The history of WNO Community Chorus

16 February 2021

Welsh National Opera is committed to bringing the joy of opera to as many people as possible and part of that ethos brought about the establishment of our Community Chorus. Initially beginning in Cardiff, with a South Wales based field of participants, a North Wales branch was set up in 2017, based in Llandudno. Both are formed of people who just enjoy singing – at any level.

WNO itself originally came into being as a group of amateur singers coming together to enjoy the act of singing collectively, and as Allan, a current member of WNO Community Chorus puts it, the same joy is at the heart of these current WNO amateur groups:

'As a member of the Community Chorus I feel privileged to be a small part of one of the best opera companies in the world. With top quality management and coaching, every production is really exciting. Concert programme content is always challenging and is a joy when it comes together. Singing with the Community Chorus for the past 12 years has given me great pleasure.'

The Community Chorus comes together on a project-by-project basis rather than weekly rehearsals throughout the year. At times the Community Chorus is formed through an application process, perhaps even an audition; other times it is just a case of signing up, for a specific project or performance. These can be interlinked with the WNO main Company or, as the name suggests, more community-based, such as the regular Christmas event in Cardiff.

Other recent South Wales events include involvement in 2018’s Rhondda Rips It Up! performances; and a concert at BBC Hoddinott Hall that formed part of Wales Millennium Centre’s Festival of Voice in our 70th year (2016), performing with the Forget-me-not Chorus and WNO Orchestra in celebration of WNO’s roots as an amateur group. The North Wales Chorus gave the first performance of Rebecca Dales’ Materna Requiem at the North Wales International Music Festival in 2018.

Back in 2005 a special project, The Most Beautiful Man from the Sea, an oratorio based on a Gabriel García Márquez story, brought together 400 singers including the Community Chorus, a children’s choir, members of four local choirs and members of WNO Chorus. It was performed on the main Donald Gordon Stage with the WNO Orchestra and the Tredegar Brass Band. A collaboration with Wales Millennium Centre, it was written by the poet whose words form the inscription on the front of the building, Gwyneth Lewis. This was essentially the start of the Community Chorus as we know it.

The most recent activity for the group in South Wales were the remote workshops with the Bristol-based community gospel choir Renewal, resulting in the digital performance of O Holy Night. The online sessions allowed each choir to try singing in the other’s style – opera and gospel – gaining an insight into different musical techniques. For those involved it also provided a more-than-welcome relief, some sense of normality, in these crazy days of the pandemic. As Jenn Hill, the producer behind the project, puts it:

‘On a fundamental level, we know people are missing singing and the joy it brings to their lives and we know from our singers that this project little light in these rather dark times.’

It is due to this passion, commitment and need that we continue to offer singing experiences for all, even if only online at the moment – at WNO we care about opera, we live and breathe it and want to inspire that love in others. It seems we are successful in this, as one of the regular Community Chorus members wrote to us to say:

‘I’ve sang in WNO Community Chorus North since it’s conception three years ago and have loved every minute of it.’