WNO - the 1990s

23 September 2021

The 1990s were certainly a decade filled with numerous performances with several now familiar faces making their performing debuts with Welsh National Opera. In the year 1990, WNO’s production of The Marriage of Figaro featured the acclaimed Welsh baritone Bryn Terfel, and throughout the decade he would perform many more works with the Company such as Falstaff in 1993 also starring Donald Maxwell.

This decade would also host WNO’s first family concert which was Music for Young at St David’s Hall in 1992, and would be the commencement of WNO’s family and youth work which still thrives today.

During the 90s, WNO performed a variety of new operas throughout the decade in numerous touring locations. In 1992, Debussy’s Pelléas and Mélisande was performed by the Company in Le Châtelet in Paris, receiving an outstanding reception from the audience with standing ovations and crowds cheering. In the words of then General Director Matthew Epstein, ‘it shows what a massive international reputation we have’, implying WNO’s wider success during this time. He also claimed that WNO had ‘brought Debussy to Paris and had them calling for more’, again conveying the developing international status of the Company during the early 90s.

1996 was a tremendous milestone for WNO, celebrating its 50th anniversary, therefore Sir Peter Maxwell Davies was commissioned to write an opera in celebration. This included songs in the Welsh language, written and directed by David Pountney and was based on a 12th century folk tale. Premiered in the North Wales theatre in Llandudno, this opera, named The Doctor of Myddfai was then performed widely in Cardiff. 

WNO also had an ambitious repertoire of performances during this decade, which would witness linking communities with main scale opera in WNO education’s project in 1993, The Cinderella Project. By this period, WNO had developed a vibrant programme, combining main stage operas and different communities. Four different versions of the fairy tale were to be performed, with the premiere on the main stage featuring the renowned singer, and WNO favourite, Rebecca Evans in the title role. Alongside this, WNO would bring together more than 100 singers from the South Wales communities to perform Peter Maxwell Davies’ children’s opera, Cinderella. This then resulted in a new musical community which was formed in Splott, Cardiff; named The Splott Cinderella. This would be the start of WNO’s efforts to bring opera to all.

These efforts in bringing communities into opera alongside a broader range of productions would see a considerable amount of praise for WNO’s work, with Michael Ratcliffe from The Observer describing WNO as ‘the most popular, populist and consistently successful arts organisation ever to come out of Wales ... with the loyalty and affection of audiences in Cardiff and across England’, as the Company performed across Wales and featured a season at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, London during the mid-1990s.

This remains a huge focus of WNO’s work to this day, as the Company runs numerous projects in communities across Wales and England, alongside our work on stage.