The Wexford Opera Festival takes place annually at the end of October and has developed, as one reviewer put it, into ‘Ireland’s Opera Flagship’. The very first festival – then known as the Festival of Music and Arts – was held in 1951, following a visit to this corner of south-east Ireland by the famous music lover (and writer of Whiskey Galore), Sir Compton Mackenzie. He had expressed the opinion that the town’s Theatre Royal was the perfect venue for staging opera. So successful did the Wexford Opera Festival become that the Theatre Royal was its permanent home until it was demolished to make way for the purpose-built Wexford Opera House.
Opened on October 16th, 2008, by the Irish Taoiseach Brian Cowen, the 771 seat O’Reilly Theatre – an increase of more than one third over the Theatre Royal – is supplemented by the versatile space of the Jerome Hynes Studio Theatre, which holds up to 176 in the audience.
Although the three main operas each season are staged in the O’Reilly Theatre, various productions can be found at the Jerome Hynes, the Dun Mhuire Theatre on South Main Street and several of the historic churches nearby. These will include items such as choral and instrumental lunchtime recitals, concerts and ‘fringe’ events. The evening productions of the major operas have a recommended dress code of evening dress and black tie, although most of the others are more informal.
The Wexford Opera Festival has developed a reputation for staging first class productions of lesser-known or long abandoned works. This tradition began at the first festival in 1951 when Michael Balfe’s The Rose of Castile was produced. It has additionally become known as a place where promising young international opera singers can help cement their growing reputations. Luminaries such as Janet Baker, Sergei Leiferkus and Geraint Evans have all featured at Wexford.
Wexford, located as it is on the very south eastern tip of Ireland and close to the ferry port of Rosslare has often been the first port of call for many English visitors to the country. Unfortunately for the area itself, most have tended to rush off north towards Dublin or take the road to the west with its popular tourist destinations. Nowadays, Wexford itself is managing to persuade many of them to stay awhile. With miles of wonderfully safe and sandy beaches in close proximity; with the charms of the Irish National Heritage Park and the country’s oldest working lighthouse at nearby Hook as well as the delights of the old town of Wexford itself, it makes a perfect place to begin a holiday in Ireland. The added October attraction of the Wexford Opera Festival has now made it a venue to consider at a slightly later time of the year.
Full details about the programme of the Wexford Opera Festival and ticket availability can be found on the official opera festival website.