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Opera in Ireland - general discussion thread on all things opera in Ireland

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  • Registered Users Posts: 4,282 ✭✭✭westtip


    I am going monday night for Virginia - any news on anything so far? I heard some good things about the golden ticket but not read anything good about it! Glad I body swerved it from I have read


  • Closed Accounts Posts: 1,066 ✭✭✭Sandwlch




  • Closed Accounts Posts: 143 ✭✭JonnyBlackrock


    I'm going to Wexford this weekend. I'm going to Virginia on Friday night, and then The Kiss on Sunday, and maybe the Prague Chamber Choir on Monday morning.


  • Closed Accounts Posts: 143 ✭✭JonnyBlackrock


    Got back from Wexford yesterday.
    Haven't got time to write much now, but will just say that it is a fantastic festival this year, the best one in years.
    Will write some more tomorrow.


  • Registered Users Posts: 4,282 ✭✭✭westtip


    Jonny I am the same on time at the moment - onluy got to see Virginia thought it was right up Wexfords Street in terms of repertoire choice aand they did a first class job with it. Will write more later.


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  • Closed Accounts Posts: 143 ✭✭JonnyBlackrock


    I have a few minutes now, so here goes:
    I saw Virginia on Friday and enjoyed every minute. The music is kind of proto-Verdi - Mercadante was 15 years older than Verdi, and I don't think his music in inferior. His ability to create moods, passion and drama is first class. The only place where he is inferior to Verdi is in terms of structure. Endless successions of recitative-aria-short recitative when messenger bursts in with news-fast cabaletta, and this gets a bit tiring after a while, but I'm sure most of the audience didn't notice. Angela Meade was fantastic in the title role, and the two tenors were also excellent - their devastating duet was spellbinding (can't think of another example of a duet for 2 tenors). It lasted 3 and a half hours and could have been a long bore, but the whole thing was over in a flash. Even the production jump from antiquity to the modern era seemed to work.

    The Smetana was perfection. Fantastic production, no gimicks, beautiful and colourful, only one production value - to present the (very silly) story in as clear a way as possible. In fact, the production was so good it even managed to make us forget how stupid the story was. No weak links in the cast. 10 out of 10.

    Heard the Prague Chamber Choir on Monday. Sublime as ever. It is miraculous how they perform such complex a-capella works so effortlessly.

    As I said before, this is the best festival they've had in Wexford for years, perhaps ever.


  • Registered Users Posts: 4,282 ✭✭✭westtip


    Thanks Jonny I think the Virginia drew more on donizetti and Bellini than Verdi, however before writing a piece on virginia - the good news tha slipped slowly under the radar last week was the answer in a Dail Question when Mary hanafin announced that OTC will in fact get a reprieve for one year and still be offering opera next year before INO comes into being - of course as we all know INO is a pipe dream - this decision is a the polite way of side stepping the whole issue. It's the right decision what we need to be asking is the 2.45 million spent on opera ireland and OTC (650k) last year now going to be cut back to just the 650k that was spent on OTC last year. Me thinks this whol INO thing might just be a ruse to cut back spending even further.


  • Closed Accounts Posts: 143 ✭✭JonnyBlackrock


    westtip wrote: »
    Thanks Jonny I think the Virginia drew more on donizetti and Bellini than Verdi,

    In some ways perhaps, definitely structurally. But I found the music itself more reminiscent of early Verdi. More atmospheric, dramatic and stirring and less "frilly" and showy for its own sake.


  • Registered Users Posts: 4,282 ✭✭✭westtip


    I Angela Meade was fantastic in the title role, and the two tenors were also excellent - their devastating duet was spellbinding (can't think of another example of a duet for 2 tenors). .

    Jonny yes I can see your point about early Verdi, as for the duet between the two tenors - absolutely fantastic scene. Normally this kind of male rivalry would be tenor versus baritone, I like you can't come up with an immediate example of two tenors being placed opposite each other like this - which in this ego driven artform might be one of the reasons the opera is difficult to cast, tenors do not like to sing in competition on the same stage! Angela Meade was indeed very good.


