Wexford Festival Opera Announces Details Of 2018 Programme
Ahead of the opening of priority booking for Friends of the Festival on Saturday, 24 March, details of the full programme for the 67th Wexford Festival Opera are announced. Continuing its tradition of presenting the 'best operas rarely seen', this year's Festival includes a verismo double-bill, a European premiere and a classic Wexford offering involving kidnapping, murder, arson and a posh New York dinner party that doesn't quite go to plan! All this plus three daytime ShortWorks operas, concerts, recitals, theatre and talks. 62 public events over the autumn 17-day period.
Commenting on the upcoming Festival, Artistic Director David Agler said, "We will begin with a double-bill by composers in the verismo tradition. Umberto Giordano's gritty Mala vita was greeted with 24 curtain calls from the audience at its 1892 premiere in the Teatro Argentina, but sadly fell out of favour. L'oracolo by Franco Leoni, the second half of our double-bill, was first performed at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden in 1905. Set in San Francisco's Chinatown, we have secured Rodula Gaitanou and Cordelia Chisholm to direct and design the productions. They will be well remembered for their powerful production of Vanessa by Samuel Barber in 2016. Francesco Cilluffo returns to Wexford for the third consecutive year to conduct.
Our second production is Dinner at Eight by the illustrious American composer William Bolcom, a co-production with Minnesota Opera and Atlanta Opera. The opera is based on the 1932 play by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber, which was later made into a film directed by George Cukor. Mark Campbell, the librettist of our much-loved production of Silent Night (2014) has written a witty book which perfectly suits Bolcom's unique ability to compose fluently in multiple styles. Bolcom's intention in composing Dinner at Eight was to merge the best elements of European opera and the American musical - a goal I believe he has achieved brilliantly. I conducted the world-premiere of the opera in Minnesota and am thrilled to bring it to Wexford and conduct for its European premiere. Tomer Zvulun, who directed the 2014 production of Kevin Puts' Silent Night will return to Wexford to direct. Free screenings of the 1933 film will also be held on Dinner at Eight performance dates.
In 'Classic Wexford' style, we will present Il bravo by Saverio Mercadante, a composer well known to Wexford audiences and the sixth of his operas to be presented at Wexford going back to 1988. The production will be directed and designed by the team of Renaud Doucet and André Barbe who have given us some of our finest productions in the past. It will also feature the debut of Gustavo Castillo, the excellent young Venezuelan baritone, as well as the marvellous Irish soprano Jennifer Davis.
Of course, I couldn't let the year pass without marking the centenary of the birth of the great American composer, Leonard Bernstein. Bernstein à la carte, will feature in our ShortWorks programme. This original production will be devised and directed by Roberto Recchia, who has delighted Wexford audiences with his creative and energetic productions for several years.
And finally, I am particularly pleased to announce the restoration of a chorus and orchestra concert on the closing date of the Festival. Our brilliant chorus and orchestra will be showcased in a performance of Handel's Dixit Dominus and a spectacular re-imagining of Vivaldi's Four Seasons from composer Max Richter."
The main evening operas:
Mala vita (Wretched Life) by Umberto Giordano / L'oracolo (The Oracle) by Franco Leoni
The compact Mala vita (1892) is based on a novella about Neapolitan slum-life, telling the story of a worker who, suffering from tuberculosis, vows to reform a prostitute if he is healed through prayer. The plot proved shocking for Italian audiences of the day in spite of receiving 24 curtain calls from the audience at its 1892 premiere. Franco Leoni's, L'oracolo was premiered at Covent Garden in 1905, but fared better in America. Set in San Francisco's Chinatown just after the Boxer Rebellion, its lurid plot centres on a sinister opium dealer Chim-Fen.
European Premiere - Dinner at Eight
Dinner at Eight is William Bolcom's most recent opera, having received its world-premiere under David Agler's baton at Minnesota Opera in March 2017. Wexford's production will be its European premiere. As befits its setting, in Depression-era Manhattan, the music of Dinner at Eight teems with 1930s influences, especially jazz and blues. Based on the play by George S. Kaufman which ran on Broadway in 1932, it was quickly turned into a film with Jean Harlow. The Seattle-born composer, who turns 80 this year, successfully weds American musical comedy and opera to a libretto by Mark Campbell (librettist on Silent Night by Kevin Puts, Wexford Festival Opera 2014) in a plot which revolves around an ill-fated dinner party. Dinner at Eight is essentially a comedy, laced with biting, darker elements of greed, infidelity and addiction and features a sizeable cast of characters hell-bent on fiddling while New York City burns around them.
Classic Wexford - Il bravo (The Assassin)
Often compared to Verdi in terms of musical style, Saverio Mercadante's Il bravo is one of the works in which his comparison to Verdi are most evident. Despite its quintessentially Italian title, the plot is originally drawn from a James Fennimore Cooper novel and thus surely qualifies as one of the first operas to have been based on American literature. It's an old tale set in 16th-century Venice. The Bravo, a colloquial name for an assassin, is a tormented character who had long ago killed his wife in a fit of jealousy. Unjustly accused of plotting against the state, he has been forced by the Council of Ten to become their secret hired assassin.
