Welsh National Opera Announces 2020/2021 Season and 75th Plans

“WNO was born in the communities of South Wales, and today our reach extends to numerous cities across the United Kingdom, as well as overseas.  A 75th year is a good moment for us to reinforce our belief that WNO is here for all those communities, and to create work that is both emotionally thrilling but also meaningful and resonant, and which reflects modern life in all its glorious diversity and complexity.”

Aidan Lang, WNO General Director


  • Artistic programme announced for the 2020/2021 season
  • Maestro Tomáš Hanus extends his role as WNO Music Director to 2026
  • Major gift donations launch WNO’s 75th year campaign and look to the future of opera
  • Long-term commitment to equality of opportunity in a new talent development programme launched for the 75th year
  • Pioneering digital experiences that put the Company at the heart of digital innovation in the arts


Welsh National Opera has announced its programme for the 2020/2021 season, along with plans to mark its 75th year in 2021.


Since the amateur beginnings of the Company founded in the 1940s by a group of people from across South Wales including miners, teachers and doctors, WNO has not only become a performing and touring force across Wales, England and internationally, it has also used the power of opera to engage people of all ages and backgrounds through its partnership, engagement and development work.


The details announced include the artistic programme for the year, engagement and outreach work, orchestral and concert activity, and plans for the 75th year in 2021.  The Company will also launch a new expanded talent development programme aimed at engaging more people across society, and will continue to pioneer digital innovation in the arts.


Autumn 2020

Autumn 2020 will open with WNO’s 2008 production of Janáček’s Jenůfa in a continuation of the Company’s Janáček Series.  Jenůfa will be conducted by WNO’s Music Director Tomáš Hanus who has recently signed a new contract with the Company, extending his artistic role with WNO until 2026. The cast for this production includes American lyric soprano Amanda Majeski who will make her role debut as Jenůfa.


Also in the Autumn Season is the premiere of a new opera, Migrations.  Migrations will form part of the Mayflower 400 Commemorations as 2020 marks 400 years since the Mayflower began its voyage with 102 passengers bound for a new life in America.  This anniversary sparked a unique opportunity for WNO not only to commemorate the legacy of those passengers who undertook that remarkable journey, but to look at other stories of migration, both past and present, inherent to some of the cities we tour to.  A real story of our time, Migrations explores different elements of migration including the human impact of one of the most difficult decisions many have been forced to make: to leave their homes and communities in search of a safer, better life. But it’s also a story of the boldness and resilience of the human spirit in different circumstances and by contrast the story and journeys of migration in nature made by birds.   Both on and off stage through our engagement programme, we will explore how these experiences and stories have contributed to the diversity of modern society.

To create a diversity of voices and experiences, five writers - Shreya Sen Handley, Edson Burton and Miles Chambers, Eric Ngalle Charles and Sarah Woods – have worked with Sir David Pountney to create the libretto of six stories, influenced by their own personal experiences of migration and working with refugees. 

With music by British composer Will Todd, Matthew Kofi Waldren will conduct and the opera will be directed by Sir David Pountney who will be supported by a team of associate directors.  The cast of 100 performers will include Lester Lynch, Marion Newman, Simon Bailey, Tom Randle, Musa Ngqungwana and Meeta Raval, along with a gospel choir, Bollywood dancers and a children’s chorus. 

This ambitious new opera will provide an opportunity for WNO continue to develop its work with refugees and asylum seekers, initially started during the 2019 Freedom Season when the Company began a five-year partnership with the Welsh Refugee Council.  Over the next three years WNO will work with refugee community groups in Cardiff, Birmingham and Southampton through composition, music and performance projects.

The Autumn Season also includes the continuation of the tour of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville from the Summer featuring one of opera’s most colourful characters, the inimitable Figaro. Former WNO Associate Conductor Kerem Hasan returns to conduct.


WNO Orchestra

Beyond the main-scale operas, WNO Orchestra has a busy concert schedule for 2020/2021.  On 8 November, the Orchestra will close the cross-Cardiff Beethoven 250 celebration year with a landmark performance of the Ninth Symphony (Choral).  Part of the International Concert Series at St David’s Hall, the concert will be conducted by WNO Music Director Tomáš Hanus and will feature Mary Elizabeth Williams, Madeleine Shaw, Peter Berger and James Platt who will perform alongside WNO Chorus and Orchestra, WNO Community Chorus and BBC National Chorus of Wales. Two further concerts for WNO Orchestra with Music Director Tomáš Hanus follow in the International Concert Series on 31 January and 25 April.  