  • Closed Accounts Posts: 1,066 ✭✭✭Sandwlch


    westtip wrote: »
    in a Dail Question when Mary hanafin announced that OTC will in fact get a reprieve for one year and still be offering opera next year before INO comes into being

    Well spotted westtip. Your radar is good. Led me to :

    http://www.irishtheatremagazine.ie/News/Current/Opera-Theatre-Company-reprieve.aspx

    A Don Pasquale to look forward to so. The cynic in me wonders is this just a way of defering funding INO and by giving OTC a half a million, the govt save a couple of million for a year while avoiding acusations of no funding for Irish opera in 2011. Still better OTC than OI I guess.

    Wexford. I always feel I need to preface any Wexford opions with a standard preamble : it is rare/unknown repertoire, so you have to accept that much of what is offered may well be neglected for a good reason. So you cannot judge the overall entertainment with the same criteria that you would the traditional masterpieces of opera. But that is the very bargain you make in Wexford - put on a good production of something I dont know - I am here to extend my horizons, even it greatness is not guaranteed.

    I saw Hubicka and Virginia.

    Hubicka plot is based on such a slight device that it is really not worthy of comment. But I dont really go to opera for the drama, so it didnt put me out particularly. The music was well worth hearing though - the best of it in the orchestral parts rather than the voices for me.
    The simple staging was OK - no real point in trying to make too much of something so inconsequential and so it was well judged. Pumeza Matshikiza was the pick of the voices which in general were good. Better was the choir, and better still the festival orchestra who were top notch this year. Overall, fine entertainment.

    Virginia entertained me even more. The music of the first act was a bit mundane. But it improved after that - the choral work in the dramatic second act was very good, and the music in in the third act best of all. Staging was very nice and I liked the updated setting. Again both choir and orchestra were best. All voices were plenty good, but no standouts. Heard various good views of Angela Meade (including this thread, above!), but while I wouldnt fault her at all, did not catch the my ear especially though.

    Chose not to see The Golden Ticket. It is just not Wexford material. I hope it has not sold its soul.

    Just one man's opinions.

    Would have liked to get to the shortwork performance of La Serva Padrona but couldnt manage to - I like it a lot and recommend it to any of you unfamiliar with it.

    Other news : a long way away, but dates confirmed for ETO visit to Belfast next spring :
    - Il Tabarro/Gianni Schicchi on 26 and 27 may
    - La Clemenza di Tito on 28 May.


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  • Registered Users Posts: 4,282 ✭✭✭westtip


    Sandwlch wrote: »
    Well spotted westtip. Your radar is good. Led me to :

    http://www.irishtheatremagazine.ie/News/Current/Opera-Theatre-Company-reprieve.aspx

    A Don Pasquale to look forward to so. The cynic in me wonders is this just a way of defering funding INO and by giving OTC a half a million, the govt save a couple of million for a year while avoiding acusations of no funding for Irish opera in 2011. Still better OTC than OI I guess.

    Other news : a long way away, but dates confirmed for OTC visit to Belfast next spring :
    - Il Tabarro/Gianni Schicchi on 26 and 27 may
    - La Clemenza di Tito on 28 May.

    That is indeed good news about OTC plans for next year and reinforces all the points that have been made about OTC. Picking up on Mary Hanafins comments again here is what she said in the Dail:
    The Government remains committed to that ambition.” (creating Irish National Opera) “Meanwhile, Opera Theatre Company will continue to produce opera in 2011 and will be funded to do so by the Arts Council. This has been agreed between the interim board, my Department and the Arts Council.”
    The Minister also stated
    “As previously announced, Opera Ireland will be wound down after its autumn season, as its business model for opera provision is no longer sustainable in the current fiscal and arts funding environment. However, there will be public provision for opera in 2011.”
    To achieve the objective of a National Opera Company, considerably more than the combined grant of 2.45 million previously given to Opera Ireland and Opera Theatre Company will be needed for this company to perform to its brief. An increase in spend on Opera is now highly unlikely.

