Theatre in Wales

Commentary and extended critical writing on theatre, dance and performance in Wales

Clariy, Continuity, Candour, Community

Mid Wales Opera Reaches 30 Years

Clarity, continuity, candour, community: these are virtues that are good to have, but not necessarily so. Companies will be judged by what they put on in front of an audience. All companies are different, but all have things in common. Corporate cultures cherish their tales and those of Wales often circle around heroism born from necessary parsimony. In the founding days at Mid Wales Opera a shortage of space entailed the painting of back-cloths al fresco. A sudden appearance of a shower over the Severn Valley would have the company wrapping up their semi-completed work and scuttling inside for shelter.

Enduring companies have their creation story. So Barbara McGuire and Keith Darlington met with 12 singers for two weekends of opera coaching. The music, stagecraft and movement classes led to a piano-accompanied performance of operatic scenes in the newly built Meifod Community Centre. The year was 1988. The following year saw the move to Theatr Hafren. The inaugural production was “The Magic Flute”, the Welsh cast and chorus drawn from the local community and students from the national music colleges. Ian Watt-Smith directed and Derek Clarke conducted. It was accompanied by “Carmen” with a student cast, all of whom attended a course similar to that of the previous year.

Continuity-within-change: Stephen Medcalf, Nicholas Cleobury to Jonathan Lyness as Music Director and Richard Studer as Artistic Director. The latest duo have innovated with the SmallStages tour each autumn. Live opera goes far from the Galeri-to-Torch circuit to village halls, small venues, churches across Wales and the Borders. “Reviewers Revel in Ravel” was reported on this site November 25th.

But the bond with Hafren endures. Theatre manager Sara Clutton: “We’re so proud of our relationship with MWO, it’s a producing partnership which is truly rooted in Mid Wales and Hafren’s been the company’s home from the start.”

Candour: the company made public the audience numbers for its 16-venue tour of Ravel in Autumn 2018. “13% of our audience had never seen an opera before/ 33% had only seen an opera once or twice/ And an incredible 40% of the audience travelled less than 5 miles to see the show.”

The submission to the Culture Committee was reported 24th February 2018. “Mid Wales Opera in its first paragraph declares its ACW funding and its overall budget. Individual donations are a good sum for a company in a rural location. The sums from its major contributors are given. The public of Wales knows exactly what it is giving and then the company lays out exactly what Wales gets in return. It is unambiguous and delivered in a clear language.”

Community: the reaching-out is embedded. The Newtown Silver Band appeared in“Tosca” in 1990. “Our decision to cast 50% of our performers from those under 30 and/or less than four years out of college and our touring venues reflect a commitment to supporting young artists” ran a line from the consultation submission. As evidence of the corporate culture: “We have chosen to take our SmallStages tour to Aberdaron, Cilgerran and Cwmbran on ACW Night Out programme because we genuinely believe opera is for everyone.”

Lydia Bassett, Executive Director, appeared March 1st in a programme titled “Music for All” on Radio Wales Arts Show. An open stage event in Presteigne is scheduled for April. The intent is to create an opera from scratch over a week, modelled on the Saint Endellion Festival. The company has already done this in its school work in the last year, 7 primary and 2 secondary. The latter comprised 350 pupils in Newtown and a masterclass for GCSE music students in Llanidloes.

The open stage week takes place 22nd to 27th April in St Andrews Church, Presteigne.

Mid Wales Opera and its activities in 2019 can be heard at

The Senedd consultation may be read at:

The full record of productions can be read at:

author:Adam Somerset

original source:
11 March 2019


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