• Company debuts for director Lindy Hume, designer Isabella Bywater and cast members Alexia Voulgaridou and Leonardo Caimi, with Joyce El-Khoury returning in new production of Madam Butterfly 
  • 35-year anniversary of classic Rossini production
  • Programme of digital talks and exhibition exploring themes of Madam Butterfly 
  • WNO Orchestra performance in St David’s Hall’s Cardiff Classical series

Welsh National Opera has announced full details of its Autumn 2021 Season which features a new production of Puccini’s Madam Butterfly and WNO’s much-loved production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville. A series of digital talks and events to explore the themes of Madam Butterfly are also planned. 

The Barber of Seville

The Season opens with Giles Havergal’s original 1986 production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, with Giles returning as director and WNO Music Director Tomáš Hanus conducting.  This production celebrates 35 years and was last performed by WNO in 2011 with Andrew Shore who returns as Dr Bartolo this Autumn. Nicholas Lester returns to the Company as one of opera’s most colourful characters, Figaro, with Nico Darmanin reviving the flirty and flamboyant Count Almaviva. Heather Lowe returns to WNO as Rosina, after her Company debut in Rossini’s La Cenerentola in 2018, and Keel Watson makes his WNO debut as Basilio and The Bonze in Madam Butterfly.

Madam Butterfly

The new production of Madam Butterfly directed by Australian director Lindy Hume and conducted by WNO Conductor Laureate Carlo Rizzi, will explore socially relevant themes of Puccini’s classic tale with its beautiful music providing the backdrop to this much-loved opera. 

Set in a dystopian future where love is a commodity, this new production of the opera is not only true to Puccini’s moving score but provides perspective on the relevance this story still has in society today. The set and costumes are designed by award-winning designer Isabella Bywater. Lighting designer Elanor Higgins returns to WNO after her Company debut in 2018 with the rip-roaring suffragette opera Rhondda Rips It Up!

Soprano Joyce El-Khoury returns to WNO and makes her role debut as Cio-Cio San. The role is shared with Alexia Voulgaridou who makes her WNO debut. Alexia is a regular guest at many of Europe’s prestigious opera houses and made her debut playing the title role in Madam Butterfly at the Hamburg State Opera in 2012. Also making their Company debuts are Leonardo Caimi in the role of Pinkerton and Neil Balfour as Prince Yamadori. Leonardo has been described as one of the most acclaimed tenors of his generation and has performed at the Salzburg Festival, Teatro Real in Madrid, the Bavarian State Opera in Munich and the Royal Opera House Covent Garden where he made his debut in the 2018/2019 season. Neil is a graduate of the National Opera Studio and was the first opera singer to be booked by Glastonbury Festival in the Astrolabe Tent. The role of Pinkerton is shared with Peter Auty who was last with the Company in Jo Davies’ 2019 production of Carmen. The role of Suzuki is also shared between Anna Harvey and Kezia Bienek. Completing the cast are Tom Randle and Mark Stone. 

Continuing WNO’s commitment to talent development, Weston Jerwood Fellow Gareth Chambers will be second assistant director for Madam Butterfly. WNO’s Associate Artist Adam Gilbert has been cast as cover for Pinkerton in Madam Butterfly and Isabelle Peters as second cast and cover as Berta in The Barber of Seville

Lindy Hume, Madam Butterfly director said: “This is not a business-as-usual moment. The last 18 months especially have brought home our hunger for human connection through live performance, especially live music. It is thrilling to anticipate that moment of reconnection with the magnificent artists and audiences of Welsh National Opera with the creation of a new production of Puccini’s Madam Butterfly, a work of great beauty and brutality. In these times of complexity, uncertainty, and change, I relish this creative journey with the cast and team at WNO as we revisit and reimagine this much-loved opera.”

WNO Conductor Laureate Carlo Rizzi said: “The story, the drama and the characters of Madam Butterfly come to life through Puccini’s music so honest, unequivocal and clear. This is why this piece will always feel modern and relevant to me and this is why it has endured the test of time. I believe that this opera and particularly Cio-Cio San with her strong and complex character speaks very specifically to each new generation of opera-goer. The magic of Puccini guides us as we enter the world, the emotions and the feelings of a woman alone against everybody but that stands by the choices that she has made for love. It is this magic, that I hope to share with the WNO audience”.

Talks and surrounding activity

A series of digital talks and events to explore the themes of Madam Butterfly will be available throughout September. The content is inspired by issues relevant to the opera’s story in today’s world. As part of the programme there will be public webinars with the following themes: Modern Day Slavery, Imperialism and Colonialism and Re-inventing the Narrative. The discussions will be led by WNO General Director Aidan Lang, Kim Ann Williamson MBE, Strategic Objectives Programme Lead for the Wales Anti-Slavery Leadership Group and chair of the UK Modern Slavery Training Delivery Group and Jude Kelly CBE, founder of The WOW Foundation.

WNO Orchestra

Away from the main stage, WNO Orchestra returns to St David’s Hall in Cardiff Classical (formerly Cardiff International Concert Series), in a performance on 21 November under the baton of WNO Music Director Tomáš Hanus. Fellow Czech, pianist Lukáš Vondráček will perform Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No 2 in a programme that also includes Sarká from Smetana’s Má vlast and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 6, Pathétique. This Autumn will also see the WNO Orchestra perform in two Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama Opera Galas with the RWCMD David Seligmann Opera School, under WNO Conductor Laureate, Carlo Rizzi, at Cardiff’s Dora Stoutzker Hall. 

January 2022 will see the WNO Orchestra resuming its annual New Year’s concert tour around Wales and South West England in its programme of Viennese highlights under the direction of WNO Concertmaster, David Adams. 

Projects and Engagement Activity

WNO’s programme to open-up opera and inspire young people continues with a series of schools’ concerts during the Autumn Season in Cardiff, Birmingham, and Southampton, alongside the main-scale tour.  These concerts provide an opportunity for young people to experience a live orchestral concert, and for many this is their first introduction to opera and classical music. WNO Orchestra will perform along with soloists Largo al Factotum from Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, Habanera from Bizet’s Carmen and Rossini’s Cat Duet along with many other popular pieces. 

Long Covid Project

This Autumn sees Welsh National Opera pilot a programme in partnership with health boards across Wales, for long-covid patients in Wales, supporting physical rehabilitation, restoring mental and emotional well-being, and reducing anxiety. The Company will initially work with three health boards in Wales and in consultation with the support of English National Opera, to deliver a programme that draws on the singing and breathing techniques used by professional opera singers to reduce breathlessness and support participants to re-learn diaphragmatic breathing and equip them with the tools to continue this work at home. Singing has been proved to have a positive impact on well-being and the programme aims to achieve both mental and medical benefits for those taking part. The aim is to continue this scheme with more health boards and to reach as many long-covid patients as possible. This programme is supported by a grant from the new Arts Council Wales Arts, Health & Wellbeing fund. WNO are one of 9 arts organisation’s to receive this grant to help support high-quality creative projects that deliver health and wellbeing benefits for the people of Wales. 

Information regarding WNO productions is available at www.wno.org.uk