    The minister also added “
    To this end, my Department and the Arts Council will continue to engage the interim board with a view to achieving a sustainable model for medium to long term opera provision in Ireland.”
    - This was a pivotal statement as it does not actually mention the words Irish National Opera Company. As ever with statements by politicians carefully chosen words need to be examined carefully. Personally I would not be rushing to submit my CV in for a job at INO.

    I think Mary H is basically reversing the decision of Martin EVoting Cullen and trying to unravel the embarrassing mess he created in his kneejerk announcement about a National Opera Company which cannot be delivered. The big question really is what is a sustainable model? Clealy the Opera Ireland model was not a sustainable model, and you would suspect that INO was going to deliver the same. I have my own thougts whcih I have already sent to Mary Hanafin. Lets see what the next announcement is.


  • Closed Accounts Posts: 1,066 ✭✭✭Sandwlch


    Sorry, typo correction. It is ETO in Belfast next May, not OTC.


  • Registered Users Posts: 4,282 ✭✭✭westtip


    Sandwlch wrote: »
    Sorry, typo correction. It is ETO in Belfast next May, not OTC.


    Sand I did wonder as there was no mention of it on the OTC website! Still interesting stuff - whats your take on the OTC reprieval for a year?


  • Closed Accounts Posts: 1,066 ✭✭✭Sandwlch


    westtip wrote: »
    Still interesting stuff - whats your take on the OTC reprieval for a year?

    I dont read too much into it. My best guess is a combination of :
    - a realisation that the practicalities of merging the two companies would lead to no domestic production being staged for a lengthy period
    - not a great climate for politicians to be highlighting the money being allocated to an 'elitist' minority artform for Dublin 4 barristers and surgeons. Potential headlines if the media latched onto it in the wrong way could be bad for a ministers health.
    - a temporary reprieve for OTC is : a cheap way to avoid criticism of allocating no money to opera, a means to saving money overall for 2011, buying some kudos for having listenened to the supporters of OTC, and, there will probably be another minister in the office when the real business of the restructure comes about so no need deal with somthing with so little political return in it.



    BTW, meant to mention in my post on Wexford: applause for the man at Hubicka wearing jeans and a teeshirt.


  • Registered Users Posts: 4,282 ✭✭✭westtip


    You are probably right on all counts, I don't actually believe canvassing this government on anything is worth it now - I believe most ministers are clearing out their bottom draws in the office and getting the paper clips in nice neat rows for the next incumbents - although you never know with the Houdini like nature of FF. I don't think we will see the new national opera company emerge from the ashes of this unholy mess we are in and my fear is the money that could have been spent so wisely on delivering opera (ie the money that used to go to OI) will now be swalloed up as a "saving" to get us out of the this self created hole. don't want to get poitical but you get the drift of what I am saying.


  • Closed Accounts Posts: 1,066 ✭✭✭Sandwlch


    Tough opera times all over:

    "Negotiations underway for part-time orchestra at Scottish Opera
    9 September 2010, [Originally posted on 31 August]

    Scottish Opera may be planning to halve the working hours and salaries of its orchestra, a report in Glasgow’s The Herald revealed last week.

    According to the report, “The management of the opera company, led by general director Alex Reedijk, believe the expense of a full-time orchestra cannot be sustained.”

    The alleged proposal to put all 54 orchestra members on part-time contracts for 26 weeks’ work per year has been met with “anger, concern and dismay” by the musicians.

    They have responded by writing an internal letter to the company’s board members stating that “We are the last remaining performing artists on full-time contracts, and if we were to continue in the direction that these proposals take us, Scottish Opera would no longer be a performing arts company at all, merely an administration, and indeed would no longer be a ‘national’ company worthy of the name.”

    Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Scottish Opera has told Opera Now that “we are currently in negotiations with the players representatives and the Musician's Union about new employment contracts and do not have anything further to add.”

    The orchestra of Scottish Opera is due to celebrate its 30th birthday this year, having survived a previous financial restructuring of the company in 2004 that led to the loss of nearly 100 jobs, including all 34 members of the Opera’s chorus."


    Is there any clear info of how INO is going to be structured and what it will deliver ? Or is that what they are spending 2011 figuring out ? Westtip, did you ever get a proper reply to your letter to our minister ?

    Anyone know if the OI Tosca is worth a visit? Even if just to say goodbye?


  • Registered Users Posts: 4,282 ✭✭✭westtip


    Sandwich indeed interesting - if this is happening to an established company such as Scottish Opera with the whole ethos of cut cut cut now in the airwaves across Europe, I restate my view - INO is dead in the water before it starts and they should abandon the project now.

    Perhaps our Arts Minister, the arts minister in NI and the Scottish assembly arts minister should get together a Scottish/Irish JV opera comapny - why not in these troubled times.

    Re Tosca if its the production they put out about 6 years ago then no its not worth going to, but to support the dying embers of opera in ireland it may be worth supporting OI in their final leap of death over the castle walls. I am going to try and get there.


  • Closed Accounts Posts: 143 ✭✭JonnyBlackrock


    I'm not going to bother with Tosca, even though I know Orla Boylan is pretty good. I wasted my money on two dire OI "productions". Never again.


  • Registered Users Posts: 4,282 ✭✭✭westtip


    I wasted my money on two dire OI "productions". Never again.


    At least the demise of OI will mean we won;t have to suffer anymore dieter kaegi productions -m lets be thankful for small mercies.


  • Closed Accounts Posts: 4,556 ✭✭✭Nolanger


    Is the English opera Riders to the sea (based on the JM Synge play) any good?


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  • Closed Accounts Posts: 143 ✭✭JonnyBlackrock


    Here's Michael Dervan's review of OI's Tosca from today's Irish Times:
    Tosca

    MICHAEL DERVAN
    Gaiety Theatre, Dublin
    IT WOULD be wonderful to report that Opera Ireland ended its 69-year history in a blaze of glory. However, the new production of Puccini’s Tosca directed by Jakob Peters-Messer, with sets by Markus Meyer and costumes by Sven Bindsell, and Gianluca Martinenghi conducting the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, makes that impossible.
    The church setting of the first act is awkward. A none too large room squats in the middle of the stage, with Cavaradossi’s painting covering both walls and ceiling. The woman in the painting is dark-haired, but Tosca still refers to her as blonde.
    There’s open access to the Attavanti chapel where the escaped prisoner Angelotti has to hide, but he still has to find a key to get through the door in the wall of the room. Scarpia later walks freely through that open space, even though the Sacristan has protested that a key to the clearly redundant door is necessary.
    There’s no desk in Scarpia’s apartment in Act II, only chairs, lots of them, which are used to express violence in various ways and also as resting places for food, drink, and writing paper. And the twist in Act III is that the back of the stage has footlights pointed into the auditorium, and the chorus assembles at the far side of them, dressed as a theatre audience. Tosca retreats from the lights, and freezes in front of where the curtain will drop to suggest she’s about to jump into the orchestra pit. Okay. There’s probably some point being made about all the world being a stage in Act II. But the production is a rather sorry affair.This wouldn’t matter so much if the musical end of the evening were better.
    But there’s a tenor Marcelo Puente’s Cavaradossi, who seems to be stuck at full volume, to the point where you would fear for the future of his voice. And there’s a bass Dimitri Platanias’s Scarpia, who begins more impressively in the same mode, but loses steam in the face of the sound volume that Martinenghi delivers from the pit.
    It’s actually Martinenghi, not Scarpia, who’s the real villain of this piece. He’s one of those conductors who seems unwilling to accommodate singers, either in terms of orchestral balances or the shaping of musical line.
    The singer who suffered most was Orla Boylan, whose Tosca is appropriately jealous, flirtatious and protective with Cavaradossi, and defiant with Scarpia.
    She’s got a genuine vocal heft no one else in the cast can match, but all too often her attempts to broaden a tempo for vocal inflection were stymied by the rigidity of the conducting.
    The audience liked the the edge-of-the-seat effects, and gave the principals a rousing reception.
    Runs until Sunday 21st


