The battle cry of Liberty or Death! will ring vociferously from Welsh National Opera this Autumn with a trio of operas exploring both national and personal liberation. Two new productions, Rossini’s William Tell and Moses in Egypt, lead the season and explore the liberty of nations, while a revival of Bizet’s Carmen examines personal liberty and what it means to be a free woman. The productions will be performed at Birmingham Hippodrome from Wednesday 19 until Saturday 22 November.
The new productions of Rossini’s William Tell and Moses in Egypt, which will be staged within the same scenic environment, continue the Company’s Bel Canto series. Directed by WNO Chief Executive and Artistic Director David Pountney, both operas also see a return to WNO for former Music Director Carlo Rizzi.
The theme of Liberty or Death!, which has become a slogan synonymous with struggles for independence across history, is particularly apt for the opera which will open the season: Rossini’s William Tell. An epic political and romantic work, and Rossini’s last opera, William Tell is the story of the Swiss struggle for independence against the repression of Austria; a narrative which spans ages and shares themes and ideas with many worldwide battles for national liberation. The role of William Tell will be sung by David Kempster. British tenor Barry Banks, who is well-known for his association with Rossini’s bel canto repertoire, will perform with WNO in both Rossini operas, singing the role of Arnold in William Tell.
As well as infectious and uplifting music and well-known tunes, William Tell will be punctuated with striking sets designed by Raimund Bauer, spectacular 19th century costumes designed by Marie-Jeanne Lecca, and beautiful dance sequences choreographed by Amir Hosseinpour.
A grand biblical epic composed in Naples, Moses in Egypt was one of Rossini’s early operas. This new production examines the Exodus story using powerful yet beautiful music and costumes inspired by the vibrant colours of Chagall. Hungarian bass-baritone Miklós Sebestyén will sing the role of Moses, with Barry Banks singing the role of Aronne. Mezzo Soprano and former BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist Christine Rice will sing the role of Amaltea, returning to WNO following her performances as Rosina in The Barber of Seville in Autumn 2011, and soprano Claire Booth returns to WNO following her acclaimed performances in 2013’s Wagner Dream to sing the role of Elcia.
Completing the Autumn season will be a revival of Bizet’s Carmen, one of the best-known operas in the world which tells the story of a free spirit who would rather die than surrender her liberty. Carmen will be conducted by James Southall. Mezzo-soprano Alessandra Volpe will sing the title role of Carmen, with Peter Wedd singing the role of Don Jose, and Simon Thorpe singing Escamillo. In one of his first roles as WNO Associate Artist for 2014 | 2015, Aidan Smith will sing the role of Zuniga.
Discussing the season, David Pountney says: “As opera quite literally moved from the Court to the City in the 19th century, so it became increasingly the arena in which the destiny of the state was evoked with all the grandeur and spectacle that opera could muster. In our season “Liberty or Death” the destiny of the state is what is at stake on the one hand, and in the field of personal relations, the liberty of the individual on the other. These are massive ideas, and the genius of Rossini and Bizet is equal to the task of giving them voice in the context of gripping and important dramas. Big ideas flowing with big emotion: this is what opera is for!”
Complementing the season will be a performance by WNO Orchestra in concert at St David’s Hall in Cardiff on Friday 31 October. Conducted by WNO Music Director Lothar Koenigs, the concert programme will include Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge and Symphony No. 5, and Zimmerman’s Trumpet Concerto (Nobody knows the trouble I see). WNO Orchestra will be accompanied by trumpet soloist Reinhold Friedrich.
Lothar Koenigs says: “The programme of this St. David’s Hall concert takes up the theme of liberty in the widest sense. Beethoven gave the score of his “Grande Fugue” the subtitle of tantôt libre, tantôt recherchée (partly free, partly elaborate) because it explodes so many known parameters, be they formal, rhythmic or harmonic, setting music itself free! In his trumpet concerto, Zimmerman quotes the negro spiritual “Nobody knows the trouble I see”, rooting the music in a deeply religious yearning for freedom from oppression. Beethoven’s famous 5th Symphony concludes the concert, and in this work, too, Beethoven continuously breaks free from the musical conventions of his day, for instance in the way in which the Scherzo merges seamlessly into the barnstorming finale without interruption.”
Alongside the mainscale operas, WNO are working on an innovative digital project, Occupation, which will bring the theme of the season to life. In collaboration with creative director Tim Hopkins, WNO will commission five composers to each compose a song in response to current news issues and world events. Music videos for the songs will be created and streamed online, as well as being available via an interactive app.
WNO will also be working with schools in Oxford, Llandudno, Bristol and Birmingham on a project which will use the bel canto repertoire to explore utopias and nationhood, thus giving an insight into the operas and the issues they raise. The project, My Perfect World, will involve practical workshops in schools, as well as time on stage where the children will be performing alongside singers and accompanied by WNO Orchestra.
More information on WNO’s Autumn Season is available at www.wno.org.uk/libertyordeath