One hour prior to the performance of each of these three productions, Pre-opera Talks are held in the adjacent Jerome Hynes Theatre. These free, informal talks give the audience some insight to the opera and the composer and offer the audience an opportunity to ask questions. No advance booking required.
A taster menu of one-hour ShortWorks (daytime short operas):
The three daytime ShortWorks operas, which audiences have come to cherish just as much as the main evening operas, feature three of opera's best known composers, Gaetano Donizetti, Leonard Bernstein and Giacomo Puccini. Donizetti's comic masterpiece Don Pasquale will be performed along with Puccini's rarely performed La fanciulla del West (The Girl from the West), which was originally commissioned by and performed at N.Y's Metropolitan opera and starred the Great Caruso. And finally, to celebrate the centenary of the American composer Leonard Bernstein, Wexford Festival Opera will present an original production featuring some of his best known work.
Intimately staged and approximately one hour in length, the ShortWorks operas are presented in the nearby Clayton Whites Hotel and offer audiences the opportunity to enjoy a one-act opera or a condensed version of a more familiar opera performed by cast members of the evening operas.
The ShortWorks productions:
Donizetti was sometimes fond of bragging about the speed at which he composed his operas, and Don Pasquale was no exception. It was certainly composed in a concentrated spurt of creativity and it sparkles with all the energy that it implies. The story centres on an old bachelor, Don Pasquale, who wants to marry and have an heir in order to punish his rebellious nephew, Ernesto, and cut him off without a penny.
Bernstein à la carte
Wexford Festival Opera celebrates American composer, conductor, author, music lecturer, and pianist Leonard Bernstein. He was among the first conductors born and educated in the US to receive worldwide acclaim. His fame derived from his long tenure as the music director of the New York Philharmonic, from his conducting of concerts with most of the world's leading orchestras, and from his music for West Side Story, Peter Pan, Candide, Wonderful Town, On the Town, On the Waterfront, his Mass, and a range of other compositions, including three symphonies and many shorter chamber and solo works. As a composer he wrote in many styles encompassing symphonic and orchestral music, ballet, film and theatre music, choral works, opera, chamber music and pieces for the piano. Many of his works are regularly performed around the world, although none has matched the tremendous popular and critical success of West Side Story. Wexford perennial favourite Roberto Recchia will direct this celebration. A group of singers organise a birthday party for Leonard Bernstein. They wait, everything is ready, but the guest of honour is late. While they wait, they play, they sing, they read excerpts from his letters. The result is a colourful musical portrait of one of the best loved composers and conductors. The programme will include solos and ensembles from Bernstein's most celebrated musicals, as well some of his lesser-known songs.
La fanciulla del West (The Girl from the West) by Giacomo Puccini, a condensed version of the original, sometimes thought of as a connoisseurs' opera - and rated by the composer himself as his greatest work. Indeed, Puccini dubbed it his 'second bohème'. More than any of his other operas, it needs singing-actors. It premiered at New York's Metropolitan Opera in 1910. Set in America's 'Wild West' at the height of the gold rush, it tells the story of Minnie, a lively, energetic girl who runs a local saloon frequented by miners and her fight to save the man she loves.
Lunchtime Recitals - St. Iberius Church
The 50 minute Lunchtime Recitals are an integral part of the daytime programme and offer a unique opportunity to hear the principal artists of the Festival perform their favourite repertoire in the intimate and informal setting of the beautiful 18th-century St. Iberius Church in the heart of Wexford town, part of Ireland's Ancient East. Unsurprisingly, the Lunchtime Recitals sell out very quickly. The ten artists and their performance dates will be announced in October.
A special daytime package of a Lunchtime Recital, lunch and a ShortWorks opera is available for €65. Timings allow audiences to travel easily to and from Wexford by car, bus or rail within a day.
Vocal Recital - Rachel Kelly, mezzo-soprano
Irish mezzo-soprano Rachel Kelly is one of the opera world's most promising rising stars, having recently completed the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden's Jette Parker Young Artist Programme. Rachel comes from a prestigious musical family. Her mother is the famed pianist and musicologist Una Hunt and her aunt is renowned violinist Fionnuala Hunt, who is also concertmaster of the Wexford Festival Orchestra.
From the stage of the O'Reilly Theatre in the National Opera House, Rachel will perform a programme based on French songs exploring both familiar and lesser-known French repertoire through romanticism, impressionism and modernism, as well as some popular opera arias and Irish songs. Rachel will be accompanied by Fiachra Garvey, who graduated from the Royal Academy of Music, London in 2013 after completing his 1st class honours B.A. in Music Performance from the Royal Irish Academy of Music in 2011.