    I don't exactly take everything he says as gospel, but I think I'll save my hard earned money for better things.


  • Closed Accounts Posts: 1,490 ✭✭✭Almaviva


    I went to Tosca on Saturday.

    Despite the comments below, 1) I enjoyed it, 2) some live opera is better than none.

    However:
    - Dervan's criticisms are generally on the money. Dramatically it was a non event. Tough enough to do with such a melodrama as Tosca. The cast made a reasonable effort to act, but the failure of the stage concept (if there was one) meant that overall it really didnt add anything much above a concert performance.
    - Tosca and Cavaradossi voices did the job but had no charm. Scarpia's voice was well suited to the role and quite OK.
    - The orchestra played well, the only problem, not their fault, being the mad acoustic of the Gaiety.

    But, to reiterate, this is Ireland. Operatic beggars can't be choosers.


  • Closed Accounts Posts: 143 ✭✭JonnyBlackrock


    Almaviva wrote: »
    But, to reiterate, this is Ireland. Operatic beggars can't be choosers.

    I don't agree with that.
    Rather than go to some third rate excuse of a thing, I'd much rather a) stay at home and save my money, b) listen to top rate recordings and make up imaginary productions in my head, and c) save up and go to see something decent in another country.


  • Registered Users Posts: 4,282 ✭✭✭westtip


    I don't agree with that.
    Rather than go to some third rate excuse of a thing, I'd much rather a) stay at home and save my money, b) listen to top rate recordings and make up imaginary productions in my head, and c) save up and go to see something decent in another country.

    Jonny I went to see Tosca - Michael D is pretty much spot on - its not a good production. I only went to give final support to OI, got the cheapest seat possible, I have seen Tosca more times than I care to remember - including some really great historic performances of the past 30 years.Domingo, Pavorottti, etc and some wonderful productions by Scottish, Welsh and indeed Opera North. This production is 4th Division stuff. Re seeing stuff in another country - its the same price for me to travel to Glasgow, Cardiff or London from the West of Ireland - so missing out on the home spun stuff at the Gaiety is no sad loss. OI is gone and best forgotten.


  • Closed Accounts Posts: 1,066 ✭✭✭Sandwlch


    Went to see it also and to say goodbye (hopefully not au revoir) to OI. Nothing to recommend it. Hard to know what it was trying to achieve and 4th rate is about right. Voices just about got the job done but were in no way winning. All were very one dimensional with little character. Crowd seemed delighted though. Loads of ovating and even some standing ovaters at the end. Beats me - maybe my ears just missed the brilliance.

    I do hope something gets up and running sooner rather than later to have a go and stage some opera in Ireland, and it doesnt just get permanently 'postponed' due to our economic woes. I am not looking for Royal Opera standard, but would like to see someone making an effort. Important that we have some opera on our doorstep so that it does not completely become a foreign treat.

    Had a quick scan back at the OI productions over the years (surprisingly(!) none sprung to mind without prompting), and could only recognise two which I both enjoyed and though a good job had been done, Giulio Cesare in 2001, and Imeneo in 2006. Shocking how many I was at yet made no impression on me.


  • Registered Users Posts: 4,282 ✭✭✭westtip


    Sandwlch wrote: »
    Went to see it also and to say goodbye (hopefully not au revoir) to OI. Nothing to recommend it. Hard to know what it was trying to achieve and 4th rate is about right. Voices just about got the job done but were in no way winning. All were very one dimensional with little character. Crowd seemed delighted though. Loads of ovating and even some standing ovaters at the end. Beats me - maybe my ears just missed the brilliance.

