Rhinegold Photo credit: Clive Barda
The Chorus of Welsh National Opera in Khovanshchina

Katy Wright

Deputy Editor, Classical Music

Welsh National Opera announces 2017/18 season

10:57, 10th February 2017

Welsh National Opera’s 2017/18 season includes the launch of a three-year Verdi trilogy, the premiere of an all-female ‘cabaret opera’ based on the life of  Welsh suffragette Margaret Haig Thomas, and new plans for smaller-scale touring and special projects to reach a wider range of audiences and venues.

The ‘Russian Revolution’ autumn season comprises performances of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin and Musorgsky’s Khovanshchina, and the premiere of a new critical edition of Janáček’s From the House of the Dead edited by musicologist John Tyrrell with performance suggestions by Charles Mackerras.

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; both will feature Robert Hayward, Mark Le Brocq and Adrian Thompson.  The revival of Eugene Onegin will be conducted by Latvian Ainars Rubikis, with Natalya Romaniw in the role of Tatyana, and Nicholas Lester in that of Onegin.

The autumn season will also include performances of WNO’s revival of Die Fledermaus, with Judith Howarth singing Rosalinde, and the premiere of The World’s Wife. Composed by Tom Green with a libretto by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, the opera is for solo soprano and string quartet, and will be performed by Amanda Forbes and the Mavron Quartet.

WNO will launch an immersive virtual reality experience in summer 2017 which will help introduce new audiences to opera. Taking place inside a shipping container situated outside the Wales Millennium Centre, the installation will use music and film to re-imagine opera stories, including WNO’s production of Madam Butterfly. The installation will return in September 2017 and will visit key cities on WNO’s tour during the autumn.

The spring season, ‘Rabble Rousers’, will mark the start of a Verdi trilogy co-produced with Oper der Stadt Bonn. Beginning with La Forza del destino (2018), the series will continue with Un ballo in maschera (2019) and Les Vêpres siciliennes (2020). The operas, all of which will be new productions, will be conducted by WNO conductor Laureate Carlo Rizzi and directed by David Pountney.

The design team has created a scenic device they call a ‘Verdi Machine’ to be used for all three operas but clad differently for each, in order to emphasise the operas’ individuality and highlight links between them. The ‘machine’ consists of three interlocking frames which can create different shapes, into which different decorative elements can be fitted.

Kerem Hasan will join WNO as associate conductor, initially assisting Carlo Rizzi on La Forza del destino in spring 2018. The position is the result of a collaboration between WNO and the Donatella Flick LSO Conducting Competition, and offers the opportunity for one of the competition finalists to work with WNO.

The spring season will also include revival of John Caird’s production of Don Giovanni, including Elizabeth Watts as Donna Elvira and David Stout as Leporello, and a revival of Tosca, conducted by Carlo Rizzi.

The summer season will see WNO present the world premiere of a new ‘cabaret opera’, Rhondda Rips It Up!, which will be performed in venues across Wales and England. Composed by Elena Langer to a libretto by Emma Jenkins, the work will tell the story of the Welsh suffragette Margaret Haig Thomas, and will mark the centenary of the first, partial women’s suffrage bill of 1918.

The production will feature an all-female cast and creative team, and 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 role and will be joined by the female members of WNO Chorus, who will also sing the male parts. The production will be accompanied by an extensive programme of schools and community work.

WNO 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, and will also establish a fully integrated international opera school at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. The opera school will enable emerging artists to train alongside leading operatic figures, providing training for all opera performance and production disciplines, including singers, instrumentalists, conductors, directors, repetiteurs, stage managers and designers.

WNO artistic director David Pountney said of the season: ‘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.’

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