WNO’s history in Southampton

2 November 2021

Welsh National Opera has been touring to Southampton since November 1970 when the Company performed at what was then called the Gaumont Theatre, with the Welsh Philharmonia. The Gaumont was renamed the Mayflower in 1987, and it is now our South Coast home for WNO outreach activity. We returned to Southampton with our Autumn 1971 Season and have been going (almost) yearly ever since, establishing a strong relationship between WNO, Mayflower Theatre and local communities in Southampton.

That first WNO Season in Southampton included performances of Die Fledermaus, La bohème, Aida and Simon Boccanegra – and if you’re interested, you can see a copy of an original Aida programme in Mayflower’s online archive. The run in Southampton formed part of Alfred Francis’ (WNO Executive Chairman) ‘most ambitious ever’ programme with 14 weeks of performances over the year including eight weeks in Wales and six in England with four new productions. 

It wasn’t until 1980, with the Orchestra of Welsh National Opera (as WNO Orchestra was called back then), that we toured to Southampton for two Seasons a year, with a run in April returning at the start of December – the latter run including what was then our new David Pountney production of The Cunning Little Vixen. It has been revived for only four runs since then, most recently in our Autumn 2019 Season. Southampton would have been the next venue on our Spring 2020 Season tour, due to open the week after lockdown was announced.

In Spring 2016, a performance of The Marriage of Figaro was interrupted during Act Three by a series of power cuts which meant that all onstage lighting was lost and WNO Orchestra were plunged into darkness in the pit, but ever the professionals, they continued playing – of course.

Our children absolutely loved it and were singing all the way home. Overall, it was one of the best schools concerts I’ve been to, fantastic programme and wonderful performers – a really special trip!

Through our year-round programme of community engagement in Southampton we want to inspire both hearts and minds of those who might not ordinarily experience the power of opera and music making up close. This can include schools’ workshops and concerts; projects with marginalised communities such as refugees and asylum seekers; and performances for people in the healthcare system. This work is closely aligned to Mayflower Theatre to ensure that Welsh National Opera continues to inspire its communities for many years to come.