In its programming and productions WNO strives to combine adventurousness with accessibility, and commitment to developing new audiences with musical and dramatic integrity. The company punches far above its weight and it is one of the most admired centres of operatic excellence in Europe.
In 2018, the sensuous, atmospheric production of La Traviata by David McVicar sets Verdi’s opera in belle epoque Paris. Armenian soprano Anush Hovhannisyan takes the role of Violetta, and Australian-Chinese tenor Kang Wang sings Alfredo in this spirited revival conducted by James Southall. Rossini’s great comic version of the Cinderella story, La Cenerentola, has a fairy godfather, Alidoro, presiding over events. Joan Font’s candy-coloured production brings to life the enchanting lyricism and exhilarating patter of Rossini’s score, with Irish mezzo Tara Erraught in the title role.
In 2019, Un ballo in maschera is Verdi’s retelling of the story of Swedish King Gustav III’s assassination at a masked ball. David Pountney’s new production is conducted by Carlo Rizzi. Verdi was obliged by censorship to alter the setting of the opera from Stockholm to Boston, but this production, like most today, returns the story to its correct location. Gwyn Hughes Jones plays Renato (Gustav), with Mary Elizabeth Williams as Amelia and Roland Wood as Riccardo (Ankarstrom). The Magic Flute was Mozart’s last opera, written for a small theatre in the Viennese suburbs. Dominic Cooke’s production refers to Magritte’s paintings as an effective way of finding a truly magic location for Mozart’s enchanting comedy.
In 2004 WNO moved into their current home, the Wales Millennium Centre. The architectural brief was to build something ‘unmistakably Welsh and internationally outstanding.’ The winning firm, Percy Thomas, came up with a monumental yet accessible structure of slate, glass, steel and timber built to withstand the lashings of the elements on its coastal location.
The tour begins at 4.00pm with a short walk from the hotel across the Cardiff Bay development to the Wales Millennium Centre (WMC) for a lecture, pre-opera dinner and opera. 2018: La Traviata (Verdi); 2019: The Magic Flute (Mozart).
Take the boat from Cardiff Bay to the National Museum of Wales which has one of the finest collections of Impressionist paintings in the UK. Return to the WMC for a lecture, and in 2018, opera at 4.00pm: La Cenerentola (Rossini), followed by dinner in the hotel; in 2019, lecture, pre-opera dinner and opera: Roberto Devereux (Donizetti).
A guided tour of the Wales Millennium Centre is followed by Cardiff Castle – a mediaeval keep, a Victorian recreation of the perimeter wall of the Roman Fort and a residence with wonderful Gothic Revival interiors created by Burgess for the Marquess of Bute. The tour finishes at Cardiff Central Station by 2.30pm and at the hotel shortly after that.
Simon writes programme articles and surtitles for many British opera companies, and reviews for Opera, Opera Now, Musical Opinion, Early Music Today, Bachtrack and a range of other publications. A novelist, poet and librettist, from 1989 to 2012 he was dramaturg at Welsh National Opera.
Price – per person
Two sharing: £820. Single occupancy: £980 (2018), £930 (2019).
top category tickets for the two performances; hotel accommodation as described below; breakfasts; two dinners with wine, water, coffee; travel by private coach and river boat; all admissions; all tips; all taxes; the services of the lecturer and tour manager.
St David’s Hotel & Spa, Cardiff. St David’s Hotel & Spa, Cardiff. This is a striking building on the waterfront at Cardiff Bay, 15 minutes on foot from the opera house. The AA gives it a 5-star rating, rooms are pleasingly contemporary in design and service is excellent. Single rooms are doubles for sole use.
There is quite a lot of walking on this tour. A good level of fitness is necessary. It should not be attempted by anyone who has difficulty with everyday walking and stair-climbing.
Between 10 and 22 participants.