This is your life – David Pountney’s opera career | Welsh National Opera

This is your life – David Pountney’s opera career

13 September 2017

On Sunday, our Artistic Director David Pountney turned 70. This comes a year after we celebrated 70 years of Welsh National Opera. 

We have been lucky enough to have David at the helm since 2011, however he was no stranger to us, having directed performances as far back as 1975. With a career that spans over 50 years, he has gained international acclaim for his productions and his directing skills. 

Let’s take a trip down memory lane and look back at some of David’s work over his extensive career.


One of first operas that David directed was Seven Deadly Sins at Cambridge University Opera Club. Who would have predicted that this would be the first of many on his successful path to a life-long career.


This marks the year that David was appointed Director of Productions at Scottish Opera. He directed Jenůfa, a co-production with WNO.


In 1980 David left Scottish Opera to begin his role as Director of Productions at English National Opera. At this time David alongside Mark Elder (Conductor at ENO) and Peter Jonas (Head of ENO) were known as a ‘Powerhouse’ in opera because they were alternative in their directing approach.


Having taken up his position at ENO David was instrumental in implementing new ideas and changing perceptions of opera to a new young audience. He directed Káťa Kabanová with Elisabeth Söderström the world renowned Swedish opera star, famous for her performances of Janáček’s work.


During David’s time with the company, ENO were the first British opera company to tour the United States and performed Gloriana, War and Peace, The Turn of the Screw, Rigoletto and Patience. They were also the first British opera company to be invited to perform at the New York Metropolitan Opera.


ENO were also the first foreign opera company to tour the then Soviet Union. 


As a freelance director from 1992 he worked regularly in Zurich, at Vienna State Opera, Bayerische Staatsoper, as well as opera houses in America, Japan and in the UK has a long-standing association with Opera North.


After leaving ENO in 1993, David focused on directing and was responsible for writing the libretto for The Doctor of Myddfai alongside Sir Peter Maxwell Davies who composed this original piece based on the Welsh myth surrounding Llyn y Fan Fach. 


In 1998 David featured on Desert Island Discs and revealed some very interesting things about both the world of opera and himself, one of which was that his luxury item would be a croquet set. When asked recently he said he would still say the same today. Listen to the interview on BBC iPlayer. 


David was given the Intendant of the Bregenz Festival and held this role for 11 years. In which time he was an integral part of over 20 world premieres that took place at the festival.


2016 saw WNO celebrate 70 years so turned into a busy year for David. He wrote the libretto for and directed a new opera, Figaro Gets a Divorce with Elena Langer as well as directing the world premiere of In Parenthesis, marking the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. WNO’s Youth Opera also memorably performed Kommilitonen!, for which David had written the libretto alongside Sir Peter Maxwell Davies who composed the music. Away from WNO, David’s hotly anticipated Ring cycle opened at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. 


2017 has been as busy as ever for David. He judged the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition in June and will be directing Khovanshchina and co-directing From the House of the Dead, the first collaborations with WNO Music Director Tomáš Hanus this Autumn Season. 

So, as you can see David likes to keep himself busy, and has already got lots of plans in place for WNO in the future, including directing a new Verdi trilogy, which starts with La forza del destino next Spring. We’ve been gathering birthday messages for David, from everyone here at WNO, as well as his friends and colleagues across the opera world. To join in the conversation follow #DavidPountney70 on our social media channels.