In the Spotlight: The Wales Millennium Centre

Article excerpt

Rian Evans was at the opening

The Wales Millennium Centre has opened, on time and seemingly on budget. The splendid building will be the permanent home and performing base of Welsh National Opera. Their first performances there will be in February, at the beginning of the 2005 Spring Season, and they can at last look forward to celebrating their 60th-Annivcrsary in 2006 with shining optimism.

WNO are not the only tenants: the Centre is also home to six other arts organisations, among them Diversions, the National Dance Company for Wales. Diversions' Director Roy Campbell-Moore will also be responsible for the Dance House, a venture which will bring contemporary dance from all over the world to Cardiff. A more unusual tenancy is reflected in the presence of the Welsh Youth organisation, Urdd Gobaith Cymru, literally the hope of Wales. But, given that it was at the Urdd's annual competitions that the talent some of Wales' finest artists, the bass-baritone Bryn Terfel among them, first emerged, it's a rather inventive way of ensuring the interest and participation of an altogether younger generation.

At the WMC in recent months the emphasis has been on a Centre which, by virtue of its extra-wide stage and state-of-the-art technical facilities, will attract world quality performances to Wales. At the same time, the Centre is required to be all things to all people, not purely and simply an opera house, apparently in the interests of promoting the accessibility of the building and popular perception of a user-friendly, inviting place to go. However, since the context for these arguments originated in a perceived need to counter the idea of opera as an elitist form, the opening weekend of events and performances with its heavy focus on West End Musicals has provoked further discussion as to the role of the Centre in reflecting what Wales itself wants to see on the stage. The most frequent observation has been that ultimately quality has nothing whatsoever to do with elitism.

At the Royal Gala on 28 November it was significant that the greatest applause, apart from that for WNO, was for the ballet dancers from the Kirov, whose company will appear at the Centre in April, suggesting that the appetite for opera and ballet and most emphatically for quality may yet be considerable. The Australian Ballet is already scheduled to appear in Cardiff next year, while Monica Mason introduced a quartet of dancers from the Royal Ballet by way of announcement of a partnership between the WMC and the Royal Ballet which will see the latter perform in Cardiff in the "not too distant future. …