Although its name might suggest a vernacular orientation, Music Theatre Wales is devoted to contemporary opera. The company performs and records in its home city of Cardiff, Wales, but the bulk of its time is spent as a touring opera company.
Music Theatre Wales was formed in 1988 by Michael McCarthy and Michael Rafferty; as of 2017, McCarthy remained artistic director, and Rafferty has often served as conductor. The group was initially a merger of two smaller companies, Cardiff New Opera Group and St. Donats Music Theatre Ensemble, both of which had attempted to promote contemporary opera in contrast to the more traditional repertory of the Welsh National Opera company. The initial mission of MTW was to program contemporary works that the group felt deserved wider exposure; primary among these were operas by Peter Maxwell Davies, who had already formed his own opera company, The Fires of London, for that purpose. Its first production was of Davies' 1977 opera The Martyrdom of St. Magnus, performed in a graveyard on the grounds of the medieval St. Donat's Castle in Wales.
As the company's footing became more secure, it turned to premieres of new works. As of the mid-2010s, of the 30 operas in the MTW repertory, the company had given the premieres of 14 of them. British composers are heavily, but far from exclusively, represented among the group, which includes Letters of a Love Betrayed by contemporary Jamaican composer Eleanor Alberga. A much-noted early MTW production was one of Philip Glass' The Fall of the House of Usher, and the company has returned to Glass' music several times over its 30-year career. The group gave the world premiere of Glass' The Trial (based on the novel by Franz Kafka) in 2014; the production won McCarthy a Best Director award at the 2015 Wales Theatre Awards, and a recording of the performance was released in 2017. The Trial was the first Glass opera to receive its premiere in the U.K.
MTW's performances and recordings have been notable for a commitment to accessibility and text intelligibility. The group has generally favored scores calling for a small ensemble accompaniment, a decision that makes both artistic and economic sense. MTW's flexibility has allowed for an unusually wide range of collaborations, including those with Opera National du Rhin in Strasbourg, the Berlin Festival, Opera Vest in Norway, Banff Centre in Canada, Theatr Brycheiniog in Brecon, Haarlem Theatre in The Netherlands, Theater Magdeburg in eastern Germany, the Scottish Opera, and, in 2017, Korea's Tongyeong International Music Festival.