    I do hope something gets up and running sooner rather than later to have a go and stage some opera in Ireland, and it doesnt just get permanently 'postponed' due to our economic woes. I am not looking for Royal Opera standard, but would like to see someone making an effort. Important that we have some opera on our doorstep so that it does not completely become a foreign treat.

    Had a quick scan back at the OI productions over the years (surprisingly(!) none sprung to mind without prompting), and could only recognise two which I both enjoyed and though a good job had been done, Giulio Cesare in 2001, and Imeneo in 2006. Shocking how many I was at yet made no impression on me.

    I agree with your sentiments Sand I couldn't see what there was to cheer about - we do need some home grown opera; and like you I am not expecting standards; of the top five houses in the world; good quality regional repertory opera (Opera North, Scottish Opera a good benchmark) should be achievable, the past few years have not been good for OI, I agree about Giulio Cesare, the Orpheus (around 2004?) was pretty good, they stuck for too long with Dieter Kaegi who dragged the company into the mire in terms of production standards and intepretations, he was a complete disaster; I am sure there is a way forward but watching Primetime tonight I cannot see a new national opera company being high on the agenda.... it will be the responsibility of the next Government....


  • Registered Users Posts: 4,282 ✭✭✭westtip


    Nolanger wrote: »
    Is the English opera Riders to the sea (based on the JM Synge play) any good?

    It's an interesting short piece by Ralph Vaughan Williams - not everyone's cup of tea (RVW that is),

    The wiki entry is here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Riders_to_the_Sea_(opera)

    I have only heard it once many moons ago in London, in a concert performacne and I recall being quite impressed.....but it was a long time ago! Just listened to some bits on Youtube - its made me want to see it again - I think I would go out of my way to see it - it is not performed very often - if anyone is reading from Wexford woudl be a nice idea for a double bill at the Festival! Lets say a double bill with one of Brittens short pieces, say Owen Wingrave hardly every performed....

    Heres the Youtube link to riders to the Sea very mournful stuff:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZSZe1EIo7NE

    Its actually very beautiful having listened to it writing this post!!!!


  • Closed Accounts Posts: 143 ✭✭JonnyBlackrock


    westtip wrote: »
    we do need some home grown opera; and like you I am not expecting standards; of the top five houses in the world; good quality regional repertory opera (Opera North, Scottish Opera a good benchmark) should be achievable

    Indeed. If they can put on high quality opera in Wexford (in a very high quality theatre) on a pretty low budget, then why on earth can't they do it in Dublin??? Sad.

    BTW, there was a letter in today's Irish Times on the subject of OI:

    A tribute to Opera Ireland

    • Madam, – As the last production of Opera Ireland reaches its final performance of Tosca at the Gaiety Theatre on Sunday, I would like to pay tribute to the wonderful history of the company in providing classical opera to Dublin audiences for almost seven decades. From its beginnings as the Dublin Grand Opera Society, which bravely began life during the Emergency, to its newer incarnation as Opera Ireland, the company has, against all the odds of financial mountains-to-climb, official disinterest and lack of a dedicated lyric theatre, staged many memorable productions, from Luciano Pavarotti’s debut in Rigoletto to the European premiere of Dead Man Walking. Tosca, despite the characteristically mean-spirited review (November 15th), combines perhaps the best achievements of Opera Ireland in its modern production values and its consistent casting of Irish singers in major roles.
      As a former director of Opera Ireland and a granddaughter of the great Limerick tenor and impresario Joseph O’Mara, I am saddened at the demise of a fine tradition of opera production in Ireland. In another ‘Emergency’ during the first World War, the O’Mara Opera Company staged two seasons at the Gaiety annually, offering up to six operas per season; I can only hope that the Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport will not keep Dublin audiences waiting for the next “Emergency” to launch the first season of the eagerly awaited new National Opera Company . . . or has that arrived already? – Yours, etc,
      EILEEN O’MARA WALSH,
      Carrickmines Wood,
      Dublin 18.
    I can't possibly imagine what "fine tradition of opera production in Ireland" she could be talking about.


