Our Autumn Season marks the centenary of the Russian Revolution | Welsh National Opera
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Our Autumn Season marks the centenary of the Russian Revolution

10 August 2017

Highlights include:

The première of a new critical edition of From the House of the Dead 
The first collaboration between David Pountney and Tomáš Hanus at WNO
The hometown debut for rising star Natalya Romaniw in Eugene Onegin
A UK tour of our virtual reality experience, Magic Butterfly
Further performances of Die Fledermaus in Cardiff and on tour

This autumn will see a major presentation of three epic Russian-themed works by Welsh National Opera. Russian Revolution will include performances of Musorgsky’s Khovanshchina, Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin and Janáček’s From the House of the Dead, based on the book by Dostoyevsky. Each explores a different facet of Russia’s cultural history – the mystical, the romantic, and the enchained – but will come together to reflect on issues that remain relevant to Russian cultural identity to this day. 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 in their first collaboration for the Company.  

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.  

Fittingly opening the season which commemorates the Russian Revolution, Khovanshchina highlights the central dilemma of Russian cultural identity which is still common today: whether to face East or West. Set against the Moscow Uprising of 1682, Khovanshchina sees the country in turmoil with the struggle between a romanticised past and modern reform. This is the first revival of David Pountney’s 2007 production, and will see the return of Robert Hayward in the role of Prince Ivan Khovansky and Adrian Thompson in the role of the Scribe. They will be joined by Mark Le Brocq as the Westernised aristocrat, Prince Vasily Golitsyn, and Miklós Sebestyén as religious fundamentalist, Dosifei.  

From the House of the Dead will be the première of a new critical edition 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.

Telling the story of the inmates of a Siberian prison, the opera reflects their feelings of pain, oppression and injustice as each recount why they ended up in jail. Their gloom is eased as they painstakingly nurse an eagle back to health, which comes to symbolize both Russia and the notion of freedom. The production will feature a stellar ensemble cast including Alan Oke (Skuratov), Robert Hayward (The Commandant), Mark Le Brocq (Filka Morozov) and Adrian Thompson (Shapkin).

Tomáš Hanus says: 'WNO’s Russian Revolution season reflects the soul of Russian people, culture and thinking, as well as the history. It is very important for us at this point in history to be touched by this subject, as it is sending a very specific but universal message. The extraordinary beauty and immense power of the music of great Masters like Tchaikovsky, Musorgsky and Janáček puts us right at the heart of this Russian phenomenon and brings it alive in front of our eyes. I really cannot wait to be working on Khovanshchina and From the House of the Dead with our fantastic orchestra, chorus and all the soloists, and to share this with our audience. I am sure that together we will all experience an exceptional and very emotional season that will deeply enrich our lives.'

Evoking the elegance of early 19th century St Petersburg alongside simple countryside settings, Eugene Onegin follows the cynical protagonist as he rejects the romantic advances of the young country girl Tatyana, before later coming to regret his actions and feeling the sting of rejection himself. Considered one of the greatest Russian operas, Tchaikovsky’s music reflects the high society of the time and the yearnings of the heart with evocative arias, romantic choruses and luscious waltzes. 

This revival of James Macdonald’s original production will be directed by Caroline Chaney and conducted by Latvian Ainārs Rubiķis who will make his WNO debut and has recently been announced as the new Music Director of Komische Oper Berlin. Rising Welsh star Natalya Romaniw takes the role of Tatyana in her hometown debut with WNO, and Nicholas Lester returns following his performances in the Figaro trilogy in 2016 to take the role of Onegin. Also joining the cast are Jason Bridges (Lensky), Claudia Huckle (Olga), Miklós Sebestyén (Prince Gremin) and Sara Fulgoni (Filipyevna).

WNO Artistic Director David Pountney says: 'After the intellectual and artistic euphoria that led to an explosion of creativity immediately post the revolution, the brutal realities of Lenin’s and Stalin’s regimes meant that putting pen to paper became an increasingly dangerous act. The result is that though there was an enormous amount of musical activity in Soviet Russia, there are no significant operas about the revolution itself. Our approach has been to present three works that in very different ways illustrate the enduring character of Russians and Russian society. The most endearing is Russia the romantic, as illustrated by Eugene Onegin, an unbearably touching story in which Pushkin’s Mozartian sense of irony is overlaid by Tchaikovsky’s unrestrained passion. The most telling politically is Khovanshchina which deals with the interplay between sadly familiar forces: over mighty war lords or oligarchs (Khovansky), religious fundamentalists (Dosifei), Westernizing liberals (Galitsin), an out-of-control militarised secret police force (The Streltsy). Finally, Janáček’s setting of Dostoyevsky’s autobiographical account of his experiences in a Siberian prison remind us that violence and the suppression of freedom have remained one of the essential levers of Russian government. This season perhaps sounds like hard work, but believe it or not these are three of the finest operas ever written: suffering makes great opera!'

There will also be a free Family Day at the National Museum Cardiff on Saturday 16 September where anyone who is curious about opera can find out more about WNO’s Russian Revolution season through orchestral demonstrations, singing games, costume workshops, a treasure hunt, and more.

Integrated into our Russian season of great works, and following widespread critical acclaim on the concert platform at the start of his tenure as WNO Music Director, Tomáš Hanus returns to the stage of St David’s Hall, Cardiff on Thursday 23 November to conduct the WNO Orchestra in a performance of Shostakovich’s huge and powerful Leningrad Symphony (No 7). This concert, which falls within the International Concert Series, also includes Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer). Here, Tomáš and the Orchestra will be joined by mezzo soprano Tara Erraught.

Also during the Autumn Season, there will be performances of Die Fledermaus (previously performed in Summer 2017), with Judith Howarth singing Rosalinde and WNO Associate Artist Anna Harvey as Orlofsky, conducted by James Southall. The Season will open in Cardiff before touring to Southampton, Llandudno, Birmingham, Liverpool, Bristol and Oxford.

Alongside the season, WNO will continue with a new programme of Youth & Community activity across the towns and cities where WNO performs which is intended to engage and inspire. This will include a series of schools workshops and a schools concert in Southampton on 17 October coinciding with our main scale performances in the city, the first performance of the Community Chorus North in St Asaph as part of the North Wales International Music Festival, a continuation of the weekly schools workshops in Cardiff, a new programme extending our work with primary schools in Birmingham, and a Digital Teach programme in Liverpool schools. There will also be taster sessions in Birmingham for a new Youth Opera which WNO will be setting up from early 2018.  

WNO’s free virtual reality (VR) experience, Magic Butterfly, will visit Llandudno’s Llawn Festival 15-17 September, then returns to Cardiff on 23 September before touring to Birmingham and Liverpool alongside our main stage performances at these venues. Magic Butterfly uses VR to re-imagine operatic scenes from Madam Butterfly and The Magic Flute and create an immersive experience using responsive animation and sound. Magic Butterfly opened to a great response, and saw over 700 visitors in its first weekend. The experience will also be presented in London at the V&A Museum in January 2018 as part of the V&A and the Royal Opera House’s Opera: Passion, Power and Politics exhibition.  

Also this Season, WNO will present the world première of The World’s Wife which will take place in the Weston Studio, Wales Millennium Centre on 15 October. 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 Taliesin Arts Centre, Echo Forest and The Mavron Quartet supported by WNO, The World’s Wife is an opera for solo soprano and string quartet which will be performed by Amanda Forbes and The Mavron Quartet.