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Putting together a new opera

28 September 2018

To achieve the final productions that you, the audience, see on stage when the curtain goes up, a vast company of people have been working towards that moment for many months, even years from the first planning stage. This is a brief rundown of what is involved in putting on a new opera.

Our productions are the result of the committed work of many departments within WNO, some originating up to five years ago with the decisions being made on the choice of operas, concerts and other events for a specific year. Alongside this are the decisions on the touring schedules and, of course, financial plans including fundraising.

The first real step in the production process is the responsibility of the Music Library, who need to get the scores in for the operas so that the Artistic Planning (Casting) and Music departments can begin to work with them – this all ties in with the start of the creative process – choosing the creative teams (ie the directors, set and costume designers) and the conductors in the first instance.

The next major step is the contracting of the principal artists and the confirmation of the venues the opera will tour to. Work on the scores has been continuing to this point, when final decisions are made between the director and conductor as to any cuts and/or additions to be used – now the Music Library begins to mark up the amends required.  

An initial, white card, model of the set is shown to artistic and senior teams and information on the year’s programme is shared with the wider Company; before a final model box showing brings us all up to speed – creating an overwhelming sense of enthusiasm in the process! 

Things are now beginning to happen across the Company, from marketing plans and season artwork being created, to tickets across the venues being set up, covers (ie understudies for the main roles) and Extra Chorus getting booked, press releases written and the press launch happening in time for the season to go on sale. Alongside this our Youth & Community team are developing all the complimentary events at schools, out in the community, as well as large scale digital projects. No two seasons are ever the same. 

We are now approximately six months before the first rehearsal and the Chorus are issued their copies of the scores, each individually marked up and amended by the Music Library. Slightly later the Orchestra get their parts – again, as prepped by the Music Library. This is when work on the season programmes for you to purchase begins too and, elsewhere within the building and down the road at our scenery workshop, Cardiff Theatrical Services, construction of the set begins and costume making and wig preparation is underway. It is still around 9 months before the season opens.

In the final few months there is still plenty to be done across the departments here at WNO before our new opera production is ready to hit the stage – and please bear in mind that each season includes at least three operas for the main stage, if not a smaller scale production too, plus concerts around the country and a myriad of other events as well. 

Costumes are now being fitted, both for the principal artists and, as they are told which productions they are in, also the members of our 40-strong WNO Chorus. The various types of rehearsals begin for the WNO Orchestra and the singers (Chorus and principals) – backstage on what we call ‘Scenery Street’, in one of the three rehearsal rooms that are the size of the Donald Gordon Stage at our home in Wales Millennium Centre; in either Orchestra Hall or the Chorus Room; before eventually hitting the stage for Stage Rehearsals and, finally, the Dress Rehearsal once the Technical team, with our stage crew, have done the fit up on stage. We’re now days away from opening night and are truly ready for the season ahead.

Which new production are you hoping to catch in 2018/2019?