Welsh National Opera announces 5 firsts for Britain - including Wagner

Written By The Wagnerian on Saturday, 13 October 2012 | 1:38:00 am

Wagner Dream by Jonathan Harvey.
Welsh National Opera (WNO) will present a new series of contemporary operas over the next five years, all of them being performed in the UK for the first time. The British Firsts series of operas, which has been made possible by a $2 million dollar gift from members of the Getty family, will begin next summer with the UK staged premiere of Wagner Dream by Jonathan Harvey.

Other works planned over the next five years include Robert Orledge’s completed version of Claude Debussy’s unfinished one-act opera The Fall of the House of Usher, which will be staged alongside Gordon Getty’s Usher House, both inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s classic novel The Fall of the House of Usher.


Usher House, a sixty-minute opera in five scenes, sees Poe as the narrator, a survivor who tells the Gothic tale: “Forbidden knowledge, a Faustian pact, ghostly ancestors – have shifted all into a tale of good and evil and redemption. Good means Poe and the siblings, evil means Primus and the ancestors, and Madeline becomes the agent of redemption”. -Gordon Getty.

Claude Debussy, fascinated by Poe’s writings, worked on the score of his version of The House of Usher with his own libretto between 1908 and 1917, but he had only produced a short-score draft of the music up to part of the second scene before his death in 1918. This version has additional orchestrations by Debussy expert Robert Orledge using themes and ideas from sketches left by the French composer.

Usher House and The House of Usher will be directed by David Pountney for Welsh National Opera and will be performed in summer 2014. Both productions will also be presented by San Francisco Opera in autumn 2015.

Other planned operas in this series include a new version of Peter Pan by Cornish composer Richard Ayres in 2015 (a co-production with two other German opera houses) and Korean composer Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland in 2017.

WNO Chief Executive and Artistic Director, David Pountney, said:

“WNO is able to bring these five contemporary works to Britain following a generous grant of nearly $2 million dollars gifted by members of the Getty family to whom we are very grateful. At a time when the arts face continuing cuts to public funding, this kind of private philanthropy is a vital form of income without which this series would not be possible.

This series gives us an extraordinary opportunity to re-engage with contemporary opera writing and to transform our perceptions of new music. We hope to dispel the misconception that modern opera is either moribund or incomprehensible to our audiences.

Nothing could be further from the truth. There is a massive amount of creative energy in the artform and new works are constantly being created all over the world. This series, whose titles – from “Wagner Dream” to “Alice in Wonderland” reveal a love of fantasy and fairy tale, will show us that we can enjoy modern music and modern opera as part of our normal cultural life, just as we enjoy modern cinema, television, books or fashion. It will open the doors to the landscape of the new.”




Some of WNO previous premieres have included

1953 Menna – composer Owain Arwel Hughes – producer Anthony Besch

1960 Serch yw’r doctor (Love is the doctor) – composer Owain Arwel Hughes, producer John Moody

1966 The Parlour - composer Grace Williams, producer John Moody

1974 Beach of Falesá – composer Alun Hoddinott, producer Michael Geliot

1980 The Servants – composer William Mathias, producer Adrian Slack

1981 The Journey – composer John Metcalf, producer John Eaton

1990 Tornrak – composer John Metcalfe, producer Mike Ashman

1996 The Doctor of Myddfai – composer Peter Maxwell Davies- director David Pountney

2007 The Sacrifice – composer James MacMillan – director Katie Mitchell