Piano Recital - Dublin International Piano Competition Winner 2018
Once again, Wexford Festival Opera is proud to present a piano recital to be given by the most recent winner of the 11th Dublin International Piano Competition, taking place in Dublin 18-29 May 2018.
The Dublin International Piano Competition was established in 1988 and since its foundation has grown in stature, and now ranks among the most important piano competitions in the world. It offers a generous prize fund, but perhaps the most important prize is the prestigious list of engagements secured for the winner. These include début concerts in London and New York as well as appearances at international festivals and concertos with leading orchestras. Wexford is among the very first public performances. Previous winners have launched highly successful international careers from this springboard. Chaired by Artistic Director John O'Conor, and adjudicated by distinguished members of the music profession from around the world, the competition attracts an enormous international entry.
The Gala Concert will be performed on Sunday 28 October and is one of the highlights year on year, featuring a collection of favourite party pieces from members of the Festival Company. All performers generously donate their time and talent and all proceeds go toward supporting Wexford Festival Opera.
Chorus and Orchestra Concert
Dixit Dominus by Handel
The Four Seasons by Vivaldi re-composed by Max Richter
The chorus and orchestra concert is back on the programme this year and will take place in the National Opera House on the final day of the Festival, Sunday 4 November at 3 p.m. The first part of the concert will be Handel's Dixit Dominus (The Lord said) from the Latin text of Psalm 110 (Vulgate 109). The work was completed in April 1707 while Handel was living in Italy and is scored for five vocal soloists (SSATB), five-part chorus, strings and continuo. Chorus Master of Wexford Festival Opera, Errol Girdlestone will conduct this powerful work. In contrast to this 18th-century piece, the second half of the concert features the work of modern composer Max Richter as he re-imagines and reinterprets Vivaldi's four violin concertos, known as The Four Seasons, producing an interpretation that is both extremely familiar, but modern at the same time. Artistic Director David Agler will conduct.
This year the Dr Tom Walsh Lecture will be given by the renowned British baritone, Sir Thomas Allen. Known for his commanding stage presence as well as outstanding vocal and acting prowess on the operatic stage, he has mesmerised audiences from across the world for over forty years since his operatic debut in 1969. As an established star of the great opera houses of the world, he has sung over fifty roles at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden alone. While currently Chancellor of Durham University, his many honours include the title of Bayerischer Kammersänger awarded by the Bayerische Staatsoper. In the New Year's Honours of 1989 he was created a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) and in the 1999 Queen's Birthday Honours he was made a Knight Bachelor. Among his proudest achievements is having a Channel Tunnel locomotive named after him; and most recently, being awarded the Queen's Medal for Music 2013.
The Wexford Festival Opera Historical Tours, affiliated with the Festival since the 1950s, also feature in this year's offerings. Programmed by Wexford Historical Society and led by expert guides, these free tours explore places of historical interest throughout County Wexford, part of Ireland's Ancient East, some well-known; some lesser known. The tours leave the Talbot Hotel car park at 10.30 a.m. sharp and return to Wexford by 1 p.m., just in time for the Lunchtime Recitals. Full details of these tours are announced each year in September. No booking necessary. For more information visit www.wexfordhistoricalsociety.com
Holy Mary by Eoin Colfer
After the success of adding a piece of theatre to the programme last year, the play, Holy Mary by Wexford-man and NY Times best-selling author Eoin Colfer will be presented in the Jerome Hynes Theatre over the second and third weekend of the Festival. Written in 2011 and revised in 2018, Holy Mary is the story of two nine-year-old girls on the days leading up to the social occasion of the year: Their First Holy Communion. The cast of two play two mothers, a benevolent priest, a patient teacher, a misguided father and two cheeky and lovable nine-year-olds in this rich story. Holy Mary, a hilarious and heart-breaking tale of Communion, confusion and consternation.
The Fringe Festival: Wexford Town also hosts a vibrant Fringe Festival to coincide with the Opera Festival, which includes art exhibitions, drama and musical performances, and of course the legendary Singing and Swinging Pubs competition. The Fringe Festival is coordinated by the Wexford Chamber of Commerce. Full details: www.wexfordfringe.ie
The 67th Wexford Festival Opera will run over 17 days, beginning Friday, 19 October and running until Sunday, 4 November 2018. Come and experience the many 'Hidden Gems' that Wexford Festival Opera has to offer.
Priority booking for Friends of Wexford Festival Opera opens on Saturday, 24 March and on Saturday, 31 March (depending on level of membership). General booking opens on Saturday, 14 April 2018. For more information on how to become a Friend of Wexford Festival Opera and avail of priority booking plus many other benefits throughout the year, visit www.wexfordopera.com/friends
For the most updated information visit www.wexfordopera.com
The 67th Wexford Festival Opera is supported by grants from the Arts Council, Wexford County Council and Fáilte Ireland/Ireland's Ancient East.