In a year when Verdi’s 200th anniversary will be remembered worldwide, opera is in the spotlight. For one boutique opera festival, that’s just how they like it.
There’s no denying it: the way we listen to music has changed. Thanks to MP3 players, apps, downloads and DAB radio, we can have music when and how you want it.
But…we still love live.
No amount of downloading will beat the rugged buzz of a traditional music session and intimate gatherings such as Other Voices give us shivers.
Classical music and opera, too, retain the power to thrill. The collected magic of opera houses, symphonies and concert halls can make your heart leap.
Giuseppe Verdi knew that. Giuseppe Verdi did that and one of Europe’s most cherished boutique opera festivals will never forget it.
Over 100 years since his death and 200 years since his birth, Verdi remains opera royalty. Music enthusiasts still engage energetically in the Wagner v Verdi debate while opera festivals across the globe ring with his music.
Wexford Festival Opera is no different.
The Wexford Way
Described by the UK’s Guardian newspaper as “the most important festival of rare opera in the world”, Wexford Festival Opera (WFO) has established itself as a big hitter on the opera calendar.
As WFO organiser Elizabeth Rose-Browne explains, the festival found its feet not by playing the classics, but by unearthing hidden gems:
“Wexford has established itself from its inception to produce rare or unjustly neglected repertoire. Founder and initial Artistic Director Dr Tom Walsh, a local GP, once said, ‘I’m not going to give them what they like, but what I think they will like.’”
And so Wexford “became the place where you could see something that you couldn’t see or hear anywhere else”.
But it became more than that.
While, as Elizabeth points out “the high artistic quality of the main stage operas are indeed the high-point”, WFO has become renowned for something else: its atmosphere.
A night at the opera...in Wexford
This is a festival where “fireworks light up the quay front opening night; people dress in their finest attire (a tradition and a celebration rather than a snobbery thing) and audiences are greeted at the door each night personally by the Chairman, Chief Executive and Artistic Director”.
How’s that for ‘boutique’?
The best of the rest: Opera in Ireland
Wexford Festival Opera may be Ireland’s most known opera experience, but it’s not the only one.
Fergus Shiel, Artistic Director of Ireland’s Opera Theatre Company, has his finger on the pulse of Ireland’s opera heart. Since its first tour in 1986, the OTC has toured more than 100 cities, towns and villages on the island of Ireland.
With such an enviable overview of the scene, we asked Fergus to pick three of the island's ultimate operatic experiences:
1. Wherever you are in Ireland, you're potentially less than an hour's drive from an opera performance – that is pretty phenomenal. As Ireland's National Touring Company, OTC brings professional opera throughout the island of Ireland, from Derry to Skibbereen, Bray to Ballina, and all points in between. This October, for example, our production of Bizet's Carmen travels to Ennis, Bray, Tralee, Dublin, Dun Laoghaire and Newtownabbey.
2. Dublin is a rarity: a capital city without an opera house. However, it is home to the National Concert Hall (NCH). This century-old building plays host to – and, indeed, co-produces - many operas, including the forthcoming world premiere of The Alma Fetish by Raymond Deane (music) and Gavin Kostick (text), produced by WOO in partnership with NCH.
3. Dublin aside, there are three opera houses on the island: Cork, Wexford and Belfast. Built in 1895, Belfast’s Grand Opera House has an external pomp and majesty echoed by its lush interior. Home to Northern Ireland Opera since 2010, ensuring a steady supply of grand opera to the venue-programming, don’t miss the chance to lose yourself in its traditional opulence!