WNO’s History in Cardiff and South Wales

9 September 2021
Lady Rhondda and Sybil, looking pensive at the Ballot Box.

Welsh National Opera was formed from the communities of South Wales and we are proud of our local presence. In this, our 75th year, we look back at some of our South Wales connections.

It’s well documented that our first opera performances took place at the Prince of Wales Theatre in Cardiff in 1946, but did you know that both that year and the following saw us take a similar programme to the Grand Pavilion in Porthcawl?

WNO has performed at numerous venues across Cardiff, including Sophia Gardens Pavilion (1952-1953, featuring the premiere of Arwel Hughes’ Menna). The New Theatre became our regular home in 1954, with a season of Les vêpres siciliennes, Rigoletto, Nabucco, Verdi Requiem, The Bartered Bride, Faust, Menna and Die Fledermaus, before we moved to our current base - Wales Millennium Centre - in 2005. There was a brief return to New Theatre in June 2018 with Rhondda Rips It Up!We also performed at the Sherman Theatre in the late 1970s and early 1980s, titles included Albert Herring, The Turn of the Screw,Monsieur Choufluri's at Home/The Song of Fortunio and The Journey. WNO is  regularly seen (and heard) on the concert stages of Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama and St David’s Hall and our Programmes and Engagement team have numerous projects running across the capital including Youth Opera, work in Primary Schools and Community Chorus.

The Company’s first opera season in Swansea took place in 1949 when we performed The Bartered Bride and Carmen at the Empire Theatre. It wasn’t until 1957 that we moved to the Grand Theatre, with an Autumn Season of I Lombardi, La traviata, Nabucco and Mefistofele when Swansea’s own Ivor John conducted the two performances of Nabucco. Our most recent visit to the Grand was in 2014 with Carmen but we have continued to perform regularly in the city with Rhondda Rips It Up!  and Don Pasquale playing at Taliesin Arts Centre and WNO Orchestra concerts at The Great Hall. Our Cradle choir, for people with dementia and their carers, was also launched in Swansea in 2019.

Two men in a kebab van

Moving east, Newport is also an important city for us. Rhondda Rips It Up! was inspired by the city’s famed suffragette Margaret Haig Thomas so the Riverfront was the obvious place to open the tour. Accompanying that production was a whole raft of schools and community events plus our Women in Opera symposium. We return to the Riverfront in January 2022 with our popular new year Viennese concert.

Throughout our history, we’ve travelled to numerous other venues across South Wales: in 1969 a tour of The Marriage of Figaro and La traviata opened in Haverfordwest at the County Secondary School where we continued to perform until 1974, returning to Sir Thomas Picton School a few years later; the following year we took The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein and Manon Lescaut to Fishguard Secondary School; 1981 saw our first visit to the Torch Theatre in Milford Haven with Rodelinda and in 1982 we appeared at the Park & Dare Hall in Treorchy with Tamburlaine which also toured to Llanelli.

We returned to many of these venues in recent years with Rhondda Rips It Up! and Don Pasquale as well as debuting at the Lyric, Carmarthen, Theatr Brycheiniog in Brecon and the Coliseum, Aberdare. We continue to explore new opportunities to perform across Wales, and ongoing community work offers opportunities for more people to get involved with WNO.