Welsh National Opera (WNO) is a touring opera company founded in Cardiff, Wales in 1943. The WNO now tours Wales, the United Kingdom and the rest of the world extensively. Annually, it performs over 120 main scale operas. In Cardiff, Bristol, Birmingham, Liverpool, Llandudno, Oxford, Milton Keynes, Plymouth, Southampton and Swansea, they regularly perform to over 150,000 people. Once every two years they perform a major season of opera in London.
Although productions were initially sung in English translation, from the 1970's onwards, operas were increasingly sung in the original languages; not only Italian, German and French, but also Russian and Czech. Surtitles were also provided.
The Company has always provided a mix of traditional and less-well-known operas, including those of Alban Berg, Richard Strauss, Leos Janacek and Benjamin Britten.
In 2004 the Company acquired its first ever permanent home in Cardiff in the new Wales Millennium Centre, a new performing arts centre in the city.
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.
Its musical directors have included:
- Sir Charles Groves (1961–1963)
- Bryan Balkwill (1963–1967)
- Sir Richard Armstrong (1973–1986)
- Sir Charles Mackerras (1987–1992)
- Carlo Rizzi (1992–2001)
- Tugan Sokhiev (2003–4)
- Carlo Rizzi (2004– )
According to WNO, they are Europe's busiest touring opera company and the largest provider of touring opera in the UK. Recent awards include:
- an Evening Standard Award,
- a Barclays Theatre Award,
- two Laurence Olivier Awards, and
- three Royal Philharmonic Society Awards.
In December 2002, WNO was awarded a Classic FM Red F Award as part of Classic FM's 10th birthday celebrations.
As well as its artistic achievements, the company behind the opera has achieved success in business. Cardiff Theatrical Services, one of WNO's subsidiary businesses, is one of the largest producers of opera stage sets in the UK. As well as producing all the stage sets for the WNO, it makes sets for other opera companies such as the Royal Opera House, Glyndebourne Opera, Opera North, Royal National Theatre, Royal Shakespeare Company, Opéra de Monte-Carlo, De Vlaamse Opera and the Kirov Opera.
Guest artists have included Tito Gobbi and Elizabeth Söderström.
The WNO has realised great success in attracting a younger audience to opera, helping to make its home, the Wales Millennium Centre, a viable business.
From Thursday 31 May until Sunday 3 June 2007 WNO will be hosting their first "Open House" programme at the Wales Millennium Centre. The long weekend will feature a range of free events to suit the whole family including introductions to operas such as Carmen plus much more. Although events are free you still need to book via the WMC Box Office.