Over the past year we have explored some of Europe’s finest musical cities, so to celebrate WNO’s 75th birthday we’re taking a look at our wonderful home - Cardiff. Known as the ‘Land of Song’ Wales is one of the most musical nations on the planet, and the capital city certainly lives up to this reputation.
It was on Monday 15 April 1946 that WNO gave its first fully staged opera performance at the Prince of Wales Theatre in Cardiff - Cavalleria rusticana and Pagliacci conducted by Idloes Owen. In 1954 the Company moved to the New Theatre and gave its final performance there almost 50 years later, before establishing its new base at Wales Millennium Centre. WNO’s first performance in Cardiff Bay was La traviata on Friday 18 February 2005.
Wales Millennium Centre is home to several fantastic arts companies including the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, based in BBC Hoddinott Hall. The BBC NOW has played an integral part in the cultural landscape of Wales for over 90 years and is one of the UK’s foremost soundtrack orchestras. The orchestra is also an ambassador of Welsh music, championing contemporary composers and musicians. The BBC NOW and WNO Orchestra both accompany one of Cardiff’s most well-known classical music events - BBC Cardiff Singer of the World. Established in 1983 the biennial competition is known as a showcase for opera and concert singers at the beginning of their careers and has launched major stars including Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Jamie Barton and Bryn Terfel of course.
The National Concert Hall of Wales, St David’s Hall, also opened in 1983. As well as hosting BBC Cardiff Singer of the World, St David’s Hall is an international concert hall that hosts the Welsh Proms and a wide range of live music events. The Welsh Capital is also home to the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama. The conservatoire was first established in 1949 as Cardiff College of Music at Cardiff Castle before moving to a suitable building within the grounds of Bute Park. It changed its name to the Welsh College of Music & Drama in 1970 and was awarded its Royal title in The Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 2002. The College’s new expansion was opened in 2011, including the Dora Stouzker Concert Hall and Richard Burton Theatre.
As the UK’s leading contemporary opera company, Music Theatre Wales has been creating new opera and music theatre in Cardiff since 1988. In 2020 MTW launched New Directions and their next live production, Violet, by Tom Coult and Alice Birch (a co-commission and co-production with Britten Pears Arts and staged in association with the London Sinfonietta), is scheduled to premiere in June 2022. Another Cardiff based opera company which has been busy during lockdown is Opera’r Ddraig who premiered Bhekizizwe by Robert Fokkens and Mkhululi Matyalana Ka Mabija as part of Gŵyl 2021.
Cardiff’s music scene is the envy of many larger cities and its museums, galleries and theatres usually host a wide range of events all year round. From a packed-out Donald Gordon Theatre, to gigs on Womanby Street and the national anthem being sung with pride at the Principality Stadium, we can’t wait to have the streets of Cardiff full of live music once more.