Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

"The Loss of MWO Would Leave an Opera-shaped Hole in My Life”

At Mid Wales Opera

Audience and Media Speak , Arts of Powys , November 10, 2023
At Mid Wales Opera by Audience and Media Speak Powys, accounting for 23% of the area of Wales, lost its long-serving theatre company, Theatr Powys, at the time of the foundation of the National Theatre of Wales.

The Arts Council of Wales has added an opera company to its portfolio of revenue organisations for the next three years.

Based in Gwent there is small evidence that, unlike Mid Wales Opera, it puts on, or tours, performances of opera for audiences.

The National Theatre of Wales has entered the record this season. The company revealed itself by soliciting political interference, below 21st October, in a non-political institution with Royal Charter status. Its splashy response included demands that its funder enter “conversations.”

* * * *

Not a journal or review site has seen cause to object to the decision made in the Investment Review of 2023.

Mid-Wales Opera is one of a small number of arts organisations of Wales to hold the respect of London media and to attract its critics. On 20th October the Guardian headed its four-star review “Beatrice and Benedict review – Mid Wales Opera’s staging has style and fizz.”

The review concluded:

“Such a slick staging, with artistic values paramount, is delightful and it could not underline more emphatically the sheer incomprehensibility of the Arts Council of Wales’s recent decision to cut this company’s funding completely.”

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“Opera Scene”' was swift to report the fate of Mid Wales Opera. On 28th September it wrote:

“In a hammer blow to opera in Wales and to Welsh singers, Mid Wales Opera has lost its £107k annual funding from the Arts Council of Wales.

“It is understood the decision could also mean the loss of the £99.5k the innovative small venue touring company receive through the Creative Arts scheme. This is awarded on a project by project basis so there may be the possibility of this form of funding could continue.

“The company’s chair, Gareth Williams said, “We are deeply disappointed and indeed shocked at the news that – after 35 years of staging remarkable opera across the length and breadth of Wales – the Arts Council has decided not to offer us multi-annual funding.

“Obviously, we will be considering our next steps over the coming weeks. This will, however, be a hammer blow for the young artists who gain invaluable career development opportunities from working with us, as well as to audiences in towns and rural communities who have few, if any opportunities to experience live opera.

“However, this decision has no direct impact on our exciting plans for the next few months which are fully funded. We look forward to welcoming audiences from Barmouth to Abergavenny and from Milford Haven to Bangor to our performances of Berlioz’s ‘Beatrice and Benedict’ (from 13 October to 10 November) and of Macbeth in February and March 2024”.

“Ironically, Mid Wales Opera provides work for many Welsh opera singers, particularly younger singers, and is where opera lovers are most likely to hear singers from Wales, rather than at Welsh National Opera which prides itself on its international range of performers.

“It is also more likely that you will see Welsh singers starring in performances outside Wales. That will be even more marked should Mid Wales Opera have to cease providing its extensive opera touring.”

* * * *

On 19th October the company issued a press release.

“Mid Wales Opera's 'Beatrice & Benedict' Impresses While Arts’ Council Wales Consider their Appeal.

“Mid Wales Opera's 'Beatrice & Benedict' enthrals audiences and impresses critics as it begins SmallStages Tour while Arts’ Council Wales consider their appeal following their withdrawal of funding earlier this month.

“MWO is delighted with the success of their tour so far following the opening night of "Beatrice & Benedict" earlier this month in Bishop's Castle, as it captivates audiences and delights them with its strong singing, superb acting, and witty, life-affirming performance.

“As the tour has started to make its way across Wales and the borders, it has generated enthusiastic testimonials from those who went.

“One audience member shared their enthusiasm, stating, "Bravi! The opening night of your Small Stages tour of Beatrice & Benedict was a resounding success - an evening of absolute delight. The intimacy of the space, the perfect intonation of the ensemble, the outstanding instrumental reduction of Jon Lyness, and the sheer fun and humour of the production. I was about to write, 'If you've got nothing better to do tonight...' But you can't have. Just go! Whenever it comes near-ish to you. Go online. Book a ticket. Buy yourself some unadulterated pleasure!!!"

“Another passionate supporter of the production shared their heartfelt appreciation, saying, "Such strong singing, superb acting, and a witty, life-affirming performance. Thank you. The loss of MWO would leave an opera-shaped hole in my life. I came late to an appreciation of the genre, but it is all thanks to you making it so accessible for me. Thank you again."

“This feedback underscores the remarkable talent and commitment of the Mid Wales Opera team, as well as the organisation’s dedication to making opera accessible to all. Mid Wales Opera eagerly anticipates the continued success of its SmallStages Tour, delivering outstanding performances to audiences across the region.

“Gareth Williams, Chair of the Board of MWO said "We have this week submitted an appeal to the Arts Council. The Board decided we owe it to our staff, the singers and musicians who we employ and our audiences to formally ask the Arts Council to reconsider its decision”.

“About Mid Wales Opera:

"Mid Wales Opera's journey began with the collaborative efforts of Keith Darlington, then Head of Birmingham Conservatoire Vocal and Operatic School, and Vocal coach Barbara McGuire. The company's inaugural performance resulted from two weeks of coaching involving Mid Wales-based singers and Conservatoire students.

“Today, supporting young vocalists remains central to the company's mission, with half of the cast typically composed of singers under 30 or within four years of their training. Since its inception, Mid Wales Opera has been rooted at Hafren in Newtown.

"From the first full-scale performance of The Magic Flute in 1989 to the present day, shows have consistently premiered at Hafren, which continues to serve as the company's artistic home. Arts Council Wales has been a steadfast supporter since the company's inception, enabling its growth and development.”

* * * *

The managers of the Arts Council of Wales should wisely look to England at the consequences of fiscal assault on an opera company of popularity.

A guide to the record of past productions can be read below 16th July 2021.

Opera Scene source:

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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