Traditional vs Contemporary – Should opera reflect modern life?

2 July 2021

The latest mini-series of WNO’s Podcast explores the process of modernising traditional operas to portray contemporary themes. The series poses the question – should opera reflect the world we live in today.

Journalist and broadcaster Gareth Jones returns to The O Word for this mini-series with guests including the renowned Daily Telegraph opera critic Rupert Christiansen and acclaimed opera director Sir David Pountney.

Our Welsh language podcast Cipolwg takes a different route with guest hosts joining WNO Dramaturg Elin Jones. Welsh Tenor Robyn Lyn Evans opens the series, followed by Mezzo-soprano and WNO Chorus member Sian Meinir hosting episode two. We then conclude the series with Welsh pianist and conductor Iwan Teifion Davies.

We caught up with Gareth and Elin to find out more about their experiences working on the latest batch of episodes.

Gareth, how does it feel to be back hosting The O Word?

‘It’s great to be back, particularly covering this theme across a number of episodes. I’ve had the opportunity to speak to some fascinating guests with very different opinions on the traditional vs contemporary debate. I think it’s fair to say Rupert and Sir David don’t exactly see eye-to-eye on everything! But you’ll have to listen to find out more about that…’

But on which side of the debate do you sit – old or new?

‘If you like opera, it’s not really a debate! New work is reconnecting with the older values of creating enjoyable music and compelling stories while the more traditional repertoire will always appeal so long as the artists making it bring out both original and new meanings in it for audiences today. How you get that right is what we talk about in the series.’ 

Elin, this is your third series of Cipolwg, tell us about what you have enjoyed this time round…

‘I’ve really enjoyed exploring the difference in audience tastes. From those who are looking for the escapist entertainment that can be found in traditional operas, to those that are hungry for the challenges offered in new commissions set in modern times. And of course, the pros and cons both approaches bring to the performers!'

And how have you found working with guest hosts?

‘It’s been fantastic. I think their various backgrounds and experiences really inform the discussions with our guests. I was also thrilled at the prospect of focussing on the works of Wales-based opera companies such as Mid Wales Opera and Opra Cymru, alongside WNO - recognising the invaluable work that the Welsh opera community produces as a whole.’