Welsh National Opera (WNO) launched its two new podcast series in the middle of last year. While not inspired by lockdown – the podcasts had been planned for some time – there was a certain amount of serendipity to bringing out a series that can be tuned into from your smartphone during a time when theatres were forced to close.
Both series aim to give an insight into the inner workings of a touring opera company, while also highlighting the relevance of opera today. I’ve been listening to the English-language The O Word on a regular basis (the second one, Cipolwg, is in Welsh).
The O Word is hosted by journalist and opera enthusiast Gareth Jones. The first season features 12 episodes in which Jones talks to a variety of well-known names from the world of opera. In the first episode, for example, he interviews internationally renowned Welsh tenor Gwyn Hughes Jones to discover what it takes – physically, mentally and spiritually – to be an opera singer.
The season tackles other questions, such as ‘Why do we need conductors?’, for which Jones talks to WNO Female Conductor in Residence Tianyi Lu, as well as WNO Orchestra leader David Adams and conductor Alexander Joel (episode 8).
The episode provides insight into what a conductor actually does and why they’re so important, especially in opera. It’s truly informative stuff for those not in the know.
Particularly interesting is episode 9, in which Jones interviews young opera performers and enthusiasts on the question of whether the artform is relevant to youth audiences today. One consensus seems to be that there simply isn’t enough investment in arts education (though Wales fares better here than England). It’s a sentiment I can’t help but agree with.
The second season is a three-part mini-series on ‘An artist’s journey’, looking at what it takes to become a professional in the world of opera. The three episodes are guest hosted by soprano Natalya Romaniw, music director of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama Tim Rhys-Evans and Tianyi Lu, respectively. Together they offer an exploration of the journey of an artist from their first exposure to classical music through to their first professional performance.
Jones is a good host, generally giving his guests space to talk while also ensuring each of them get to speak. I’ve only listened to one episode where this didn’t happen. In number 8, Alexander Joel had something of a tendency to speak over Tianyi Lu, which was distracting, especially as I really wanted to hear what she had to say.
The podcast is informative and entertaining, and there’s plenty there for everyone, from those who work in the industry to long-term fans to those just starting out in their opera journey. The episodes are relatively short, mostly around half an hour, so they’re easy to fit into your day. I like to listen while I’m out walking, and I have to say I enjoy it very much.
• Available from: Apple, Anchor, Spotify and other platforms
• Hosted by: Gareth Jones
• Length: about 30 minutes
• Frequency: all episodes are currently available; awaiting word on a third series
• Find out more: www.wno.org.uk/podcast
An entertaining and informative podcast that will appeal to anyone with an interest in opera, from long-term enthusiasts to those who are just dipping in a toe.