsh National Opera finds itself at a crossroads as it navigates through this difficult time and aims to keep all the unique elements and artistic ambition of a touring national and international company with world class performances while offering and delivering exceptional and impactful opera experiences in our communities. 

If our generation fails to protect this treasure, and lets it disappear, it would be hard for future generations to find any justification for it. 

Tomáš Hanus
Conductor and WNO Music Director 

Sir Bryn Terfel CBE
Carlo Rizzi Ordine della Stella d’ Italia (OSI)
Sir David Pountney CBE
Geraint Talfan Davies OBE, DL
Dame Judith Weir DBE
Mathew Prichard CBE, DL
Natalya Romaniw
Professor Paul Mealor LVO, OStJ
Rebecca Evans CBE