7 February 2017
Welsh National Opera’s 2017/2018 season is announced
•New critical edition of From the House of the Dead to form part of Russian-themed Autumn season
•Three-year Verdi trilogy launching in Spring 2018
•World première of new all-female ‘cabaret opera’ based on the life of Welsh suffragette Margaret Haig Thomas
•Increased Youth & Community and concert activity throughout the year
•Launch of international opera school at Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama in association with WNO
Welsh National Opera has announced its artistic programme for 2017/2018 which includes ambitious new plans for the Company to extend its reach across all areas of work. The season includes a Russian-themed Autumn season, a three-year Verdi project launching in the Spring, and new plans for smaller-scale touring and special projects to reach a wider range of audiences and venues.
Autumn 2017 - Russian Revolution
The Autumn season, Russian Revolution, will be a major presentation of three epic Russian themed works: Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, Musorgsky’s Khovanshchina, and Janáček’s From the House of the Dead, based on the book by Dostoevsky. The season is part of R17, a cultural reflection on the centenary of the Russian Revolution and a broad retrospective of Russia’s extraordinary cultural legacy involving arts organisations across Wales.
The revivals of Khovanshchina and From the House of the Dead will be directed by WNO Artistic Director David Pountney and conducted by WNO Music Director Tomáš Hanus. From the House of the Dead will be the première of a new critical edition edited by musicologist John Tyrrell with performance suggestions by Charles Mackerras. Unfinished at the time of Janáček’s death, this will be the first time that the opera will be performed in a version that is as close as possible to what Janáček intended.
Khovanshchina and From the House of the Dead will feature a number of singers taking roles in both productions including Robert Hayward (Prince Ivan Khovansky / Commandant), Mark Le Brocq (Prince Vasily Golitsyn / Filka Morozov), Adrian Thompson (Scribe / Shapkin) and Simon Bailey (Shaklovity / Shishkov).
Tomáš Hanus said 'Janáček’s From the House of the Dead and Musorgsky’s Khovanshschina are two of the most important pieces in opera history - pieces that both “make" musical history, but are also completely up-to-date and speak directly to us today. How original the music is! And how deeply the music enables us to get involved and to be touched by the real life of the characters we see on stage - a life that is searching for freedom, suffering from oppression and trying to find love while feeling its own fragility. Both composers are of course very different but both of them were able to create the most beautiful, dramatic and genuinely “true” music.'
The revival of Eugene Onegin is conducted by Latvian Ainars Rubikis who will make his WNO debut. Rising star and Welsh singer Natalya Romaniw takes the role of Tatyana in her WNO main scale debut, and Nicholas Lester returns to WNO following his part in the Figaro trilogy in 2016 to take the role of Onegin.
During the Autumn Season, WNO will continue with performances of its revival of Die Fledermaus (also performed in Summer 2017), this time with Judith Howarth singing Rosalinde.
On 15 October, WNO will present the world première of The World’s Wife which will take place in the Weston Studio, Wales Millennium Centre. This new opera is composed by Tom Green with a libretto by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, author of the collection of poems ‘The World’s Wife’ which looks at men from history from the perspective of their better halves. A co-production between WNO, Taliesin Arts Centre, Echo Forest and The Mavron Quartet, The World’s Wife is an opera for solo soprano and string quartet which will be performed by Amanda Forbes and The Mavron Quartet. Carol Ann Duffy will give a talk on the opera prior to the première.
An immersive virtual reality experience will also launch in summer 2017 as part of the Cardiff Festival which will help introduce new audiences to opera. Taking place inside a shipping container which will be situated outside Wales Millennium Centre, the experience is set to intrigue visitors and draw them into a virtual world which will use music and film to re-imagine opera stories including WNO’s classic production of Madam Butterfly following Spring Season performances of the production. It will then return in September 2017 and also visit key cities on WNO’s tour during the autumn.
Spring 2018 – Rabble Rousers
The Spring Season, Rabble Rousers, will mark the start of a Verdi trilogy co-produced with Oper der Stadt Bonn which will run over the Spring seasons of 2018, 2019 and 2020. The first opera in this trilogy will be a new production of La forza del destino which will open at Wales Millennium Centre, and will be followed by new productions of Un ballo in maschera in Spring 2019 and Les Vêpres siciliennes in Spring 2020. The operas will all be conducted by WNO Conductor Laureate Carlo Rizzi and directed by David Pountney. We are delighted that His Excellency The Italian Ambassador Mr. Pasquale Terracciano is Patron of the Verdi Trilogy.
Carlo Rizzi says: 'I was drawn to this Verdi season because these three operas are all pivotal, in different and interesting ways, in the development of the musical style of the Maestro of Busseto and we can explore that. Spending time on them with the excellent forces of WNO, with David Pountney and with Gwyn Hughes Jones will be very rewarding - both for me and then, I hope, for WNO's audiences. In the case of Ballo and Vêpres, I will be re-visiting works I have already conducted many times but Forza - rather incredibly - is a personal debut so bringing that great score to the stage is a particularly exciting part of the project for me.'
The production team for La forza del destino will bring together the team that worked on William Tell and Moses in Egypt for WNO, with Raimund Bauer as Designer, Marie-Jeanne Lecca as Costume Desinger, and Fabrice Kebour as Lighting Designer. The design team has created a scenic device they call a 'Verdi Machine' which will be common to all three operas but clad differently for each one so that the results are strikingly dissimilar. The effect of this will be to emphasise their individuality as well as throwing up surprising links. The 'machine' consists of three interlocking frames which can create different shapes, into which different decorative elements can be fitted.
