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Last Updated: Friday, 26 November, 2004, 19:46 GMT
Gala opening at Millennium Centre
Opening ceremony

The 106m Wales Millennium Centre has opened in Cardiff with a gala performance in honour of some of Wales' most famous artists.

At an official ceremony on Friday, the doors were unlocked with a key that had travelled around the world.

First Minister Rhodri Morgan said the centre was not just for the elite but was for all of the people of Wales.

In the evening, performers including Sir Ian McKellen, Derek Jacobi and Michael Ball starred in the debut show.

The concert paid tribute to singers Dame Shirley Bassey and Dame Gwyneth Jones, actors Sian Phillips and the late Richard Burton, and composer Alun Hoddinott.

A galaxy of stars including Jonathan Pryce, Matthew Rhys, Nana Mouskouri, Robert Hardy and Ruth Madoc all took part.

WMC
Performers filled the stage for the start of the concert

The chorus of the Wales National Opera, singers from the Urdd choir, Diversions dance group and representatives of all seven of the centre's resident compancies also performed.

Bryn Terfel officially welcomed the audience to the centre, joking: "There's not a dry eye in the house already".

But there was one hitch - the safety curtain stuck at the start of the second half, causing a 25-minute delay.

Refusing to let it spoil the night, the audience in the 1,900-seat Donald Gordon Theatre started singing Welsh hymns until the show could go on.

'Modern image'

Earlier, Rhodri Morgan called the opening the definitive "great leap forward" for arts and music in Wales.

"It has taken 18 years to get this arts complex from conception to actual birth, but it is well worth the wait," he said.

"Now it is up to everyone in Wales and visitors to Wales to enjoy this world-class venue."

Both he and Plaid Cymru's culture spokesman Owen John Thomas referred to the building as an "icon" for Wales.

Mr Thomas said: "This remarkable building...[portrays] a confident and modern image of Wales."

The fabric of the building includes Welsh materials like slate and sandstone.

Wales Millennium Centre
The theatre's debut concert honoured Welsh stars

Windows at the front form poetry by Gwyneth Lewis - 'In these stones horizons sing' and 'Creu gwir fel gwydr o ffwrnais awen' (Creating truth like glass from the furnace of inspiration).

Ken Caswell, the director and devisor of the opening show, said the theatre, which has a bigger capacity than any theatre in New York's Broadway, was "an extraordinary space to perform in".

"The auditorium has a great intimacy while being a superb size," he said.

Judith Isherwood, chief executive of the centre, said she wanted the emphasis to move from the building itself to what is inside.

"We need people to start to have an opinion of the life of the building, which is the art that happens on stage, in the public areas and in the homes of the resident companies," she said.

On Saturday, visitors can see short performances and workshops from the resident companies, while in the evening the action moves to Roald Dahl's Plass, with a free show of choral music, sound and light show.

The Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and Prince Charles will then attend a lavish royal gala on Sunday evening.

Parking worries

There are concerns over the volume of traffic the centre will generate during the opening weekend, and longer-term, visitors are being warned of limited parking facilities in the area.

The council is urging the public to either travel by public transport or to use park and ride facilities in the city.

And all train services running on Sunday are free of charge.

A waterbus service between the bay and Penarth is running intensive services every 15 minutes on Saturday and Sunday to offer an alternative route in to the centre.




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