40 Years of MTW

2022 marks 40 years since Cardiff New Opera Group, which would later become Music Theatre Wales, performed for the first time. The piece we chose was ‘The Lighthouse’ by Peter Maxwell Davies, whose work the company would continue to perform and who became Patron in 1995. Max was leading the way in re-thinking how opera could work, creating powerful and compact works that inspired us and excited audiences. His work provided the model for a new company and we didn’t look back.

Over the last 40 years, MTW has produced 53 works by UK and international artists, we have commissioned 23 new operas and supported more than 50 emerging composers, and we have played a vital role in the development of the opera landscape in the UK and internationally. In 2021, the company launched its new artistic programme, New Directions which is challenging once again what opera is, who makes it and who it is for. New Directions now sits at the very heart of MTW, developing new ways of thinking about opera by working with established global majority artists who have been ignored and excluded by the opera sector.

In June 2022 at the Welsh Premiere of ‘Violet’ by Tom Coult and Alice Birch, MTW celebrated its 40th anniversary at the very theatre where it all began in 1982 – The Sherman. Joining us were two of the singers from the cast of three in that first production, and several members of the original audience too. Video and email messages were also shared from far and wide, coming from many creatives that have been part of our journey. We would like to share a selection of short extracts from these messages with you:

Judith Weir

Composer of the piece with which we launched Music Theatre Wales King Harald’s Saga and the first inspiring leader of Make an Aria in 2008 and 2010. Master of the Queen’s Music.

40 years of performing completely new music theatre to audiences all over the country and further afield is really something to be celebrated; something that has very few precedents or competitors anywhere, but is genuinely important. We have to see new work in this field, or it too will become a museum-type activity.

Tom Coult

Composer of Violet

To have been putting on such interesting work for that long is pretty incredible and to have commissioned so much work, and also putting on pieces we don’t often get to see. It’s so wonderful that Violet has been a small part of that history and it’s really touching, Michael, that you showed such faith in the project from very early on. I hope you have many more years of making interesting work, in whatever form that takes.

The Trial 2014

Philip Glass

Composer of three MTW operas: The Fall of the House of Usher, In the Penal Colony and The Trial (an MTW commission)

Congratulations to Music Theatre Wales on 40 years of innovation in the arts. The company has performed several of my works, including The Fall of the House of Usher, In the Penal Colony, and The Trial. As commissioners of The Trial, Music Theatre Wales was a great partner and brought my work to new audiences. I am grateful for their dedication to new works. Thank you.

Andrew Burke

Chief Executive & Artistic Director, London Sinfonietta

It’s amazing that MTW has reached 40, creating some of the best touring music theatre projects of your time. You have served composers and audiences for decades, and developed the art form. It’s been a pleasure recently to be in association with you as an organisation – and to see how much care and attention you give to evolving not only great projects, but a strong team spirit amongst all your collaborators. I am sure that you will invent the next phase of the organisation with similar brilliance and creativity which will continue to act as an inspiration to others.

Passion 2018

Pascal Dusapin

Composer and writer of Passion

I have wonderful memories of this production of Passion with you! And I’m glad your company is so young at 40! . . . I wish you all the success in the world for your new lyrical adventures.

Krystal S. Lowe

Writer, dancer, maker of Somehow

Happy Birthday, Music Theatre Wales. Thank you for your support.

Arwel Gruffydd

Artistic Director of Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru/Cyfarwyddwr Artistig Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru (2011–22) and co-commissioner/co-producer of Y Tŵr

Tu hwnt i’r cyd-weithio rhwydd, a’r pleser o gyd-weithio, mi oedd hi’n fraint wirioneddol, ac yn brofiad emosiynol iawn i mi, yn arbennig ar y noson gyntaf honno, yn clywed y gwaith yma’n cael ei gyflwyno am y tro cyntaf – yr opera fendigedig yma gan Guto Puw, a chynhyrchiad godidog dan gyfarwyddyd Michael McCarthy. Felly, alla i ond diolch i chi am y profiad yma, Music Theatre Wales; am eich gweledigaeth chi, am gredu yn Guto yn y lle cyntaf, ac am yrru’r prosiect yma yn ei flaen, achos chi ddaru ddod at y Theatr Genedlaethol efo’r syniad a gofyn am ein cefnogaeth ni. Felly, diolch i chi am eich dewrder. A diolch i chi am y rhodd yma i’n hiaith a’n diwylliant; ac, wrth gwrs, Pen Blwydd Hapus iawn i chi.

