Happy birthday WNO

15 April 2021

On this day (15 April) back in 1946, Welsh National Opera was preparing for the curtain to rise on the Company’s first fully-staged performances – Cavalleria rusticana and Pagliacci at the Prince of Wales Theatre, Cardiff.  This was the culmination of three years hard work by a small group of people who came together in 1943 to found a national opera company.

From those early days meeting at founder Idloes Owen’s house in Station Road, Llandaff, the venue was secured, principal costumes came from ‘Smith, Manchester’ and scenery was hired from ‘Capes, London’ with costumes specially made for the Chorus. In a letter dated one month prior to opening night, Idloes Owen contacted Conductor Victor Fleming asking him to come to Cardiff to conduct a performance during this debut Season (Owen himself conducted the first performance). The ballet section was performed by Mollie Hair.

The most expensive seats (Orchestra Stalls) were 6/9 (the equivalent of 34p) with Dress Circle 6 shillings, Centre Stalls 6/4, Upper Circle 3/4 and Pit seating 3 shillings. Performances ran at 6.30pm nightly that week, with added matinees on Thursday and Saturday.

That opening week also featured performances of Faust – conducted by Ivor John, who also sang the lead later the same week.

Cavalleria rusticana and Pagliacci have featured in Welsh National Opera’s programme throughout the past 75 years with the most recent revival coming in 2016 as part of the 70th anniversary Season. In order to continue the theme for this years’ celebrations, WNO Chorus performs Easter Hymn from Cavalleria rusticana in a poignant video which charts the Company’s journey from its small origins in Llandaff to our modern-day home venue, Wales Millennium Centre.

WNO Head of Marketing and Digital, Martina Fraser tells us ‘When choosing the piece of music for our birthday film, Easter Hymn felt like the natural choice, as WNO has become synonymous with Cav and Pag. I also wanted to put the wonderful WNO Chorus at the centre of our storytelling to remember the singers who were inspired to create an opera company all those years ago, but also celebrate those who make WNO what it is today. The locations featured in the video are all special in the history of the Company. We hope they evoke some good memories.’

In addition Welsh National Opera, commissioned the National Poet of Wales, Ifor ap Glyn, to create English and Welsh poems to commemorate this unique moment in our history. A host of Welsh artists have joined us to read the piece in two stunning videos created by film maker Alex Metcalfe (A Song for the Future).

Thank you for supporting WNO over our first 75 years. Visit our website and social media channels throughout this anniversary year for more stories from WNO’s fascinating past.