Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

“We are a social good as an opera company”

Radio Arts Feature

Welsh National Opera Freedom Season , Radio 4 & BBC iPlayer , June 9, 2019
Radio Arts Feature by Welsh National Opera Freedom Season David Pountney, in interview with Nicola Heywood-Thomas, explains the origins of the Freedom Season. The company received a legacy to put on “the Consul” by Gian Carlo Menotti. “A bit weird just suddenly", says Pountney, "to do “the Consul” on its own out of nowhere. It didn't fit in with the general run of our programming. We built this season around “the Consul”, a very powerful, political piece, created in the aftermath of the second world war, which ran on Broadway for over a year. That was a launchpad”.

“Opera has always been a place where the state is represented on stage. Its subject matter has always had kings and generals and people of that sort and very often based on the tensions between their public and their private concerns.”

“Opera is a very political medium. One of the earliest operas concerns a corrupt Roman emperor. It's not at all a strange thing that opera should deliver a political message.”

“The Freedom Season uses music and theatre as a way of discussing a message that concerns us all deeply...if opera is only about entertainment I don't think that justifies its existence. It provides us with a different way of looking at political subjects, applying the imaginative stimulus of music to the topics that are behind the news of our own time. It is something that is very powerful and full of compassion and imagination for the plight of others.”

“It is right to back this up, not being merely a collection of operas, but a forum. We are a social good as an opera company. We're here to play a role in the community, in this particular case perhaps to lead the community in thinking about primary notions of freedom and justice. It's the collective grouping, the pieces and the discussions around them using art as a mirror to our social and political concerns.”

“We are always hoping that people will be able to hurdle over their prejudices that opera is an old-fashioned medium, a right-wing medium, which it is not and never has been. The concerns of opera and opera composers to deal with revolution and freedom and that kind of struggle. We're really bringing every strand together for this season.

Director Martin Constantine goes on to talk about “Dead Man Walking” and (24:00) David Massey, digital producer, describes the immersive installation “Freedom 360.”

The public events that have taken place have addressed slavery, refugees, free speech and artistic freedom. Those to come, June 10th-19th, comprise “Brave- Spotlight on Young Human Rights Defenders”, “The Nature of Crime and Justice”, “The rise of Nationalism & Minorities within” and The Voice of a Child.”

At the time of the first broadcast of BBC Cymru Wales interviewing David Pountney he was plain “David”. Between the two broadcasts he was awarded a knighthood. His words in receipt were reported as:

“I am delighted that the genre of opera should, through me, receive the recognition that this honour bestows.

“I am very grateful to the many companies around the world who gave me a platform to express my skills in this field, especially Scottish Opera, English National Opera, the Bregenz Festival and Welsh National Opera.

“But most particularly, I am grateful to all the wonderful singers, orchestral players, backstage staff, composers and librettists who have helped me to practise my craft at an international level, and to the audiences to whom I hope we have brought the joy and emotion that music and theatre have to offer.”

The Freedom Season is at

Radio Wales Arts Show is at

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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