Welsh National Opera Live Brief

Welsh National Opera and Creative & Cultural Skills are pleased to offer this opportunity for students in the National Skills Academy for Creative & Cultural. Students are invited to present a Stage design, which will be judged by Welsh National Opera in the autumn 2016.

The Brief

Participating students will be asked to create a set design for Madama Butterfly, one of the touring productions from WNO’s spring 2017 season.

Each season, Welsh National Opera (WNO) has a theme. For example, Madness in the Autumn of 2015, or Spellbound for Spring 2015. Costumes and sets are designed to fit these themes. The sets which are designed are used for rehearsals and then a run of performances at Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff, before being loaded onto trucks and toured around the United Kingdom.

Students must bear in mind the scale of the venues visited by WNO, and also the ease of transport and the actual construction of the sets created.

Online & Resources

We are pleased to say that the design challenge page is now live, please click here. Various resources will be made available to assist with your design. These will include Director’s visions, stage plans, further information on Welsh National Opera as a company, music and libretto, and recorded briefs from WNO’s Artistic Director and Technical Management.

The Welsh National Opera tour across the country, and we look forward to your students both connecting with their core team and your local venue.

The focus of the current resources is the design concept submission deadline of Wednesday 2 November, and at the start of next term further resources will be shared.

The Prize

Entries will be judged by a panel from Welsh National Opera, including the Artistic Director and Technical Director.

Shortlisted entries will be displayed in the Wales Millennium Centre on the opening night of a Welsh National Opera production.

Winners will receive tickets to see a Welsh National Opera production in their nearest venue, and will also receive a week’s experience behind the scenes of a WNO production.

We will shortlist entries within three levels to allow students of all abilities to apply. These will be Level 2, 3 and 4 and above.


Colleges can still register for the Challenge until Wednesday 12 October through the attached INTEREST form.

Students will be expected to submit their design concept by 2 November at 4pm, which will consist of paper or digital research, drawings, and a final design. Full details are available on the WNO Design Challenge page, including Arts Award mapping, Employability sheet, and Judging criteria.  The shortlisting will be based on their concept, so students don’t need to have polished their design by November. The shortlist will be announced on 15th November 2016, and those students will be invited to take their design onto a model box stage with the Welsh National Opera by 16 January 2016.

Winners will be announced on 28th January 2017.

How to apply

To apply for this brief, please contact us with a completed INTEREST form (download below). Please note that this opportunity is exclusively is for students in the National Skills Academy for Creative & Cultural.

Background to Welsh National Opera

Welsh National Opera is Europe’s largest touring company. Annually, WNO gives more than 120 performances of eight main stage operas to a combined audience of around 150,000 people. It gives regular performances in Cardiff (Wales Millennium Centre) and Llandudno (Venue Cymru) in Wales, and Bristol (The Bristol Hippodrome), Birmingham (Birmingham Hippodrome), Liverpool (Liverpool Empire Theatre), Milton Keynes (Milton Keynes Theatre), Oxford (New Theatre Oxford), Plymouth (The Lyric, Theatre Royal Plymouth), and Southampton (Mayflower Theatre) in England.

A designer is usually asked to produce a set-model no later than six months before an opening night.  From this model the Production Manager calculates if a design can actually work, how feasible it is and what changes may need to be made for the variety of venues WNO visits. The model is also used to present to other members of the company. The Publications and Marketing Departments need to see it so that programmes and publicity material correspond accurately with new productions. Singers and performers also see it, usually on the first day of rehearsals, so they are able to place themselves, artistically, in the production.

Theatrically reproducing the detail for a set from the model box is the next task; firstly the set-model is dissected and costed. The technical team must then work very closely with builders, suppliers, making and technical departments ensuring everything is completed ready for the beginning of the rehearsal period. Co-ordinating all these elements in preparation for a first night takes many months of intense work. 

General information regarding the brief (specific to WNO)

As a touring company it is essential that our scenery is designed to cope with the different criteria and facilities that are offered by different venues.

Due to the differences in stage size between the Wales Millennium Centre and other touring venues we prefer a design to incorporate a maximum footprint of 12m wide by 10.5m deep. Incorporated in that footprint should be the side masking and lighting booms. Any set design should consider the fixed positions of our lighting bars on stage, the need for daily get-outs and the ability to be stored on no more than three 40’ trailers.

As we perform a different Opera every night our maximum turnaround time is 8 hours. This period must cover the breakdown of one production, the set build of the next, a focus session, a lighting session, setting of all props and furniture and performance preparation.