Carmen of WNO’s past and present

16 September 2019

Bizet’s hugely popular opera, Carmen, first appeared in Welsh National Opera’s repertoire in 1947; our second Season at the Prince of Wales Theatre. As we gear up to perform our sixth new production; we look back at WNO’s leading ladies, beginning with the beautiful Zoe Cresswell.

From Rhymney, South Wales, Zoe Cresswell began singing with WNO as an amateur. Having studied at Welsh College of Music and Drama alongside Clara Novello-Davies and Ivor Novello; she had performed in WNO’s first ever concert performance three years earlier.

Today, she is known as the Welsh Carmen – who also annotated her score in Welsh - having taken on the lead in Bizet’s world renowned opera for many years. 

The production returned in 1949 and four new productions followed between the years of 1967 and 1997.

New Productions








Zoe Cresswell

Joyce Blackham

Jennifer Jones

Jean Stilwell & Kate McCarney       

Patricia Bardon & Clare Shearer

Virginie Verrez

British mezzo-soprano Joyce Blackham joined WNO in 1967 for John Moody’s idealistic production. The most famous British Carmen of her generation, people flocked in their hundreds to see her interpretation of the fiery cigarette girl.

One reviewer noted ‘Her flagrant sex-kitten act, claws well out and tail a-swish, is just what is needed. When a role is stormed frontally by a singer with neither doubts nor fears, the only thing to do is sit back and applaud.’

Her career at WNO spanned four years where she also performed Amneris in Aida and Rosina in The Barber of Seville.

Following a 13 year absence, Carmen returned to WNO’s mainstage in 1983 when Lucian Pintilie presented a lively, yet occasionally ‘naughty’ and exhilarating theatrical production, starring American mezzo-soprano Jennifer Jones as the feisty leading lady. 

Canadian mezzo-soprano Jean Stilwell and Irish mezzo-soprano Kate McCarney shared the role for Andre Engel’s production in 1990 – this production marked Jean Stilwell’s European debut.

We saw another role share in 1997 when Irish mezzo-soprano Patricia Bardon and Scottish mezzo-soprano Clare Shearer took on the title role in a co-production with Scottish Opera – the first time the opera had been performed at WNO in its original language. 

WNO’s latest Carmen is French mezzo-soprano Virginie Verrez, who makes both her role and company debut in Jo Davies’ new production of Carmen. While remaining true to the traditional story in every sense, this production examines the sexual and social politics of the piece through a contemporary lens.

With a voice described as ‘silvery [and] dark-hued’ and ‘attractive throughout her range’ by the New York Times, Virginie is a graduate of New York’s Juilliard School and to date, has performed with Wiener Staatsoper; Opera National de Paris; Glyndebourne and Festival d’Aix-en-Provence.

Our new production of Carmen opens in Cardiff on 21 September with subsequent performances on 28 September, 6, 10 October. The production will then tour to Plymouth (19 October); Llandudno (29 October, 2 November); Birmingham (1, 8 November); Oxford (19, 23 November); Southampton (26, 29 November), with further dates during our Spring 2020 Season, when American mezzo-soprano Julia Mintzer performs the title role.