Mischievous mayhem and tragic love: WNO’s Autumn Season at Oxford New Theatre

Oct 25 2021
  • 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


This Autumn Welsh National Opera return to the New Theatre, Oxford with a new production of Puccini’s Madam Butterfly. Performing from 9 – 13 November, 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 alongside James Southall, 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 and Meeta Raval who both make their WNO debuts. 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. British soprano Meeta was a finalist at the 2011 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World and has appeared in operas houses in the UK and in wider Europe in the spinto soprano repertoire. 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 Kezia Bienek, 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”.


Information regarding WNO productions is available at wno.org.uk


OXFORD                                                                         Tue               9                     Nov              Madam Butterfly*                                                        7.15pm
NEW THEATRE                                                         Wed            10                  Nov              Madam Butterfly                                                          7.15 pm                                                                                                                             Thu         11            Nov         Madam Butterfly                                      7.15pm
Fri                 12                  Nov              The Barber of Seville*                                              7.15 pm                                                                                                                             Sat           13            Nov         The Barber of Seville                                3.00 pm





Notes to Editors


  • Welsh National Opera is the national opera company for Wales, funded by the Arts Councils of Wales and England to provide large scale opera, concerts and outreach work across Wales and to major English regions. We provide transformative experiences for people of all ages and backgrounds through our education and outreach programme and our award-winning digital projects. We work with our partners to discover and nurture young operatic talent, and we aim to show future generations that opera is a rewarding, relevant and universal art form with the power to affect and inspire.


  • Welsh National Opera is delighted to be returning to the stage and performing for audiences again. As a Company numerous safety measures and risk assessments have been put in place to protect staff, performers and crew in rehearsals and on tour and continue to adhere to all Welsh Government guidelines. Partner venues are also working hard to ensure that audiences can feel safe while in their buildings watching WNO performances. Each venue has its own set of guidelines and information which is available, and regularly updated, on their websites.
  • The Barber of Sevilleis a co-production with Opera North and Vancouver Opera
  • The Barber of Seville is dedicated to the memory of Clive Richards
  • WNO’s 75th anniversary performances are supported by Colwinston Charitable Trust
  • WNO’s Talent Development programme is supported by the Kirby Laing Foundation and the Bateman Family Charitable Trust
  • WNO Associate Artist programme is supported by the Shirley & Rolf Olsen Bursary, The Thriplow Charitable Trust, The Fidelio Charitable Trust and Garrick Charitable Trust.
  • The Weston Jerwood Creative Bursaries 2020-2022 programme is designed and produced by Jerwood Arts. It is funded and supported by Arts Council England’s Transforming Leadership Fund, Garfield Weston Foundation, Art Fund, Arts Council of Wales, Creative Scotland, British Council, Jerwood Arts and PRS Foundation.
  • WNO production images are available for download at http://www.wno.org.uk/press


  • For more information, photos or interviews please contact:


Christina Blakeman, Press Officer



Rhys Edwards, Digital Communications Officer