Mischievous mayhem and tragic love: WNO’s Autumn 2021 Season at Birmingham Hippodrome

  • Company debuts for director Lindy Hume, designer Isabella Bywater and cast members Alexia Voulgaridou and Leonardo Caimi, with Joyce El-Khoury returning in new production of Madam Butterfly
  • 35-year anniversary of classic Rossini production

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This Autumn Welsh National Opera return to Birmingham Hippodrome with a new production of Puccini’s Madam Butterfly. Performing from 19 – 22 October, the Company will also bring performances of WNO’s much-loved production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville.

The Barber of Seville

The Season opens with Giles Havergal’s original 1986 production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, with Giles returning as director and Frederick Brown conducting.  This production celebrates 35 years and was last performed by WNO in 2011 with Andrew Shore who returns as Dr Bartolo this Autumn. Nicholas Lester returns to the Company as one of opera’s most colourful characters, Figaro, with Nico Darmanin reviving the flirty and flamboyant Count Almaviva. Heather Lowe returns to WNO as Rosina, after her Company debut in Rossini’s La Cenerentola in 2018, and Keel Watson makes his WNO debut as Basilio and The Bonze in Madam Butterfly.

Madam Butterfly

The new production of Madam Butterfly directed by Australian director Lindy Hume and conducted by WNO Conductor Laureate Carlo Rizzi, will explore socially relevant themes of Puccini’s classic tale with its beautiful music providing the backdrop to this much-loved opera.

Set in a dystopian future where love is a commodity, this new production of the opera is not only true to Puccini’s moving score but provides perspective on the relevance this story still has in society today. The set and costumes are designed by award-winning designer Isabella Bywater. Lighting designer Elanor Higgins returns to WNO after her Company debut in 2018 with the rip-roaring suffragette opera Rhondda Rips It Up!

Soprano Joyce El-Khoury returns to WNO and makes her role debut as Cio-Cio San. The role is shared with Alexia Voulgaridou who makes her WNO debut. Alexia is a regular guest at many of Europe’s prestigious opera houses and made her debut playing the title role in Madam Butterfly at the Hamburg State Opera in 2012. Also making their Company debuts are Leonardo Caimi in the role of Pinkerton and Neil Balfour as Prince Yamadori. Leonardo has been described as one of the most acclaimed tenors of his generation and has performed at the Salzburg Festival, Teatro Real in Madrid, the Bavarian State Opera in Munich and the Royal Opera House Covent Garden where he made his debut in the 2018/2019 season. Neil is a graduate of the National Opera Studio and was the first opera singer to be booked by Glastonbury Festival in the Astrolabe Tent. The role of Pinkerton is shared with Peter Auty who was last with the Company in Jo Davies’ 2019 production of Carmen. The role of Suzuki will be played by Anna Harvey. Completing the cast are Tom Randle and Mark Stone.

Continuing WNO’s commitment to talent development, Weston Jerwood Fellow Gareth Chambers will be second assistant director for Madam Butterfly. WNO’s Associate Artist Adam Gilbert has been cast as cover for Pinkerton in Madam Butterfly and Isabelle Peters as second cast and cover as Berta in The Barber of Seville.

Lindy Hume, Madam Butterfly director said: “This is not a business-as-usual moment. The last 18 months especially have brought home our hunger for human connection through live performance, especially live music. It is thrilling to anticipate that moment of reconnection with the magnificent artists and audiences of Welsh National Opera with the creation of a new production of Puccini’s Madam Butterfly, a work of great beauty and brutality. In these times of complexity, uncertainty, and change, I relish this creative journey with the cast and team at WNO as we revisit and reimagine this much-loved opera.”

WNO Conductor Laureate Carlo Rizzi said: “The story, the drama and the characters of Madam Butterfly come to life through Puccini’s music so honest, unequivocal and clear. This is why this piece will always feel modern and relevant to me and this is why it has endured the test of time. I believe that this opera and particularly Cio-Cio San with her strong and complex character speaks very specifically to each new generation of opera-goer. The magic of Puccini guides us as we enter the world, the emotions and the feelings of a woman alone against everybody but that stands by the choices that she has made for love. It is this magic, that I hope to share with the WNO audience”.

Projects and Engagement Activity

WNO’s programme to open-up opera and inspire young people continues with a series of schools’ concerts during the Autumn Season in Birmingham, alongside the main-scale tour.  These concerts provide an opportunity for young people to experience a live orchestral concert, and for many this is their first introduction to opera and classical music. WNO Orchestra will perform along with soloists Largo al Factotum from Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, Habanera from Bizet’s Carmen and Rossini’s Cat Duet along with many other popular pieces.