WNO's History in North Wales and Llandudno

29 November 2021

During the early 1950s, Welsh National Opera made our first visit to North Wales, performing Verdi’s Il trovatore at Llandudno’s Grand Theatre featuring WNO’s Symphony Orchestra with Conductor Haydn James in September 1951. The Season would also include our imperishable Madam Butterfly, Cavalleria rusticana & Pagliacci.

Later that decade, 1957 was the year WNO began to tour regularly to North Wales, this time the venue changed to the Odeon cinema due to the closure of the Grand Theatre.  It was certainly an upgrade in terms of seating in the theatre, however not in terms of orchestra facilities, described as ‘a larger auditorium than that at Covent Garden and the stage as wide, but it lacked depth and an orchestra pit, and the backstage facilities were almost non-existent. There was no scenery dock and the sets had to be pulled thirty feet into the air to get them into the building.’

Another source claims it was somewhat difficult to tour in a seaside venue during the summer months, as it was a challenge to find accommodation for almost 200 people, but this was the only period of year during this time that WNO were able to perform, as the autumn and winter months were already allocated to Swansea and Cardiff.

By the end of the 1950s, following a third successful season in North Wales, bookings were exceedingly high and sold out fast, and even Welcome WNO banners were hung in notable areas of the town including the train station. Notably, there were also new audiences attending the opera from further afield, including tourists and those from across the border. Some holiday makers even booked their holidays to coincide with WNO’s performances, proving the Company’s growing popularity, and opera was now clearly becoming one of Llandudno’s tourist attractions. A year later, by August 1960, there even had to be changes in the national train times to enable people to travel at convenient hours to see the opera. This was a clear indication of the impact WNO’s work had on the seaside town, even causing changes in transport and holiday months for tourists.

As we know that WNO’s audiences came from cities near North Wales such as Liverpool and Chester, but in 1964 an application was received from two women in New York who had shown interest in WNO as they planned a holiday to Llandudno in order to coincide with WNO’s productions. With this rise now in international demand, this resulted in the need for an extra phone line to be installed in the box-office as there were long queues every evening for bookings and hopeful customers waiting on returned tickets. Two years later, by 1966 the season was increased to two weeks following this increased popularity and by 1970 WNO performed in Llandudno with their first full-time WNO Orchestra.

WNO’s touring was to continue regularly in North Wales – and we still take our opera productions and orchestral concerts there today. Llandudno is also home to WNO’s dedicated North Wales Hub to provide education and community work, and there is a North Wales branch of WNO Youth Opera.

To this day, WNO have performed approximately 64 seasons and a remarkable 460 opera performances in North Wales, and Llandudno is still one of our most popular and twice-yearly touring venues. WNO return this Autumn Season to Venue Cymru from 30 November to 2 December with Rossini’s The Barber of Seville and a brand-new production of Puccini’s Madam Butterfly, so why not come and enjoy some wonderful WNO opera by the seaside this Season?