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Dates of existence
Welsh National Opera (WNO) was founded in 1943, by a small group of Cardiff-based musicians and music enthusiasts, with the aim of forming an amateur singing company that would utilise local talent and resources for staging grand operas. It was originally called 'The Lyrian Grand Opera Company', but at the first general meeting to launch the company, held on 2 December 1943, the name was changed to 'The Welsh National Opera Company.' The newly-formed company confirmed its original aims to stage large-scale operas in local theatres and to develop Welsh singing talent, but also stated its intention to gradually extend productions beyond Cardiff venues and tour all of the major cities and towns in Wales. Idloes Owen (d. 1954), a well-known Cardiff singing teacher and choral conductor, served as its first Musical Director and General Manager.
Performances began in Cardiff in 1945 with concerts of operatic excerpts given in a variety of small local venues, such as the Cory Hall, the Empire Theatre and the Capitol Cinema, followed in 1946 by the first full season of opera performed at the Prince of Wales Theatre, Cardiff. By 1948 the Welsh National Opera Company had become a limited company and had established an additional performance base in Swansea. The company began to increase its performances in both Cardiff and Swansea, and in 1951 embarked on a small tour of Wales, performing in Aberystwyth and Llandudno.
In 1970, following many years of collaboration with various professional orchestras, a permanent in-house orchestra, the Welsh Philharmonia, was formed. It was renamed the Orchestra of the Welsh National Opera in 1979. The Chorus, which had maintained an amateur status since its formation, achieved full professional status in 1973. The company began to recruit international singers for leading roles and expanded its repertoire and tour venues. For a short time the WNO combined with the Cardiff-based Welsh Drama Company to become the Welsh National Opera and Drama Company. However, the work of the Drama Company came under continued criticism, and the partnership ended in 1979 with the formal demise of the Welsh Drama Company.
Under the guidance of a succession of general managers and musical directors, including Brian McMaster (1976-1991), Matthew Epstein (1991-1994), Anthony Freud (1994-present), Richard Armstrong (1973-1987), Sir Charles Mackerras (1987-1991) and Carlo Rizzi (1992-2001) the WNO has emerged as a major force in the operatic world, and continues to tour extensively across Wales and Britain, and to make guest appearances in many North American and European cities. In 2004 the WNO moved into a purpose-built theatre in the new Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff Bay, thereby establishing a firmer rehearsal and administrative base from which to mount major productions as well as education and outreach work.
Welsh National Opera is a permanent company comprising chorus, principal singers, orchestra and music, production, technical and administrative staff. It is a registered charity (221538) governed by a Board of Directors and reliant upon a combination of public funding from regional arts councils and local government bodies, in partnership with funding from the commercial and private sectors. The company has a General Director as its principal officer, and additional directors and managers for the main internal departments.