  • Closed Accounts Posts: 1,066 ✭✭✭Sandwlch


    Jonny, she means a fine tradition of threadbare, low quality productions, in venues unsuited to opera (RDS Library anyone?) , on a handful of nights per year to a minute opera-going public.

    Different take from Michael Dervan in todays Irish Times (is it OK to copy this stuff??? Anyway, here goes).

    Bottom line: artistic failure, financial failure, promotion of opera failure, survival failure. Not lot to applaud then.


    As Opera Ireland prepares to take its final bow – the current production of Tosca will be its last – Michael Dervan looks at the potted history of the artform here and asks what this means for the new Irish National Opera

    IMAGINE THIS. You’re asked to direct an opera on short notice and you find yourself having to argue your rehearsal time up to a grand total of 10 days in an artform where four to six weeks are the norm. But when rehearsals actually start, the lead singers simply don’t show. And your designer has difficulty getting the measurements of the heroine, who then decides to bring and wear her own costume.

    This is not a fantasy. It’s what happened to director Ben Barnes and designer Wendy Shea when they worked on a Dublin Grand Opera Society production of Tosca in 1985. Barnes chose to have his name removed before the programmes were printed.

    Was this the nadir of the DGOS? Or was that the dayglo Turandot produced and designed by Dario Micheli in December 1986, the last gasp of the old-style DGOS before Michael McCaffery became artistic director in 1987? Could it have been the unseemly quick despatch of McCaffery’s successor Kenneth Richardson in 1991? Or perhaps it was Dieter Kaegi’s 2001 Don Carlos which the Times in London lampooned in the headline “Carry on, Carlos,” with a strap that ran “Did you know that Don Carlos is a rollicking farce? Neither did our correspondent” (the redoubtable Rodney Milnes).

    In my opera-going lifetime it’s always been easy to have a go at Opera Ireland and its predecessors, the awkwardly-named DGOS/Opera Ireland, and the DGOS pure and simple. The reason is not hard to find. The DGOS was founded in 1941, and its glory days were well before my time, from the late 1940s to the 1960s.

    In the early years, the DGOS hosted visits by leading European companies. The casts were mouth-watering. And later it had subvention from the Italian government for a focus on Italian opera, and Pavarotti sang in Dublin before he was heard in London.

    But things got so bad that in 1983 the Arts Council’s annual report (not usually a forum for dressing down clients) voiced concern “at the production and design standards achieved by the Society and early in 1983 [the council] stipulated that it should engage a separate designer and producer for each production and should increase expenditure on sets, costume and design.”

    Things improved once Michael McCaffery was installed. When I first reported on the company’s work for the British magazine Opera Now in 1991, I wrote, “The high spots of recent years included a thought-provoking Pêcheurs de Perles directed by Mike Ashman in 1987, an inventive, La Dolce Vita -style, updating of Don Giovanni from Patrick Mason in 1988, and a gripping Dublin premiere of Peter Grimes directed by Tim Hopkins in 1990. There has been singing of note, too. Nuccia Focile’s vocally enchanting Norina in a 1987 Don Pasquale , Virginia Kerr’s rivetting Léïla in Pêcheurs de Perles and a thrilling Cavaradossi from Maurizio Saltarin in a 1990 Tosca immediately spring to mind.”

    And when Dieter Kaegi became artistic director in 1997 he put Irish opera lovers in his debt by mounting productions of a swathe of repertoire that was new to the company: Boris Godunov , Salome (both 1999), Katya Kabanova , Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk (2000), Handel’s Giulio Cesare , Mark Anthony Turnage’s The Silver Tassie (2001), Handel’s Imeneo (2005), André Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire (2006), Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking (2007), Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream , Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos (2008), Tchaikovsky’s Mazeppa (2009), as well as Wagner’s Das Rheingold and Bellini’s I Capuleti e I Montecchi in concert performances.

