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02 Mar 2017

Wexford Festival Opera announces details of 2017 Festival

Today, Wexford Festival Opera announced the programme and principal casting details for the forthcoming 2017 festival. Now in its 66th year, this internationally renowned festival will run over an extended 18-day period, from Thursday, 19 October to Sunday, 5 November.

66th Wexford Festival Opera 19 October - 5 November 2017
Full programme details and casting -
Wexfordopera.com

The 66th Festival will open with Medea by Luigi Cherubini directed by Fiona Shaw, who is known for both her award-winning theatre and film acting work, including playing Medea, in a production that originated at the Abbey Theatre before moving to the West End and eventually onto Broadway, earning her a Tony nomination. In recent times, she has been making a significant impact as an opera director with productions such as Riders to the Sea, Henze’s Elegy for Young Lovers and The Marriage of Figaro for English National Opera, The Rape of Lucretia for Glyndebourne and the Deutsche Oper, Berlin. Fiona Shaw will also deliver the 2017 Dr Tom Walsh Lecture on Saturday, 21 October in Clayton Whites Hotel.

The other two main evening operas include the highly anticipated Margherita by Jacopo Foroni, which hasn’t been seen or heard since it premiered in Milan in 1848 and Risurrezione by Franco Alfano, based on the Tolstoy novel.

The festival is also delighted to present a co-production with Opera Theatre Company, the world-premiere of two one-act operas entitled,Dubliners. Based on Counterparts and The Boarding House from Joyce’s Dubliners, the operas are composed by Andrew Synnott with adaptation and text by Arthur Riordan. Performed by a cast of six accompanied by piano and string quartet.

Commenting on the upcoming Festival, Artistic Director David Agler said, “ For the first time in many years five of the six operas produced are sung in Italian. The 66th Festival will open with Medea by Luigi Cherubini, an opera which had a sensational reception at its premiere in 1859, after which, like so many Wexford revivals, the opera went into decline. I am delighted that two distinguished Irish artists, director Fiona Shaw and designer Annemarie Woods, will make their Wexford debuts with this production. Leading the orchestra will be conductor Stephen Barlow. Several exceptional young singers will be involved in the production including the remarkable Norwegian Lise Davidsen, nominated Best Young Singer in the 2017 International Opera Awards and Russian tenor Sergey Romanovsky.

“Margherita by Jacopo Foroni will be the second opera by this only recently rediscovered composer to be presented in Wexford. The surprise hit of the 2013 Festival was Foroni’s Cristina, regina di Svezia which went on to win a major prize for Wexford at the International Opera Awards. Making their Wexford debuts will be director Michael Sturm and designer Stefan Rieckhoff. Our conductor will be Timothy Myers, who led the excellent performance of Samuel Barber’s Vanessa last season. The cast will include singers on their way to promising futures. Alessandra Volpe, an impressive Italian mezzo-soprano will take the title role and Andrew Stenson will sing the part of Ernesto.

The third production at our 2017 Festival will be Franco Alfano’s Risurrezione based on Leo Tolstoy’s novel Resurrection . The creative team for this exciting verismo opera is in the hands of Festival veterans Rosetta Cucchi, Tiziano Santi and Claudia Pernighotti. Fresh from our 2015 Festival production of Guglielmo Ratcliff , conductor Francesco Cilluffo will lead the Wexford Festival Orchestra and Chorus.

“And in another first for Wexford, we will present a co-production with Opera Theatre Company, the world-premiere of Dubliners by Irish composer Andrew Synnott as part of our daytime ShortWorks. In addition to customary lunchtime recitals, lectures and the Gala Concert throughout the extended 18-day Festival, I am delighted to announce a piano recital in the National Opera House with Ireland’s own outstanding pianist Finghin Collins, as well as the return of Una Hunt, Ireland’s leading authority on Irish composers whose music has been largely forgotten or neglected. Una has assembled a very special programme from the music of the much beloved Thomas Moore.

The main evening operas:

Medea

Based on the Euripides play, Medea is one of the most notorious figures from Greek mythology, a sorceress whose main claim to fame is the event that brings down the curtain on Cherubini's opera: She murders her own children in revenge for her husband, Jason’s, betrayal. Cherubini’s masterpiece remains a work of which everyone has heard, famously recorded by Maria Callas, but relatively few opera lovers have actually experienced in the theatre. Medea is a fierce work, and not simply because of its subject matter.