WNO Orchestra will continue to extend the Company’s reach through its winter tour in January 2021 directed by Leader and Concertmaster David Adams, Family and Schools concerts throughout the year in Cardiff and WNO’s Hub venues, and by collaborating with regular festival partners in the summer including the Welsh Proms and Fishguard Festival.


Spring and Summer 2021 – WNO @ 75

The Spring Season marks the launch of WNO’s 75th year with a new production to WNO of Gounod’s Faust, a coproduction with Theatre Magdeberg. Faust was one of the first operas performed by WNO in April 1946.  This will be the UK premiere of the production directed by Olivia Fuchs, with Alexander Joel returning to WNO to conduct.  Joining the cast is Marinsky Theatre artist Natalya Pavlova who will make her UK operatic debut in the role of Marguerite.


Welsh soprano Rebecca Evans returns to reprise her role as The Marschallin in Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier in the Spring, a role which she first sang with WNO in 2017.  She will be reunited with Lucia Cervoni as Octavian and joined this time by Soraya Mafi and Julie Martin du Thiel as Sophie.  Tomáš Hanus conducts this production which triumphantly marked the start of his tenure as WNO Music Director in 2017.


Completing the Spring Season is Verdi’s Il trovatore, last performed in 2011, which sees the return of WNO favourites Mary Elizabeth Williams, David Kempster and Linda Richardson in the cast.  Pietro Rizzo conducts.


The Summer Season will see a continuation of WNO’s commitment to take new and relevant work to more people in more places, this time with a new commission, Blaze of Glory!  Caroline Clegg (director) and Emma Jenkins (librettist) join forces once more at WNO following their collaboration on Rhondda Rips It Up! in 2018 with a new piece that highlights the vocal talents of the male members of the WNO Chorus.  Set in the 1950s, Blaze of Glory! follows the fortunes of a group of miners in a small mining village who embark upon a musical odyssey by forming a male voice choir as a means of uniting the community after a mining disaster.  Composed by David Hackbridge Johnson, the score features close harmony singing traditionally associated with male voice choirs, as well as big band, jive, lindy hop and African gospel music.   Opening in Cardiff’s New Theatre, the production will tour to mid-scale venues across Wales and England.


Alongside the production, WNO will place the community at the heart of the piece, working with male voice choirs and community singing groups, particularly in the South Wales Valleys and across the tour, who will perform in the opera.  Blaze of Glory! will provide the springboard for a composition project with young people around gender identity and exploring their views of cultural and social roles.


Encouraging young people to ‘Get Into Opera’

A new initiative for WNO’s 75th year to encourage more young people to try opera for the first time will begin in Autumn 2020.  ‘Get Into Opera’ will create greater opportunities for students and young professionals giving anyone under 35 access to ticket offers, upgrades, special events and exclusive digital content.  WNO is also renewing its commitment to offering £5 tickets for anyone under 16. 


Engagement and outreach work

WNO is committed to engaging with people of all ages and backgrounds through the power of opera, and the Company’s extensive touring pattern provides the ideal platform to do this.  The Company has set up Hub areas for engagement work which enable WNO to make culture an everyday experience for people in the communities we tour to. Activity is already well-established in our North Wales and Birmingham/West Midlands Hubs, and following the recruitment of a new Producer for the South West (from Southampton to Plymouth), the Company will establish a regular programme of activity there from the 2020/2021 season that will help us create meaningful routes into opera and classical music for new and younger audiences across the region. 


The programme of activity in Cardiff and each of our Hub areas over the next three years will include a focus on:

  • Talent development
  • Health and Wellbeing, working with those in long-term care, people with dementia, and exploring the role music and singing can play in addressing mental health issues
  • Family and intergenerational activity through the provision of regular activity such as family concerts and Explore Opera days.
  • International understanding and working with those who are socially excluded or isolated, including work with Refugees and Asylum seekers and increasing the ethnic diversity of our participants and practitioners.


The specific activity programme in each Hub area will be curated to reflect that community’s particular needs and will adapt and evolve as the Company works with them.


Talent development

As WNO approaches its 75th year, the Company plans to bring together and expand the existing talent development programme, cementing the commitment to finding, nurturing, and developing talent across the whole Company, and encouraging participation and engagement with the Company to those from diverse backgrounds.  A new Programme Manager for talent development will be recruited in 2020 to lead this initiative, focusing on developing clear progression routes from grassroots level right through to nurturing young talent and professional development.  A commitment to equality of opportunity is central to each initiative and will be at the heart of the overall programme.


