Welsh National Opera
Welsh National Opera (WNO) is an opera company founded in Cardiff, Wales in 1943. The WNO tours Wales, the United Kingdom and the rest of the world extensively. Annually, it gives more than 120 performances of eight main stage operas to a combined audience of around 150,000 people. It gives regular performances in Cardiff, Llandudno, and Swansea in Wales, and Bristol, Birmingham, Liverpool, Milton Keynes, Oxford, Plymouth, and Southampton in England. Because the number of performances in England exceeds the number in Wales, Arts Council England is the company's largest source of grant funding, ahead of the Arts Council of Wales. The company has been led by Chief Executive and Artistic Director David Pountney since 2011.
The formation of the company
The Company was founded in Cardiff by Idloes Owen (1894–1954). He was born in Wales and after developing his talent at Music College, became a composer, arranger and conductor. He performed with the pre-war Lyrian Singers in Cardiff, and considered  to be one of the finest singing teachers in Wales, Geraint Evans was one of his pupils.
In November 1943, together with a small group of music lovers, he was instrumental in forming 'The Lyrian Grand Opera Company'. A month later at its first general meeting the name was changed to The Welsh National Opera Company. It was formed from members of the old Cardiff Grand Opera Company, the BBC Welsh Singers and the Lyrian Singers. The company gave early performances in 1945 with concerts and operatic excerpts at various venues in Cardiff. The first full season of opera came after the war, in April 1946, at the Prince of Wales Theatre, Cardiff. Idloes Owen as Musical Director conducted the first performance of Cavalleria Rusticana, which included the Welsh tenor Robert Tear who started his career as a schoolboy in this performance.
In 1948 the Welsh National Opera became a limited company and established another centre in Swansea. In January 1950 Owen invited an astute businessman, Bill Smith, a former secretary of the defunct Cardiff Grand Opera, to be his partner to develop the potential of the new company. Smith immediately responded by booking the young Charles Mackerras as conductor to take charge of The Tales of Hoffman that season. In 1951 the company made its first tour of Wales, giving performances in Aberystwyth, Cardiganshire, and Llandudno, Denbighshire. They shared a passion to make the WNO stand comparison with any other opera company in the world, and in 1952 they staged Verdi's Nabucco, which, with its Biblical story, needed a superb chorus. Verdi’s third opera was ideal for WNO, and it was the company's first in-house production. In April 1953 they toured with it for their first performances outside Wales, opening at the Bournemouth Pavilion.
By 1954, the New Theatre, Cardiff had become the company's base and it staged a short season between 1–13 November, with performances of Les vêpres siciliennes, Rigoletto, Nabucco, Verdi's Requiem, The Bartered Bride, Faust, Die Fledermaus and Menna.
However, without a permanent home, WNO still had to tour to survive. A production of I Pagliacci had been chosen, but tragically, Idloes Owen died in Cardiff that year at the age of 59 and it was never staged.
In 1955 the company gave its first performances in London at Sadler’s Wells Theatre in Islington. They performed two Verdi operas Nabucco and I Lombardi alla prima crociata and Wagner's Lohengrin. Both enjoyed rave reviews. The music critic of the "South Wales Argus", Kenneth Loveland, reported on the weeks' season of operas, saying they had been an outstanding artistic success, producing record box-office figures. All this came from enthusiastic amateurs who came from all over South Wales to rehearse twice a week in a garage in Frederick Street Cardiff, and for this week were just given a free rail ticket to London with eight guineas expenses!
The development of the company and orchestra
The company continued to use various professional orchestras from around the country until 1970 when a permanent orchestra, the Welsh Philharmonia was formed. The Chorus of the Welsh National Opera finally became professional in 1973. In 1979 the orchestra was renamed the Orchestra of Welsh National Opera. The development of the Orchestra during this period combined with the emergence of Welsh National Opera made it a major force in the operatic world.
Although productions were initially sung in English translation, from the 1970s onwards, operas were increasingly sung in the original languages; not only Italian, German and French, but also Russian and Czech. Surtitles were also provided.
In 1985, the company commissioned the play-with-music After Aida from renowned playwright Julian Mitchell, originally as a vehicle for the company's touring season to far-flung Welsh towns which had smaller theatres than the average opera house. The play starred Richard Griffiths and Ian Charleson and included a rotating cast of 12 WNO singers. It eventually transferred to London's Old Vic Theatre.
The opera company consists of a professional orchestra (The Orchestra of Welsh National Opera) and a professional choir (The Chorus of Welsh National Opera). Sometimes, the orchestra and the choir perform at events independently of one another. The orchestra and the choir often perform at St David's Hall in Cardiff and at other venues throughout Wales.
Past WNO music directors have included Vilém Tauský, Warwick Braithwaite, Sir Richard Armstrong and Sir Charles Mackerras. Carlo Rizzi was music director from 1992 to 2001. Tugan Sokhiev became music director in 2003, initially with a five-year contract. However, Sokhiev terminated his contract in August 2004, after concerns about his relative inexperience and difficulties with the administration caused tension within WNO. Rizzi returned as WNO music director for his second tenure, and served in the post through the end of the 2007 summer season. In July 2008, WNO announced the appointment of the German conductor Lothar Koenigs as WNO's next music director, effective in 2009. He had first appeared with the WNO orchestra in 2005. Koenigs had subsequently conducted at WNO in February 2007 in David Pountney's production of Khovanshchina.
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