The People of WNO - The recent past and present

17 December 2021

Coming more up to date we meet some of the people who have driven Welsh National Opera on and continue to take us forward in the 21st century.

Carlo Rizzi became Music Director in 1992 until 2001 (taking over from Charles Mackerras) and returned to the role in 2004 for a further three years. His first appearance actually dates back to 1990 and the Giles Havergal production of The Barber of Seville – and he even made an appearance as part of the pre-play on-stage action. Recently, Carlo was a major part of our Verdi trilogy over three seasons (La forza del destino, Un ballo in maschera and Les vêpres siciliennes). A firm favourite, Carlo’s connection with Wales, and the WNO audiences, is so strong that he has even learnt Welsh!

Preziosilla sits, surrounded by pink smoke, right arm raised in the air.
Man and woman sat embracing and singing.

The Music Director from 2009 – 2016 was Lothar Koenigs. Highlights of his tenure include Die Meistersinger in 2010, directed by Richard Jones with Bryn Terfel as Hans Sachs, Tristan und Isolde at the Edinburgh Festival in 2012, and Moses und Aron in 2015. In an interview with Steph Power for Wales Arts Review in 2013, he explains his attraction to WNO ‘I think the company always had an edge and renown to be very curious and adventurous in doing new things’.

Simon Phillippo spent a year studying at the National Opera Studio in London, before joining the music staff of Welsh National Opera, where he spent 14 years as staff conductor, Chorus Master and repetiteur. Simon was the Chorus Master for many WNO productions and recordings, including the first staging in the UK of Handel’s Jephtha and the world premiere of James MacMillan’s The Sacrifice.

David Pountney became Chief Executive and Artistic Director in 2011 and was Artistic Director (alongside Managing Director Leonora Thomson) from 2015 – 2019. David’s links to WNO date back to 1975, and he joined the organisation full time following roles at Scottish Opera, English National Opera and the Bregenz Festival (and numerous directing credits around the world). During his tenure in Cardiff, he programmed and directed challenging and sometimes controversial work and premiered various new operas including Elena Langer’s Figaro Gets a Divorce (for which he also wrote the libretto) and Iain Bell’s In Parenthesis. David may have left his position in 2019 but he remains closely associated with WNO and we look forward to welcoming him back in 2022 with another world premiere – Migrations.

Bird's eye view of the orchestra, with the conductor's arms out wide.

When Tomáš Hanus joined the Company in 2016 he made an instant impact with his conducting of Mahler’s second symphony at St David’s Hall, which The Guardian described as ‘a fiery and fabulous tribute to Mahler’. He made his opera debut with us conducting Die Fledermaus and Der Rosenkavalier the following year and subsequent highlights have included From the House of the Dead and The Cunning Little Vixen which showcased his affinity with compatriot Janáček.

The people of Welsh National Opera are the beating heart of the Company, and the organisation continues to thrive under General Director Aidan Lang (himself a former Staff Director), Music Director Tomáš Hanus and Conductor Laureate Carlo Rizzi. With the addition of the Jerwood Directing Fellow Gareth Chambers in 2021 there will be plenty more stories and successes to report in the coming years.