Music. Theatre. Wales. a reflection on our year and a look ahead to 2024
As we reach the end of 2023, I wanted to share with you what a year it has been, working in multiple forms and with the widest range of creatives imaginable, embracing live performance, digital works, young creatives and street art. And it doesn’t stop there. We currently have seven pieces in commission and ambitious plans for the future, so here’s a round-up of our 2023:
Accolades and Awards
In November we were delighted our co-commission with Opera Philadelphia – Denis & Katya – by Philip Venables and Ted Huffman is now in the Top 10 most performed contemporary operas world-wide. We offer huge congratulations to Phil and Ted, and are thrilled that this highly original work continues to reach new audiences.
Our 2022 production – a co-production with Britten Pears Arts/Aldeburgh Festival and the London Sinfonietta - Violet by Tom Coult and Alice Birch, continued to garner praise with two further major nominations during 2023: The South Bank Sky Arts Awards and the Classical IVORS (following the UK Theatre Awards and International Opera Awards in 2022). And we were delighted when Tom Coult was awarded the Critics’ Circle Award for Young Composer with special reference to Violet. Tom’s opera has already received two new productions – in Germany in 2022 and in France in 2023 (which will be revived during 2024).
We also had an unusual connection to the newly crowned Nobel Laureate for Literature, Jon Fosse: As director of the contemporary opera studio for Norway, I had supported the development of the only opera based on one of Jon Fosse’s plays – Someone is Going to Come – and directed the world premiere production. We hope the opera by composer Knut Vaage will now receive greater attention.
The year began with a co-production with Fio of The Jollof House Party Opera by Tumi Williams and Sita Thomas – a joyous, and short, hip-hop opera and food experience which we shared with audiences at community venues in Wrexham, Haverfordwest and Cardiff. This piece demonstrated the huge potential for expanding the musical and cultural base of what might be conceived as opera.
During the summer we launched another new operatic form for Wales – STREET ART OPERA – including an introductory workshop followed by an open call for Welsh artists to submit proposals for future Street Art Operas. The audience feedback we had from the presentations in Bangor, Haverfordwest and Cardiff were incredibly enthusiastic, including some skateboarders at Spit and Sawdust where we showed The Scorched Earth Trilogy (which was also nominated for a Classical IVOR), who reacted with disbelief when we offered them headphones, only to seek me out and thank me after watching all three episodes. A special moment! The response to the Call-Out was overwhelming, with 26 extraordinary proposals almost entirely from artists new to opera and MTW. We are sorry we could only commission two pieces for 2024.
As the year ends, we are presenting our second Future Directions Digital Opera – Perthyn (To Belong) - on our website, following a cinema premiere for the entire creative team of young people and the four creative facilitators (composer Mari Mathias, dramaturg Jain Boon, filmmaker Gavin Porter and opera singer Llio Evans). Future Directions is our programme for young people including young people with learning disabilities and/or autism and neurodivergent young people and is in partnership with Hijinx. We are proudly presenting the bi-lingual digital opera they created during 2023 – Perthyn – as a Music Theatre Wales production.
In February 2024 we will be releasing the next two digital shorts commissioned from outstanding creatives who are all new to opera – Francesca Amewudah-Rivers and Connor Allen and Simmy Singh and Myah Jeffers. As with our earlier digital pieces, we are deliberately asking what opera is and what it can be, putting storytelling in music at its heart but breaking all the other rules that are applied to style of music, story told, form and format, and most importantly who is creating it. We are doing this by intentionally selecting artists who are already clearly exploring storytelling in music but who would not normally have access to what we might call opera. We believe this is the most exciting way to progress the artform we love and ensure it is something that is about who we are now and not who we once were.
In August 2024 we are working in partnership with Eisteddfod Genedlaethol, Aberystwyth Music Centre and Sinfonia Cymru on the creation of another innovative music theatre event: A Welsh language performance featuring a newly composed operatic monodrama for tenor and five instrumentalists by composer Conor Mitchell and director/dramaturg Jac Ifan Moore. This will be performed alongside a newly created piece by Eddie Ladd, presenting her take on the original poem Atgof by Prosser Rhys. This programme springs from the centenary of Atgof winning the Chair at the 1924 Eisteddfod and the impact the response to the poem had on Prosser Rhys. The production will tour in Wales in autumn 2024.
Also, in 2024 we will be presenting the newly commissioned Street Art Operas at a time and location yet to be confirmed. All we can say right now is that we can’t wait to see these creations come to life on walls in Wales – in Welsh, English and Arabic, as street art, as operas, as animation, as storytelling in music, and as opera as activism.
We were delighted to be included in the new portfolio of funded companies by Arts Council of Wales in their Investment Review, being awarded standstill funding. Whilst we acknowledge their decision is a powerful endorsement of the new vision and mission of MTW and we live in tough times, we want to make it clear that by the time we reach the end of this period of funding, we will have been on standstill support for 10 years. Please let us know if you think you might be able to help bridge the ever-growing funding gap and help us deliver our vision.
We were also delighted to become a member of Black Lives in Music as we continue to seek advice and support to help us develop our work to achieve greater equality, diversity, and inclusion. Having a place to check our thinking and share ideas, and having a partner who will bring many insights and experience, initiated by an inspiring session from their Director of Operations Roger Wilson, is going to help a great deal. We look forward to working with BLiM over the coming years to address some of the structural challenges facing Black artists and workers in the music industries and in our immediate world of opera.
I am thrilled to continue working with Artistic Associate Elayce Ismail whose expertise, knowledge and insight brings so much to the company. It was also thrilling to see her creative partnership with composer Alex Ho (we had introduced Elayce and Alex and invited them to collaborate on our first digital piece AMAZON in 2020) continue this year with a new song cycle for the Oxford Song Festival, with a compelling tale reflecting on the damage we are doing to our planet and a truly fantastic way in which it might yet survive catastrophe.
I was delighted to welcome Kathryn Joyce as General Manager during 2023, just in time to help deliver our successful bid to the ACW Investment Review, and then to be joined by Catrin Slater as fundraiser. We are however sad to see our brilliant Communications and Marketing Manager Rachel Kinchin leave at the end of the year, as she forges ahead with her own creative and social projects and research.
And finally, in December 2023 our Chair, Christine Bradwell, is handing the reins over to Chair Designate Kerry Skidmore. I want to share my deepest gratitude to Christine for helping lead the company through some very tricky waters, including Covid 19 and a radical review and re-shaping of the company and its work. Her steadfast support, guidance and encouragement has been the rock I have stood on over the last 6 years. And now I am looking forward to working closely with Kerry, who comes with such rich experience from working with young people in Peckham and with Multistory. Our creative development has only just begun!
Michael McCarthy, MTW Director