Gwyn Hughes Jones will take the tenor role, Don Alvaro in La forza del destino. Completing the cast are Mary Elizabeth Williams (Leonora), Luis Cansino (Don Carlo Di Vargas), Miklós Sebestyén (Il Marchese Di Calatrava / Padre Guardiano), Justina Grigyte (Preziosilla / Curra), Donald Maxwell (Fra Melitone) and Alun Rhys-Jenkins (Mastro Trabuco).
We are delighted that Kerem Hasan will join WNO as Associate Conductor, initially assisting Carlo Rizzi on La forza del destino in Spring 2018. The Associate Conductor position is the result of a collaboration with WNO and the Donatella Flick LSO Conducting Competition and offers the opportunity for one of the Competition finalists to work with WNO.
Also in the Spring Season will be a revival of John Caird’s production for WNO of Don Giovanni. The cast will include Elizabeth Watts as Donna Elvira and David Stout as Leporello, both returning following performances in WNO’s Figaro trilogy in 2016.
Completing the Spring Season is a revival of Tosca conducted by Carlo Rizzi.
In an exciting change to its usual summer main scale season, WNO will present the world première of a new 'Cabaret Opera', Rhondda Rips It Up! which will be performed in venues across Wales and England including performances at Hackney Empire in London. This production will tell the story of the remarkable Welsh suffragette, Margaret Haig Thomas, who tirelessly campaigned for equal rights for women and in 1913 was arrested for planting a bomb in a letter box in Newport. The production marks the centenary of the first, partial women’s suffrage bill of 1918.
The production will feature an all-female cast and creative team, and is composed by Elena Langer with a libretto by Emma Jenkins; both of whom were involved in world premières for WNO during the 2015/2016 Season (Figaro Gets a Divorce and In Parenthesis, respectively). It will have a music-hall style, incorporating many of the anthems and songs of the suffragette movement. Soprano Lesley Garrett will take the lead female singing role and will be joined by the female members of WNO Chorus who will also sing the male parts such as Winston Churchill and Herbert Henry Asquith. The production has been designed to tour to smaller-scale venues across Wales and England enabling us to reach a wider network of people with this important new piece which will also inspire an extensive programme of schools and community work.
We are delighted that the Nicholas John Trust in memory of Joan Moody has given a most generous donation in support of this new commission. This continues the Trust’s tradition of supporting new work for the Company which included the commissioning of In Parenthesis in 2016.
Orchestral concerts, Youth & Community Activity and Family concerts
In addition to its main scale operas, WNO will continue to inspire and reach more people with a series of orchestral concerts and Youth & Community activity throughout the year.
WNO Music Director Tomáš Hanus will lead the WNO Orchestra in concert at St David’s Hall, Cardiff with three concert programmes to complement the main scale opera seasons. The first of these will take place on 23 November and features Shostakovich’s Symphony No 7 (‘Leningrad’) as part of our Russian Revolution season. Further concerts take place in January and April.
WNO will continue to develop and extend its outreach work during the 2017/2018 Season, with plans to launch a new Youth Opera in North Wales which will offer bilingual professional training to develop the vocal, dramatic and movement skills of young performers. The newly-formed WNO Community Chorus North will also have their first concert performance on 24 September at North Wales International Music Festival. The hugely popular Family Concerts which give many children a first taste of opera and classical music will continue into this season, with the ambition not only to perform in Cardiff but to take events to other areas within WNO’s touring activity. We will also be bringing school children into our touring venues in Southampton, Liverpool and Birmingham to experience concerts which will introduce them to classical and operatic music.
Also launching during this season is a fully integrated international opera school at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama which is delivered in association with WNO as part of our commitment to nurture and invest in the future of opera. The opera school will enable emerging artists to train alongside some of operas’ leading figures, and will provide a unique training environment for all opera performance and production disciplines from singers and instrumentalists to conductors, directors, repetiteurs, stage managers and designers.
Talking about the 2017/2018 Season, WNO Artistic Director David Pountney says: 'Our three Russian titles in Autumn 2017, drawn from our richly furnished store-cupboard, have inspired a massive Cardiff-wide exploration of Russian culture and ideas, in commemoration of the Revolution of 1917 – an event which, like many revolutions, may have been a horror, but which still resonates very powerfully across the Europe of today. Our three titles suggest three continuing themes of Russian life and culture: Russia the Romantic (Eugene Onegin), Russia the mystical (Khovanshchina) and Russia enchained (From the House of the Dead). I am thrilled to be working with our new music director, Tomáš Hanus, on two of these.
'The Spring marks the start of our Verdi trilogy, a deliberate decision to engage with the three hugely significant and complex operas of Verdi’s late middle period - Forza, Ballo and Vêpres, which also taps into the tradition of WNO that is so deeply rooted in Verdi – a tradition proudly upheld by our Conductor Laureate, Carlo Rizzi.
'And to keep up the spirit of adventure which has earned us the soubriquet: “Britain’s boldest opera company", we have commissioned a new piece for the summer of 2018, a cabaret or, rather, music hall opera with, nonetheless, a hugely important and weighty topic that we intend to address in a light hearted way without compromising at all its historical seriousness. Lady Rhondda was a fervent Welsh suffragette, successful business woman (in the 1920s!) and founder of the hugely influential magazine “Time and Tide”. She is the inspiration for Rhondda Rips It Up! - an all female celebration of her life and achievements that we will bring to parts of Wales and England that we cannot reach with our main scale tour.
'This all adds up to what I call – with perhaps some chutzpah – survival with brilliance. In a financially challenging climate we will survive, but survive brilliantly, and share that brilliance with our audiences. We recognise that culture is not everything in life, but assert that a life without culture is as nothing.'