Poem marks Welsh National Opera 75th anniversary

image copyrightAlex Metcalfe
image captionIfor ap Glyn said Welsh National Opera had its “roots in far worse times” and would recover

Welsh National Opera is marking its 75th anniversary with a recording of a specially commissioned poem.

Sir Bryn Terfel and Rebecca Evans feature on the recording of Intermezzo alongside sporting legends Sir Gareth Edwards and Baroness Grey-Thompson.

Written by the national poet of Wales Ifor ap Glyn, its reflects on the company’s beginnings in Cardiff in 1946.

Performances in front of audiences are on hold due to Covid-19 rules.

image copyrightWNO
image captionOn 15 April 1946 the opera had its opening performance

The first performance as an opera company took place on 15 April 1946 with a double bill of Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci at the Prince of Wales Theatre, Cardiff, thanks to founder, Merthyr Tydfil-born musician Idloes Owen.

Mr ap Glyn said: “One of the things that struck me immediately was this celebration falls at unpropitious times surrounded as we are by various Covid restrictions.

“Of course, Welsh National Opera has its roots in far worse times – the war time years.

“And Idloes Owen’s original vision went back before that – original meetings date back to 1943 so that was something I really wanted to convey,” he said.

image copyrightWNO
image captionA performance of Otello in 1986

Mr Owen had the idea to form a national opera company for Wales in 1943.

He led a group of amateur musicians from all walks of life including miners, teachers and doctors to come together through their passion for music and singing.

WNO continues to be rooted within the Cardiff and south Wales valleys communities where it was originally formed.

It tours in Wales and England, working with schools, supporting families living with dementia, refugees and asylum seekers.

image copyrightWNO
image captionIdloes Owen was a member of the Lyrian Singers

“We think of opera and the things which come to mind are the main stages and huge auditoria and these stately operatic singers bestriding the stage,” said Mr ap Glyn.

“It does have its roots in something rather more homely and the initial chorus of the Welsh National Opera were amateurs, while great singers, they were not professional singers.

“They did it because they loved it and that’s the roots of the Welsh National Opera.

“And community engagement is still a very important part of what they do.”

‘Soon we will be back for next act’

image copyrightWNO
image captionElektra was performed at the opera in 1978

Mr ap Glyn explained the title of the poem was relevant as “one of the meanings of intermezzo is an instrumental interlude between acts of opera”.

“We’ve had our first 75-year act, in all its glory and now we are in something of an intermezzo,” he said.

“When singing is not allowed, it’s not part of the intermezzo, but soon we will be back for next act, the next 75 years, and the next drama in the Welsh National Opera’s history.”

image copyrightGareth Iwan Jones
image captionWNO general director Aidan Lang said live performance was “about bringing people together”

The first meeting of the Welsh National Opera Company took place in a chapel in Crwys Road, Cardiff.

And the first chorus rehearsals took place above a car showroom, led by Mr Owen, who continued as its musical director until his death in 1954.

WNO general director Aidan Lang said: “It began as a coming together born out of the ashes of World War Two, and a statement how music can rebuild communities, and can act as a healing force and bring people together, and that has stayed with the company throughout its history.”

He said live performance was “about bringing people together” which had been denied by this “awful pandemic”.

“We are feeling such sheer frustration not being able to perform but at the same time we’ve looked at creative digital work as a new tool and a new avenue and as we move forward,” he said.

“Works like Intermezzo will become a feature of what we do.”

The performance includes harpist Catrin Finch and Welsh actors Dame Siân Phillips, Mark Lewis Jones and Rakie Ayola.

In addition to the poem, a newly recorded version of the stirring Easter Hymn from Cavalleria Rusticana, performed by the WNO chorus and orchestra, is also released as part of its birthday celebrations.

image copyrightSarah Pope
image captionMezzo soprano Sarah Pope said she was looking forward to being able to perform again.

Part of the chorus is mezzo soprano, Sarah Pope, who has been in the WNO “family” for 30 years.

She said one of her highlights was a performance of Prokofiev’s War and Peace at the Royal Opera House in London two years ago.

“I was just overwhelmed by the fact here I was at 56 years of age making my solo debut on that stage… it was just incredible.”

She is looking forward to being able to perform again.

“Let’s hope the company can pick up where it we left off and go from strength to strength,” she said.

“At this stage, we’re very reliant on seeing how the theatres we tour have survived during this time.

“But plans are afoot to get us back out on the road.”

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