Key elements of the programme include:

  • WNO Associate Artists

Further to an ongoing audition process, WNO looks forward to announcing the first two recipients of its new Associate Artists programme later in 2020.  Auditions have been held nationwide for these posts to ensure an open recruitment process and encourage singers from all backgrounds.  This is a full-time, year-long traineeship for young singers between August 2020 and July 2021 which provides a structured learning and professional development programme alongside the opportunity to perform small roles and cover roles within WNO.  The programme’s Ambassador, Rebecca Evans will mentor both singers throughout the year, and the programme will be monitored and supported by WNO’s Head of Artistic Management and Head of Music.


Professor Rolf Olsen has chosen to honour the memory of his wife Shirley with a £500,000 gift to create the Shirley and Rolf Olsen Bursary which will support young singers joining the WNO Associate Artists scheme from 2020/2021.  Professor Olsen said: “I hope this initiative will persuade others to donate to WNO’s Associate Artists scheme so that support will continue to grow into the future and become a recognised and established part of WNO’s commitment to provide and expand the further training for young singers, and by supporting the bursary fund to ensure that no deserving person is denied the opportunity simply through a lack of sufficient finance.”



WNO will also launch a new training programme, WNO TEAM, to create opportunities for young people from varied backgrounds who might otherwise not get the chance to develop a career in the industry. WNO TEAM will provide an insight not only into performing but also into all other professional pathways available within the opera industry, both on and off stage.  The scheme intends to recruit up to 10 young company members between the ages of 16-25 who may not typically have chance to work in opera from BAME backgrounds and low socio- economic backgrounds.  It aims to appeal to those who are interested in exploring career opportunities within the singing and opera industry, with a programme that will enrich their experience in the arts and give them professional coaching and mentorship.  Members will also have the opportunity to take part in auditions for WNO’s Youth Opera productions.  Recruitment for the scheme will begin in September 2020 for an initial pilot year.


  • Orchestral talent development

WNO will continue to run its successful side-by-side orchestral programme for students at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama, Cardiff and at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire throughout the year. 


In 2021, WNO will announce its second Female Conductor in Residence.  Introduced at the Company’s ‘Where are all the women?’ symposium in 2018 as a means of re-addressing the gender imbalance in conducting posts, the first recipient of this scheme was Tianyi Lu in 2019.  The Company will also continue to appoint a young conductor as WNO Associate Conductor in 2021.  This position is the result of a now well-established collaboration between WNO and the Donatella Flick-LSO Conducting Competition and offers the opportunity for one of the Competition finalists to work with WNO on main-scale opera, concerts and Youth and Community projects.  Kerem Hasan was the first recipient of this role in 2018, with Harry Ogg taking up the post in 2019.


The Future of Opera

To celebrate the Company’s 75th year, WNO will commission a new creative experience that will pose the question, ‘What might an opera look and sound like 75 years from now?’  Building on recent award-winning digital initiatives, and as part of WNO’s digital strategy, this will provide an additional public platform to highlight how technology, storytelling and opera can work together and can delight and immerse audiences of the future.  We hope this will create a space for dialogue and debate, and the findings will feed into a new digital main scale commission for 2022. 


Youth Opera 2021

For the Company’s 75th year, the award-winning WNO Youth Opera will take to the main stage of Wales Millennium Centre in September 2021 for a new production of Shostakovich’s Cheryomushki.  Following the roaring success of 2019’s Don Pasquale, Daisy Evans returns to WNO to direct the Youth Opera in what will be a reimagined version of the opera with a contemporary take.  The production will be under the baton of conductor Alice Farnham.  As well as singers from WNO’s Youth Opera and Youth Opera alumni, the production will include assisting roles, technical placements and student instrumentalists, providing a unique training experience for young people interested in a professional career within opera and theatre, working alongside top industry professionals and mentored by WNO experts.


WNO @ 75 Fundraising Campaign

WNO is pleased to announce the launch of a major fundraising campaign to underpin the Company’s future artistic ambitions and continuing commitment to encourage as many people as possible to enjoy and participate in opera across Wales and England. £1,000,000 has so far been pledged with two donations of £500,000 each from the Colwinston Charitable Trust and Professor Rolf Olsen. Having had a long history of supporting the Company, the Colwinston Charitable Trust has awarded its largest-ever grant of £500,000 to support opera productions at WNO from 2021 onwards. Der Rosenkavalier will be the first supported opera in Spring 2021. The Trust has made £250,000 of the grant a matched funding award to encourage new and increased giving for operas performed between January 2021 and August 2024 – all new donations towards operas from 1 March 2020 will be eligible.


