WNO General Director Aidan Lang talks about the company’s 75th anniversary

As one might imagine, our plans for major productions to mark the 75 years have been shelved. We have, however, created two short films to mark the occasion. We commissioned a poem by Ifor ap Glyn, the National Poet of Wales, called Intermezzo, and this is performed by a distinguished cast of Welsh luminaries in both Welsh an English. Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana was performed in that first season in 1946, and so its most famous musical item, the Easter Hymn, has been specially filmed as a way of showcasing our wonderful Chorus and Orchestra. We have discovered so much about the effectiveness of digital activity for the right projects, and we are committed to continuing work in this area once the pandemic lifts.

WNO has on its staff a large group of performers and technicians, and one of the biggest challenges we have faced is keeping them motivated while there is no outlet for their talents. Like so many other organisations, we have turned to creating content for digital distribution. It has been a learning curve for us, and what we have discovered is that work created specifically for a digital platform, rather than simply capturing a live performance, can be extremely effective.

People often don’t know the sheer range of work that we undertake outside of our large-scale opera performances on the big stages. As well as our work with schools and families, we run Youth Opera groups in South and North Wales, together with the West Midlands. We also run projects in the health sector, working with hospitals and care homes, with people living with dementia, and are looking to create projects for people living with Long Covid. Mindful of extending our reach to communities that might not otherwise experience opera, we also work on creative participatory projects with refugees and asylum seekers.

Speaking with long-standing members of the company, many mention the overseas visits – New York, Tokyo and, going back to the 1970s, the visit to the former East Germany. Also, landmark productions like Peter Stein’s Otello, the Harry Kupfer’s Elektra and the more recent Meistersinger with Bryn Terfel are also fondly mentioned.

Back in the 1980s, (when Aidan first worked for the company) the focus was mainly on the artistic integrity of the work. Today, we place high importance on the impact our work has on its audience. And today, our engagement work in the community plays a hugely important role in defining who we are. All art forms evolve over time, and just as the performances we give today are undoubtedly different from those back in 1946, so I would expect the same to be true in 2096. But what doesn’t change is the effect a performance has on its audience. So, the long-term aspiration must be to keep the flame of opera alive, and to make it part of the lives of all future generations.

We don’t expect to be performing indoors in a significant way before the autumn season but we are planning for outdoor performances during the summer.

Just as WNO cannot wait to get back on stage again, so our audiences are desperate to feel once more the thrill that you get with a live performance. I am sure there will be some initial challenges, but I imagine that the so-called ‘shared experience’ will be intense as we all, performers, and audience alike, are re-united once more.

Both Intermezzo and Easter Hymn are available to view on the WNO website and are being shared on WNO’s social media feeds along with other 75th Birthday activity #WNO75.

For more information, visit wno.org.uk

This article originally appeared on asiw.co.uk, the performance website for Wales.

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