Beyond the ease and the pleasure of the collaboration, it was truly an honour and a very emotional experience for me, particularly on the opening night, to hear this work being presented for the first time – this wonderful opera by Guto Puw, and the gorgeous production directed by Michael McCarthy. I can only thank you for that experience, Music Theatre Wales, for your vision, for believing in Guto in the first instance, and for driving this project forward, because it was you that came to Theatr Gen with the idea and asked for our support. So, thank you for your bravery. Thank you for this gift to our language and our culture; and, of course, a very Happy Birthday to you.

Y Tŵr - 2017

Guto Puw

Composer Y Tŵr

Llongyfarchiadau mawr i Music Theatre Wales ar gyrraedd y 40 mlwydd oed, sy’n garreg filltir nodedig iawn a diolch i chi am ddod ag operau cyfoes o bob math i gynulleidfaoedd yma yn Nghymru a thu hwnt. Fy mhrofiad cyntaf o Music Theatre Wales oedd fel myfyriwr cerdd yn mynd i wrando ar yr opera ‘The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat’ gan Nyman yn yr hen Theatr Gwynedd ym Mangor nol yn 1991. Hefyd, cael cyfle i glywed Philip Glass yn siarad am ei opera yn Theatr Clwyd! Yn ddiweddarach, cefais y fraint o gael Th G C i berfformio a chynhyrchu fy opera gyntaf, Y Tŵr, a’r opera gyntaf yn y Gymraeg gan gerddorion a chwmni proffesiynol. Hefyd braf ydi gweld y cwmni yn arbrofi yn y blynyddoedd diwethaf yma i ddod ag agweddau newydd o opera i’r cyhoedd, gan feddwl tu allan i’r bocs operatig. Boed i hynny barhau, ac edrychaf ymlae i glywed cynhyrchiadau cyffrous am flynyddoedd i ddod. Llongyfarchiadau unwaith eto!

Many congratulations to Music Theatre Wales on reaching 40 years of age, which is a very notable milestone and thank you for bringing contemporary operas of all kinds to audiences here in Wales and beyond. My first experience of Music Theatre Wales was as a music student going to listen to the opera ‘The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat’ by Nyman at the old Theatr Gwynedd in Bangor back in 1991. Also, having the opportunity to hear Philip Glass talking about his opera at Theatr Clwyd! Later, I had the privilege of having Th G C perform and produce my first opera, Y Tŵr, and the first opera in Welsh by professional musicians and company. It is also nice to see the company experimenting in recent years to bring new aspects of opera to the public, thinking outside the operatic box. May that continue, and I look forward to hearing exciting productions for years to come. Congratulations once again!

Gwyneth Glyn

Libretto for Y Tŵr, Welsh adaptation of The Soldier’s Tale – Stori’r Milwr and Welsh translation of Violet for 2022 tour.

Pen Blwydd Hapus iawn i chi, Music Theatre Wales, yn ddeugain oed. Waw! Anodd credu bod cwmni mor flaengar ac arloesol bron iawn cyn hyned â fi! Mae wedi bod yn fraint ac yn bleser cael rhannu sawl siwrna efo chi dros y blynyddoedd diwetha, yn cynnwys cynyrchiadau fel A Soldier’s Tale a’r Y Tŵr, a dwi’n edrych ymlaen yn arw i gael rhannu sawl antur arall efo chi yn y blynyddoedd i ddod; a dwi’n edrych ymlaen i weld pa ryfeddodau ddaw i’ch rhan chi dros y ddeugain mlynedd nesa. Felly Pen Blwydd Hapus, a mwynhewch y dathlu!

A very Happy Birthday to you, Music Theatre Wales, on reaching your 40th year. Wow! It’s difficult to believe that such a progressive and innovative company is almost as old as me! It’s been an honour and a pleasure to share several journeys with you over recent years, including productions such as A Soldier’s Tale and Y Tŵr, and I’m really looking forward to sharing several more adventures with you over the coming years, and looking forward to seeing what wonderful things will happen to you over the next forty years. So, a very Happy Birthday, and enjoy the celebrations!

Caroline Finn

Co-Director and Choreographer of Passion

What a milestone! I feel incredibly honoured to have been a small part of that journey. The collaboration on Passion will stay with me always – so much warmth, so much generosity and such an incredible team! So keep going and keep bringing new opera to the world.

Stuart MacRae

Composer Ghost Patrol (winner South Bank Sky Arts Award and nominated for an Olivier) and The Devil Inside, and leader of Make an Aria in 2016

As the composer of two operas and mentor on MTW’s inspiring development programme Make an Aria – a few words to say about the company would be: inspiring, innovative, ambitious and supportive. The fact they take all of their work and tour it around the country is just fantastic for composers and audiences of new opera and music theatre, may they go from strength to strength.

