Under Milk Wood - Opera in 29 scenes

Length / year

110' - 2014


Nine Singers (S/S/S/MS/T/T/B/B/BB) singing multiple roles including chorus and playing 'foley' effects. Pre-recorded School Choir. Music Director playing organ, piano and synthesiser/Concert Harpist doubling lever harp/Flautist playing piccolo, flute and bass flute/ Violinist playing violin, viola and crwth/ Percussionist. Pre-recorded sound and 'foley' effects.


The premiere production received very positive coverage in the UK press. In his review for The Telegraph, John Allison called it "an operatic testimony for (Dylan) Thomas", praising Metcalf's music "that captures the ripeness of Thomas’s vision and never works against the poetry" and adding that 'everyone should fall under its strange spell'. Writing for The Times, Anna Picard noted the influence of Benjamin Britten on Metcalf's score, comparing it to Albert Herring, and again praised the setting of the text "with due attention to the glorious mouth-feel of Thomas' poetry". Rian Evans in Opera repeated the praise for Metcalf's setting - "honouring the intrinsic musicality of Thomas' text was Metcalf's priority" - and pointing out that "the absence of dramatic plot as such" (of both Metcalf's piece and the original play) places greater importance than usual on the portrayal of the characters. It was nominated for Best World Premiere in the International Opera Awards, Best New Opera by the Royal Philharmonic Society, Best Opera and Best Scenic and Costume Design in the Wales Theatre Awards. Describing the production as 'triumphant', The Guardian named the opera as one of the best of 2014.

Programme note (English)

Opera is both the most complex and most conservative of the performing arts. The particular hazard of creating and producing new operas is summed up in the phrase 'pouring old wines into new bottles'. Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood is an old and very rich wine so the challenge is to create a new form that brings out the most contemporary insights of the text. This process needs to be made to measure for each new opera but, particularly in this case, it involved textual dramaturge, design, recorded and Foley sound, musical dramaturge, visual image collection, crwth construction, workshops with singers and on and on - from the very inception through every step of the composition through to the live performances and this recording. Progressively many other artists have entered the fray providing multiple points of view and participating very directly in the creative evolution of the piece. In the opera form the composer's preeminence is unassailable but paradoxically in this very hierarchical structure the creative process can open up to more not less collaboration and collective creation. With its multiple visions, Under Milk Wood is John Metcalf's opera and everybody's opera at the same time

Keith Turnbull, Director 2014

Programme note (Welsh)

Ymhlith y celfyddydau perfformio, opera ydi'r ffurf fwyfaf cymhleth a'r fwyaf ceidwadol. Yn amlach na heb 'hen win i gostelau newydd' piau hi pan fydd rhywun yn ei mentro hi i greu a chynhyrchu operau newydd. Hen win coeth iawn ydi Under Milk Wood Dylan Thomas felly'r her ydi creu ffurf newydd sy'n amlygu'r golygon mwyaf cyfoes ar y testun. Mae gofyn addasu'r gwaith at bob opera newydd ond, yn neilltuol yn yr achos yma, roedd gofyn dramodydd testun, cynllunio, sain recordiedig a Foley, dramodydd cerddorol, casglu delweddau gweledol, saernio crwth, gweithdai gyda chanwyr ac offerynwyr ac felly ymlaen - o'r cychwyn cyntaf drwy bob cam o'r cyfansoddi drwodd i'r perfformiadau byw a'r recordiad yma. O dipyn i beth daeth artistiaid eraill i'r gad yn cynnig safbwyntiau lawer ac yn cymryd rhan yn uniongyrchol iawn yn natblygiad creadigol y darn. Yn ffurf yr opera, y cyfansoddwr ydi'r ceffyl blaen heb os nach onibai ond yn rhyfedd iawn, yn y saerniaeth dra hierarchaidd yma, mae'r broses greadigol yn gallu ymagor i fwy, nid llai, o gydweithredu a chreu ar y cyd. Ac iddi ei gweledigaethau liaws, opera John Metcalf ydi Under Milk Wood ac, ar yr un pryd, opera pawb.

Keith Turnbull, Cyfarwyddwr 2014