Wales drops David Pountney

Wales drops David Pountney


norman lebrecht

June 08, 2018

The board of Welsh National Opera has quietly decided not to renew David Pountney’s contract as artistic director beyond mid-2019.

No reason has been given. Pountney, 70, has been an invigorating force since 2011.

But its chief executive, Leonora Thompson, has warned of falling audiences: ‘He has been remarkably ambitious, and that was what he was brought in to do. Though I do say it myself, we are doing great work. But some of the more ambitious programming hasn’t quite worked for the broader public, though it is absolutely adored by a very loyal core audience.’



  • Nina Weaver says:

    I’m not the least surprised. I bought tickets for every opera by WNO for years but got fed up with weird productions which completely detracted from the music and singing. I ended up going home feeling angry instead of inspired.

    • John Borstlap says:

      It’s the result of a misunderstanding about ‘modernity’ – where works form the existing repertoire, which are still as alive a when they were written, are supposed to have to be changed to make them ‘compatible with modern times’ (otherwise, audiences would have no clue where it’s about). The implication is, that ‘modern times’ are fundamentally divorced from prewar humanity and that there are no universal traits in the human being. So, all products of today will never have something to say to later generations, since the products of former generations have become meaningless as well. In this mental vacuum, void of any cultural and musical understanding, alienation reigns and is presented as ‘ambitious, great work’ – fearful to look ‘reactionary’ if some shadow of critique would be detected.

      Self-defeating, self-destructive pretention, and entirely ignorant of cultural history and human psychology.

      • C Porumbescu says:

        Didn’t realise you were a WNO regular, Mr Borstlap. You certainly seem well informed about the company’s recent work! We must meet up next time you’re in Cardiff or Bristol.

  • RW2013 says:

    So over his productions.

  • Has-been says:

    David Pountney has been a positive force for the WNO, invigorating the repertoire and establishing high standards. All artistic leaderships should be changed or rethought after 10 years due to the inevitable loss of momentum. Very sorry to see DP go but I think it is time for a change, without being critical of his work.


    Thanks to him I make several journeys to Cardiff: a fine Pelleas, War & Peace to come and the wonderful ANDRE TCHAIKOWSKY Merchant that Andre told me about excitedly while he was composing it in 1978. Cannot see my paying for Cardiff hotels for a diet of LA BOHEME etc

    • daveferre says:

      Gosh, kind of a surprise about David P. His Andre Tchaikowsky production was great, but I would agree not for everyone. Samples of the opera are on the Andre website, and I’m still searching for more Andre materials.

  • Wesley says:

    His wacky productions were the reason audiences turned away from the ENO in the 1980s.

  • C Porumbescu says:

    This was announced about 3 months ago but maybe the mail coach between Cardiff and London got held up by highwaymen.

    It’s a huge pity – this matters far more, artistically, and will affect a far larger audience than any game of musical chairs at Glyndebourne or ENO. WNO under Pountney performed miracles on a minuscule budget. A programme that included Pelleas et Melisande, Lulu, Boulevarde Solitude, From the House of the Dead, William Tell, Sweeney Todd, Khovanshchina and Moses und Aaron, and UK (and world premieres) including Jonathan Harvey’s Wagner Dream, Richard Ayres’s Peter Pan, Iain Bell’s In Parenthesis, Elena Langer’s Figaro Gets a Divorce, Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland and Andre Tchaikowsky’s Merchant of Venice – for the last few seasons WNO has been showing the London houses up for their timidness.

    The haters moaning about Pountney’s own productions betray their own ignorance. He only directed a handful of productions himself – instead he set the tone and direction of the company, making it for these last few years easily the most ambitious and resourceful opera company in the UK. It’s a pity that funding didn’t match vision, and that too many London-based critics have wasted so much energy reporting on their ongoing private soap-opera at St Martin’s Lane, rather than trumpeting this achievement to the skies.

    • Cynical Bystander says:

      I agree. My view on WNO is that it has been starved of resources and done wonders under the circumstances whilst ENO has been given the benefit of the doubt, special measures notwithstanding, for too many years and has abused this. Even now they are viewed as the indulged spoilt child promising yet again to behave better in the future. Pountney’s going now begs the question of who replaces him and perhaps more importantly how WNO and ON will fare in a post brexit environment where money for culture along with everything else is constrained and the London companies are still relatively better favoured than the rest.

    • Chris Clift says:

      I agree (largely) with your first main paragraph, BUT I DO take issue with your assertion about WNO being the ‘most ambitious and resourceful opera company in the UK.’

      I confess to not having been to a WNO performance for some time, BUT I have been to several Opera North performances (as well as one NY Met performance) during the past twelve months. The Met one (even a Zeffirelli production) was memorable only for the crowd scenes, but Opera North have consistently provided very good casts, right across the board, and I have thoroughly enjoyed the variety of their season. I am also looking forward to the company’s offerings in 2018-19

      DP will be missed at WNO, and, overall, I think his will be a pretty hard act to follow. (Hope I am proved wrong!)

      • C Porumbescu says:

        Chris, I think you misunderstand my point. Opera North does exceptional and often innovative work (like its “Little Greats”). But there’s no comparison between the sheer quantity of new and rare repertoire presented by WNO under Pountney, and that of any other UK company. They’ve averaged one main-stage premiere every single season since Pountney took over in 2012. That’s six major premieres, at least (I think ON has done two in that period, one of which was a small-scale studio piece. This isn’t a dig at them – there are other ways to take risks. Glyndebourne has managed one premiere, the Royal Opera has done – I think – three).

        But in short, no-one else has stuck their neck out quite so far.

  • Adrienne says:

    “Partly that’s because we have an older audience, and they don’t necessarily want to be going into the centre of Birmingham, or wherever, on a Saturday night.”

    Anybody prepared to hazard a guess why?

    I suspect that this problem, and I’m sure it is a problem because I’ve heard it from older and not-so-old people on several occasions, is being replicated in large cities up and down the country.

    Then there’s the experience of public transport on the way home late in the evening.

  • Gan Heffetz says:

    Hmm… are times changing?

  • Zelda Macnamara says:

    I have enjoyed quite a few of the recent productions and agree with the previous comment that you wouldn’t traipse to Cardiff (or even Birmingham) just to see La Boheme for the umpteenth time. Some of the operas I saw twice and was also really pleased about Forza del Destino. Looking forward to War and Peace too. The productions were invariably excellent and only sometimes let down by the singing.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Sigh…if your claim was correct “not wanting to see another La Boheme” for most opera goers then, guess what, it wouldn’t be shown. Whether we like it or not, a small core of opera pieces are regularly performed since they sell more tickets than other repertoire. Most companies try to put on a mixture of things that they can be reasonably certain to sell and less often performed repertoire which they hope not to lose too much money doing.

      Personally, I think the fact too often directors resort to “whacky regie productions” is because the repertoire is too narrow, and they are bored with the piece.

  • J March says:

    Recent production of The Consul a total success! Completely relevant for our time without any of the “modernising” mentioned below. The perfect choice for the Freedom Season at WMC!

  • Ray merrett says:

    Should have got rid of him ages ago, what he done to turandot was obscene, what a ridiculous concept, and the tv director Brian large should also be fired, find another medium Pountney your not very good at this one, maybe painting in a field, far away