A leading care home owner is spearheading a major new campaign to rid opera of its elitist image and reach out to communities in Wrexham and Flintshire.
Pendine Park proprietor Mario Kreft MBE, from Wrexham, has signed up to be Welsh National Opera’s (WNO) first Community Champion – and he’s aiming to persuade other business leaders to follow suit.
According to Mr Kreft, WNO needs to attract private-sector funding to continue developing its dedicated community programme working with theatres and other local partners in schools, with community choirs and with people of all ages across the region.
The arts-loving entrepreneur hosted a special event at Venue Cymru in Llandudno showcasing the talented singers aged from seven to 14 who are involved in WNO’s Youth Opera in North Wales.
Among the guests were Culture Minister Lord Dafydd Elis Thomas and company bosses from North Wales and Cheshire.
Pendine Park, which employs more than 800 people in eight care homes in Wrexham and Caernarfon, has won numerous awards for the way in which it uses the arts to enhance the life of its residents and staff.
Mr Kreft said: “I am proud to have become Welsh National Opera’s first Community Champion because my wife, Gill, and I have always embraced the arts and understood the importance music and performance when it comes to the general well-being of our residents and staff.
“It’s fair to say the arts provide a golden thread running through everything we do and, for a number of years now, we have been involved with Welsh National Opera who have worked with residents and staff in delivering performances across our homes.
“We particularly value the work Welsh National Opera does in the community, particularly with children and young people and we want to encourage other like-minded business to get involved.
“It’s vital we offer young people the opportunity to get involved with the arts. It’s not just about the genre of opera but also about giving young people opportunities so to widen their horizons.”
“Welsh National Opera is world-class in terms of the performances they deliver but there is so much more important work going on in communities across North Wales that we perhaps don’t know enough about.”
It was a sentiment endorsed by Lord Dafydd Elis Thomas who said the quality of work produced by Welsh National Opera was exceptional but that they could not rely solely on funding from the public purse.
He said: “I hope to see many more business leaders following Mario Kreft’s lead by getting involved and supporting the work of Welsh National Opera in the future.”
Welsh National Opera’s Director of Development, Communications and Strategy, Alison Dunnett, praised Mario and Gill Kreft for their passionate commitment to the arts.
“Three years ago we set up a dedicated community programme working with schools, and communities across North Wales. We did have funding from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation for three years but that is now coming to an end It’s so important we find a new funding stream.to continue this work.
“For instance, we are delighted with the Welsh National Opera Youth Opera that has been running here at Venue Cymru for the past three years.
“Young people attend every Wednesday evening from across the region. We are filling a gap and these young people are able to learn about opera and performance from some of the country’s most acclaimed artists. It’s the only opportunity in North Wales where they can do so.”
Elen ap Robert, a Welsh National Opera board member and Artistic Director of the Pontio centre in Bangor, added: “Touring world class opera performances are just one element of our work. Our community work is vital too.
“Our community programme is helping unlock the obvious talent that exists in our young people.”
Mezzo-soprano Morgana Warren-Jones, who leads the Youth Opera programme at Venue Cymru, revealed there were now plans to set up a group for young singers aged between 14 and 18.
She said: “We have students travelling from right across North Wales to come here. They feel part of the wider company and there is literally nowhere else they can go to learn opera.
“The ambition is to grow and we want to tell our own story here in North Wales and to showcase North Wales talent.”
Parent Erica Jones, from Caernarfon, takes her son, Efan Llewelyn, seven, to Venue Cymru every Wednesday for the WNO Youth Opera sessions.
She said: “This is the only place that we can go to other than Cardiff which is impossible. Having the chance to learn opera here in North Wales is so important. Efan loves coming here with his cousin Steffan who is 15.
“It’s so important that opera, and the chance to learn and get involved, is available to everyone. Where would children learn if this wasn’t available?”
Youth Opera members Millie Coppell, 11, of Bangor and Millie Roberts, 13, of Abergele, both say attending the youth opera sessions at Venue Cymru is important to them.
Millie , a pupil of Ysgol Cae Top, said: “It’s brilliant and a lot of fun. I’ve learnt how to sing better and how to perform as well as making a lot of new friends.”
Millie Roberts added: “It’s been fantastic to come and learn opera and how to sing and perform. We have watched an opera and I loved Tosca. Opera and the chance to learn opera needs to be available to everyone.”