Chairman of Colwinson Charitable Trust, Mathew Prichard said: “We at Colwinston place great store on the importance of artistic quality, and it therefore gives us great pleasure to support three years of WNO’s artistic programme. Quality is just as important in the orchestra pit as on the stage and so we are happy to be associated with that as well.


"These are important times for WNO under new artistic direction and we feel it is appropriate to make a significant grant which hopefully will encourage others to contribute as the period progresses. WNO has a distinguished reputation for producing outstanding opera and we are pleased to help in encouraging this to continue."


WNO is also extremely grateful to Garfield Weston Foundation, Hodge Foundation, Joyce Fletcher Charitable Trust and the Bateman Family Charitable Trust who support significant programmes of work in schools, communities, in nurturing talent and in digital innovation.  WNO Director of Development, Communications and Strategy, Alison Dunnett, said: “As the Company approaches its 75th year in 2021, we are hugely grateful to the Colwinston Charitable Trust, Professor Olsen and our many individual, trust, foundation and corporate supporters and hope that this campaign will encourage our many different audiences and beneficiaries to support the future of WNO and enjoy a closer relationship with the Company as we begin a new chapter of the WNO story.”


WNO’s 75th year will culminate with a special concert at St David’s Hall on 9 December 2021 which will be a moment to celebrate the last 75 years of singing at WNO, whilst looking forward to the future of opera.  This concert will be a celebration of all WNO’s talent from the illustrious Orchestra and Chorus through to Youth Opera, Community Chorus, Associate Artists and school children from WNO’s 5-year schools programme.  The programme for this concert will be inspired by WNO past, present and future, and will encompass pieces from the operatic repertory as well as Wintery choruses and traditional Christmas songs.  This concert will be the perfect way to celebrate what WNO represents – the joy of singing – reflecting the Company’s amateur singing roots. 


WNO General Director, Aidan Lang says: “Opera has been around for a very long time – 420 years, to be precise – and in that time it has continually changed and reinvented itself.  In the 19th century, at the height of its popularity, opera was a ‘popular’ art form in the truest sense of the word, one that connected directly with the lives of its audiences.  But as other entertainment forms were born, opera’s star gradually faded, and its place in people’s lives was usurped.  As WNO embarks on its 75th year, we look to reclaim that position once more.


“Our purpose as a Company is to harness the visceral nature of music with potent drama to provide a wide range of operatic experiences, be they on the big stages of our main touring venues or in the intimacy of one of our schools or community projects.  In our increasingly fractured world, opera has the capacity to bring people together and unite them in their shared humanity.”





Notes to Editors


  • Welsh National Opera is the national opera company for Wales, funded by the Arts Councils of Wales and England to provide large scale opera, concerts and outreach work across Wales and to major cities in the English regions.  We endeavour to provide transformative experiences through our education and outreach programme and our award-winning digital projects.  We work with our partners to discover and nurture young operatic talent, and we aim to show future generations that opera is a rewarding, relevant and universal art form with the power to affect and inspire 



  • Jenůfa is supported by the Janáček Circle and WNO Partners


  • Faust is a co-production with Theater Magdeburg and is supported by WNO Friends


  • Der Rosenkavalier is a co-production with Theater Magdeburg


  • Der Rosenkavalier is supported by Colwinston Charitable Trust


  • The Barber of Seville is a co-production with Opera North and Vancouver Opera


  • Il trovatore is a Scottish Opera Production


  • Migrations is part of Mayflower 400, the four hundred year commemoration of the voyage of this historic ship, passengers and crew, to America in 1620.




  • The role of WNO Music Director is supported by Marian and Gordon Pell


  • The role of WNO Associate Conductor is in collaboration with the Donatella Flick-LSO Conducting Competition


  • WNO Associate Artist programme is supported by the Shirley and Rolf Olsen Bursary


  • WNO’s Talent Development programme is supported by the Kirby Laing Foundation and the Bateman Family Charitable Trust


  • WNO’s Youth, Community and Digital activity is supported by a generous gift from the Garfield Weston Foundation


  • For more information, photos or interviews please contact: 


Rachel Bowyer / Penny James, Press Manager (job share)

029 2063 5038

rachel.bowyer@wno.org.uk / penny.james@wno.org.uk


Rhys Edwards, Press Officer

029 2063 5037