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A Triumphant Past And Spectacular Future: WNO’s Plans for 2004/5

Welsh National Opera’s General Director Anthony Freud announced the company’s Autumn and Spring seasons on Saturday May 15th. The end of the autumn season sees the company leave its current home in the New Theatre Cardiff and move to a purpose built facility in the new Wales Millennium Centre. Mr Freud said that ‘The 2004/5 season will certainly give WNO the opportunity to celebrate a triumphant past and then to herald a spectacular future.’ The company is eagerly looking forward to using the greatly improved facilities of the WMC, but the Autumn season, the last in the New Theatre, will be tinged with nostalgia since WNO’s first performance took place there almost fifty years ago.

Web Cam Picture from the Wales Millennium Centre web site

New works for the Autumn season are launched both in Cardiff and Belfast. A September world premiere of a work specially commissioned by WNO and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, called The Tailor’s Daughter is being created by participants aged 15-23 from WNO’s Youth Opera groups based in the two cities. The piece is designed for an audience of 9-13 year olds and is written by Irish composer Brian Irvine to a libretto by Welsh writer Greg Cullen. The premiere will be at the Grand Opera House in Belfast on September 8th and 9th with a repeat performance at the studio of the Wales Millennium Centre in Spring 2005.

The opera season proper begins in Cardiff on the 11th of September and will tour to Swansea, Belfast, Oxford, Southampton, Llandudno, Birmingham, Liverpool and Bristol. Two new productions for the parent company are scheduled, the first of which is a new Ariadne auf Naxos from director Neil Armfield. The conductor will be WNO’s former Musical Director Carlo Rizzi and the cast will include Alice Coote as the Composer, Richard Van Allan as the Major-Domo, Janice Watson as Ariadne and Peter Hoare as Bacchus. Katarzyna Dondalska who was the Polish representative at the Cardiff Singer of the World competition in 2001 will sing Zerbinetta.

The second new production will be a new semi-staged concert called Chorus! devised by the company’s WNO MAX initiative. WNO MAX brings opera to wider audiences and this evening of favourite opera choruses performed in all the company’s tour venues seems a very good way to do this. WNO’s permanent chorus and orchestra are both excellent and Chorus! will be directed by David Pountney working closely with Chorus Master Donald Nally. The production is in collaboration with Classic FM.

Two revivals complete the Autumn programme. They are the Caurier and Leiser production of Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride featuring Ann Murray (now an Honorary DBE) and Christopher Alden’s 1994 Turandot in which Calaf will be sung by Rafael Rojas and Dennis O’Neill. Iphigénie en Tauride is a co-production with the Dutch company Opera Zuid which is based in Maastricht and its conductor will be Michael Hofstetter. Turandot will be conducted by WNO’s Julian Smith.

The Wales Millennium Centre will open officially for the weekend of the 26th-28th of November. Although WNO’s first full productions will not take place there until February 2005, the company’s orchestra and chorus will join in the inaugural celebrations in gala concerts and a number of other WNO MAX projects will also be presented on Saturday the 27th. One of these will be Richard Aylwin’s film Wise Eye, an account of the collaboration between six special needs groups and some other WMC residents, The Touch Therapy Trust, Hijinx Theatre and Diversions Dance. The film deals with their participation in the opera Wise Eye, a work based on The Cunning Little Vixen and commissioned by WNO from composer Richard Chew particularly for special needs groups.

Artist’s impression of the WMC’s Lyric Theatre

A good deal more happens in 2005. Not only does the company move to the new Lyric Theatre in the Millennium Centre, but there is a January tour by the orchestra and some solo singers to schools in south, mid and north Wales. Using a mix of music, visual arts and story telling, the tour includes workshops and orchestral concerts for schools, small orchestral ensemble concerts and a public concert called Star cross’d lovers that features music inspired by Romeo and Juliet from the ballet, opera and from West Side Story. There is also the Cardiff performance of The Tailor’s Daughter, mentioned already, and the launch of a new trilogy of operas for children called Land, Sea and Sky. Each of these will be performed in schools, beginning with Sky written by Wise Eye composer Richard Chew. Sky’s subject is the return of the Red Kite to Mid Wales: when completed in 2006, Land will be about North Wales’ legendary big cats and Sea about the dolphins of the West.

Other concerts from WNO’s orchestra include Tugan Sokhiev with Leonora No.3, the Schumann Piano Concerto and Dvorak’s 8th Symphony at St. David’s Hall Cardiff (on January 22nd), a St. David’s Day Gala (March 1st) in the WMC featuring some of the company’s previous Music Directors and celebrated singers, and a Wagner concert with Dame Anne Evans and Conductor Emeritus, Sir Charles Mackerras. This last takes place at St. David’s Hall on April 23rd.

The Spring season of opera begins on February 18th and 19th when the company will take advantage of the Lyric theatre’s potential to perform the new Caurier and Leiser Traviata again as their opening production. The second night presents a new Wozzeck conducted by Vladimir Jurowski and directed by Richard Jones. The title role in this production will be sung by Christopher Purves (a fine Giorgio Germont in the current Traviata) with German soprano Gun-Brit Barkmin as Marie and Peter Svensson as the Drum-Major. A revival of the WNO’s very first production, the Moshinsky Cav and Pag completes the Spring season from the 8th of March onwards when Dennis O’Neill will sing Turiddu and Canio.

To round off a busy year, from the 14th of May onwards the company presents a new Magic Flute directed by Dominic Cooke and conducted by Tugan Sokhiev. This will be sung in English and has Peter Wedd (Alfredo in the current Traviata) as Tamino, New Zealand baritone Teddy Tahu Rhodes as Papageno and Rebecca Evans as Papagena. Katarzyna Dondalska (the Ariadne Zerbinetta) returns as the Queen of the Night.

There’s a revival Rigoletto in the Summer season too (directed by James Macdonald and with Olga Trifonova as Gilda), but that’s not quite the end of the story. From June 2nd the indefatigable Sokhiev conducts concert performances of Tchaikovsky’s rarity Iolanta with Nuccia Focile as the blind princess and Vladimir Moroz (this year’s Eugene Onegin), as Robert. Performances will take place in Swansea, Birmingham, Bristol and the 2005 Proms.

And then… well, it’s BBC Singer of the World time again so the WNO orchestra will be there. There’s much to look forward to and a lot to enjoy.

Bill Kenny

More details can be found on WNO’s web site and from the Wales Millennium Centre


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