Welsh National Opera – Now

29 April 2021

Following our look at the origins of Welsh National Opera, we come up to date and see how the Company is progressing in the 21st century.

In 2021 we find Britain and the world in another ‘war’ of sorts: over a year into a global pandemic that has had huge consequences. The arts have been hit hard: the very things that comfort and lift the spirits, that nourish the soul for many, have been closed off. And yet…WNO has adapted and developed digital performances and safe ways of meeting, rehearsing and performing together.

It may have started as a small group of amateur singers rehearsing in a Methodist chapel in the mid-1940s, but 75 years on, Welsh National Opera is an internationally renowned Company with 90 professional singers and musicians, 250 management, administration and support staff.

WNO Orchestra has major international standing with over 50 professional musicians, management and support team of 12 staff, regularly performing concerts and opera across Wales, England and abroad. 16 musicians have played in WNO Orchestra for over 20 years.

WNO Chorus has maintained its world-class reputation over many years. Since those heady days of volunteer amateur singers performing in London’s Sadler’s Wells in the early 1950s, the Chorus has garnered critical and audience acclaim. It’s fitting that an opera company founded on Welsh singing should have one of the most highly regarded opera Choruses in Europe with almost 40 full time professional singers, six of whom have been with us for over 20 years. The Chorus is supported by five full time staff and Chorus Master.

From the early days of volunteers sewing their own costumes and painting makeshift scenery, WNO now has its own scenery building company, Cardiff Theatrical Services, established in 1984. WNO also has a dedicated Costume department, Props, Touring Wardrobe, and Wigs & Makeup teams. This all combines to make us Europe’s largest touring opera company visiting 11 major venues and 20 smaller theatres across Wales and England: from our state-of-the-art base in Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff. WNO has also toured extensively abroad.

The logistics of a touring opera company are remarkable in scale compared with the early tours. A small army of staff help move a production from venue to venue: stage managers, company managers, music staff, touring wardrobe, wigs and makeup team, carpenters, electricians, sound engineers, drivers, carpenters, technicians and loaders all contribute to WNO being able to tour such large-scale opera productions.  In addition fundraisers, marketers and administrative staff work behind the scenes, planning future tours and communicating upcoming engagements with our audiences.

Over the years, the amount of outreach work we do with the communities we serve has grown and evolved. The Programmes & Engagement team produce a huge range of activities and events to engage with as wide and diverse an audience as possible: digital projects; WNO Youth Opera; WNO Community Chorus, work with schools and Community Hubs; Play Opera LIVE family events; the Cradle Choir for families affected by dementia; singing in hospitals – most of which we moved to online activity during the pandemic.

Nurturing young talent has always been an integral part of WNO. The Company has a long partnership with the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama and the National Opera Studio. Developing young talent continues with the WNO Associate Artists programme and Director Fellowship.

Funding for a major opera company such as WNO is critical; Arts Council England and the Arts Council of Wales, corporate partners, major donors, Trusts and charitable funds, legacies and a thriving WNO Friends and Partners community all help us to achieve our aims and we are sincerely grateful.

Welsh National Opera has evolved and thrived and has adapted to serve communities with this universal art form, opera. At the grand age of 75, WNO is as nimble and ambitious as ever and is superbly placed to continue its valuable and rewarding work for the next 75 years…