    SO WHY HAS OPERA IRELAND long been the victim of so much flak? Well, in the Kaegi years, standards have been extraordinarily variable. For a company producing two seasons a year with two operas in each season, that meant that a single dud effectively created a season failure rate of 50 per cent.

    The variability made it virtually impossible for the company to put together a string of successes. And on top of that, going back to the 1980s, the company had a series of most appalling of financial woes. It limped from crisis to crisis, burdened by deficits. And its situation was compounded by an Arts Council which welched on successive endeavours to put opera funding on a more realistic footing.

    In a way, however, all of these issues are peripheral.

    The biggest issue has been that Opera Ireland has never really sustained a persuasive sense of direction. Backing A Streetcar Named Desire and Dead Man Walking was a real comedown from Boris Godunov and Salome . (To be fair to Kaegi, the company never yielded to his wish to stage an even greater work, Berg’s Wozzeck .) And, with output stuck in a rut of 18 performances a year (when crises weren’t causing cutbacks) the company was presenting only a fraction of what it used to manage.

    The drop is staggering. 1960-69 saw 370 nights of opera, with 98 productions. 2000-2009 brought 166 nights, with 34 productions and three works given in concert performances. Imagine what we would think if the 21st-century services of Aer Lingus or RTÉ, were less than half their levels of the 1960s.

    Mention of Aer Lingus and RTÉ brings us to the nub of the problem, as they both have a history of being national providers. Opera Ireland in its various incarnations seemed the natural body to bring this country the kind of permanent, year-round, national opera company that even the poorest of European nations manage to support. Sadly, this was never to happen, and the company never showed a coherent ambition to develop in that direction.

    Countries such as Finland and Norway had thriving national companies in spite of sharing Ireland’s lack of a national opera house (a deficiency remedied in Helsinki in 1993 and Oslo in 2008). Welsh National Opera and Scottish Opera were founded later than the DGOS (1946 and 1962, respectively), yet both managed to become fully-fledged national opera providers.

    Even Íslenska óperan in Iceland, serving a population of 308,000, managed to send out a psychologically important message by giving native singers annual contracts, a signal of intent that has never been seen here.

    Again, the Arts Council didn’t help matters. Back in 1998 when the council engaged in a series of public consultations about its second-ever arts plan, I attended a session on opera held in Malahide. No one from the council even mentioned the idea of a national company, nor did any representative from Opera Ireland do so. The council set up committee after committee, and, even when it agreed to increase the funding, it never reached its own targets.

    The council may well have seen the vagaries of Opera Ireland as a valid excuse. Opera Ireland may well have felt defeated in the face of the council’s effective sidelining of opera. Either way, if you’ll forgive the cliche, we are where we are. For all its successes, Opera Ireland has failed. And what about the new Irish National Opera that Martin Cullen brought into being and that Mary Hanafin has so obviously been stalling over? Well. Let’s try the hardest thing of all in the current climate.

    Let’s try to be optimists.


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  • Registered Users Posts: 4,282 ✭✭✭westtip


    MD does go on a bit - I can't understand why he has to mention Martin Cullen at the end of the article - Cullen simply signed off on something he couldn't deliver and left office - not his fault for leaving office i know - but whatever emerges will not be his legacy to opera in ireland. The trouble with MD he doesn't actually contribute to the debate by saying this is what I would like to see, in this article he has just rambled on about performances he has reviewed probably having never paid for a ticket in his life. The post further up about the orchestra of Scottish opera says more about the future of opera in ireland than MD does - the truth is the total spend on opera in ireland is not going to be increased - and to deliver an Irish National Opera Company it will have to be. I don't feel there is any cause for optimism


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