Flowers 1994 - Photogrpahy by Brian Tarr

John Hardy

Composer Flowers and The Roswell Incident

I happened to be at the very first production – The Lighthouse – in 1982. Such a brilliant production and incredibly economical with its material, its approach – about an hour long and yet you go on an enormous emotional journey. It made me wonder who are these people making this incredible, vibrant, confident work of such quality? How can it be 40 years? It feels like a continuous thread of undulating creativity that’s always been there in the background, always accessible and always reliably going on, and here in Cardiff.

Philip Venables

Composer of Denis & Katya (winner Ivor Novello award and Fedora Generali Prize for Opera)

What an amazing achievement! Congratulations on the boldness and the bravery of your vision over the past 40 years. It was such an honour and pleasure for me to work with you on Denis & Katya – I was really proud of what we made together. Here’s to many more shows!

Pride (A Lions Roar) 2021

Renell Shaw

Composer Pride (A Lion’s Roar)

I love everything you’re doing. Thank you for always thinking outside the box, ’cause that’s where the cool things are!

Michael Berkeley

Composer Jane Eyre and For You

As the pre-eminent small scale opera touring company, you provide such an invaluable service to the musical community of this country. As ex-Director of the Cheltenham Festival I came to rely mercilessly on your invention and hunger for new work and sheer quality of MTW collaborations. As composer of two operas for MTW I would find it hard to think of a more fruitful relationship for a composer: drama, design, performance all full of imagination and terrific enthusiasm across a diverse range of works. So I am not gilding the lily when I say not only Happy Birthday, but Many Happy Returns to many stages throughout the country.

In The Locked Room 2012

Huw Watkins

Composer of In The Locked Room (nominated for an Olivier) and Crime Fiction

Music Theatre Wales has been a hugely important company for me as a composer. It has been the most incredible experience. And here’s to the next 40 years!

Nicola Heywood Thomas

Broadcaster – BBC Radio Wales Arts Show

Music Theatre Wales is extraordinary. The commitment to produce so much exciting new work and bring it to audiences here in Wales and beyond continues to enrich the cultural landscape. Thanks to the company for forty years of brave creativity.

Mark Anthony Turnage

Composer of Greek (TMA Award for Outstanding Achievement in Opera 2011) and leader of Make an Aria in 2012, written in 2012.

Music Theatre Wales have made my Opera live again. I never expected such a wonderful production. Every aspect of these Greek performances is superb. A fabulous Orchestra and the finest cast it has ever had, along with an amazingly powerful production. Bravo to everyone concerned. Not surprised it’s already won an award. Composers are very lucky when they are championed by such a world class company. I know from speaking to fellow Composers who have been lucky enough to have their work played by MTW how highly you are all regarded.

Eight Songs for a Mad King 1986

Peter Maxwell Davies

Patron of MTW 1995–2016 and Composer of The Lighthouse, The Martyrdom of St Magnus andEight Songs for a Mad King, written in 1995 and 2013.

Congratulations on a very splendid record and on your future plans. I wish you all the best – may you go from strength to strength. Needless to say, after your performances of Martyrdom of St Magnus and The Lighthouse, I am delighted to be Patron.

I have long admired the work of this remarkable company and have been proud and humbled to be their Patron. I know of no other opera company that has been dedicated to commissioning and performing such a wide range of new work continuously for a quarter of a century. So many artists, including myself, have benefitted from their work, their leadership, their support and their inspiration, and I know that audiences across the UK have been stimulated, moved and uplifted by performances of the most outstanding quality and clarity.

Harrison Birtwistle with co-founders of MTW – Michael McCarthy and Michael Rafferty (2008)

Harrison Birtwistle

Composer Punch and Judy and Down by the Greenwood Side

“The best it’s ever been” – The opening night of our production of Punch and Judy in 1998.

“Still the best it’s ever been” – Revival of our production of Punch and Judyin co-production with the Royal Opera House in 2008.

Alex Reedijk

General Director Scottish Opera

MTW and Scottish Opera began working together in 2008 through a shared vision for the power and importance of new commissions here in the United Kingdom. We were motivated by a deep desire to create and share new opera for our audiences and to empower the composers and librettists to create work that tells the stories of today. It has been an amazing partnership, with some tough critique and honest conversations, that has led to some inspiring outcomes onstage for our audiences over the past 14 years. A wonderful journey indeed!

Roger Wright

Chief Executive, Britten Pears Arts

Congratulations and happy 40th birthday to MTW! What a legacy the company has already built and here’s hoping for a bright future for its distinctive work. It is a pleasure to work together in the production of new operas and music theatre pieces. What we achieved together in bringing to life Tom Coult’s Violet this year at the Aldeburgh Festival and on tour – and the critical and public acclaim it received –- is just one shining example of the importance of MTW. Onwards!