Margherita

Following the success of Cristina, regina di Svezia at Wexford in 2013, acclaimed by many as one of the most worthwhile rediscoveries in the festival’s long history, another of Jacopo Foroni’s operas, his first,Margherita, premiered one year earlier than Cristina in front of the ‘home’ audience in Milan. It was greeted with considerable enthusiasm at the time, though like his other work, fell into obscurity after his untimely death at age 32. It is widely believed that had he lived he would have been a worthy rival to Verdi.

This light-hearted opera tells the story of a rural young woman Margherita and her quest to marry her soldier-love Ernesto. This is the first staging of the opera since its premiere in Milan in 1848. As there is no official recording of the opera either, it promises to be one of the highly anticipated productions of the Festival. A co-production with Opera Omaha.

Risurrezione

Franco Alfano is remembered today less for his own operas than for his role in completing another composer’s work - Turandot, left unfinished at the time of Puccini’s death. Risurrezione, the opera that brought Alfano his first taste of fame, premiered in Turin in 1904. Based upon Tolstoy's novel of the same name, Risurrezione is set in Russia and deals with the maid Katiusha and her ill-fated affair with Prince Dimitri Nekludoff.

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. Talks are free. No advance booking required.

A taster menu of one-hour ShortWorks (daytime short operas):

In addition to the three main evening operas, there will be three daytime ShortWorks operas that audiences have come to cherish just as much as the main evening operas. Intimately staged and approximately one hour in length, the ShortWorks operas are presented in the nearby Clayton Whites Hotel (formerly Whites of Wexford) 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:

La Scala di seta by Gioachino Rossini, one his lesser-known works, belongs firmly to his early Italian years, and indeed is a key work in his development, even if it is only more recently that its jewel-like qualities have come to be fully appreciated. A fast-moving comedy, its title translates as ‘The Silken Ladder’ - in this case, a stairway to the heaven of various nocturnal rendezvous.

Dubliners by Irish composer Andrew Synnott with adaptation and text by Arthur Riordan two one-act operas; Counterparts and The Boarding House from Joyce’s Dubliners will receive its world-premiere for four performances only. The opera is written for a cast of six accompanied by piano and string quartet. Dubliners is a co-production with Opera Theatre Company.

Rigoletto by Giuseppe Verdi, a condensed version of the original, was the first of his operas to have remained popular since its premiere in 1851. Containing some of opera’s most beloved arias including ‘la donne é mobile’, the tragic story revolves around the licentious Duke of Mantua, his hunch-backed court jester Rigoletto and Rigoletto's beautiful daughter Gilda. The opera's original title, La maledizione (The Curse), refers to the curse placed on both the Duke and Rigoletto by a courtier whose daughter had been seduced by the Duke with Rigoletto's encouragement. The curse comes to fruition when Gilda likewise falls in love with the Duke and eventually sacrifices her life to save him from the assassins hired by her father.

Also extremely popular with Festival audiences, the Lunchtime Recitals (approximately 50 minutes in length) form an integral part of the daytime programme. The Lunchtime Recitals offer a unique opportunity to hear the principal artists of the Festival perform their favourite repertoire in the intimate and informal setting of St Iberius Church in the centre of Wexford town. Unsurprisingly, the Lunchtime Recitals sell out very quickly. The artists and their performance dates will be announced prior to the Festival.

Una Hunt, Ireland’s leading authority on Irish composers whose music has been largely forgotten or neglected, who will present The Thomas Moore Songbook a programme of Moore’s Irish Melodies. Two performances will be presented in the atmospheric setting of St Iberius Church on Thursday, 20 and Saturday, 28 October.

A special daytime package for €65 includes a Lunchtime Recital or Thomas Moore Songbook concert, lunch and a ShortWorks opera. Timings allow audiences to travel easily to and from Wexford by car, bus or rail within a day. Seating is allocated for all of these performances.

One of Ireland's most successful pianists, Dubliner Finghin Collins will perform a piano recital in the O’Reilly Theatre in the National Opera House on bank holiday Monday, 30 October at 11 a.m. Having initially studied at the Royal Irish Academy of Music with John O'Connor and the Geneva Conservatoire with Dominique Merlet, Finghin went on to winning awards in Ireland and ultimately achieving great international success by taking first prize at the Clara Haskil International Piano Competition in Switzerland in 1999. Since then he has developed a flourishing international career that takes him all over Europe, the United States and the Far East.

This year the Festival will present two lectures. On Saturday, 21 October, the 2017 Dr Tom Walsh Lecture will be given by Cork native, Fiona Shaw, renowned actress and theatre and opera director, marking her Wexford Festival Opera directorial debut. In addition to her critically-acclaimed opera directing, Fiona is also widely known for her extensive and celebrated acting performances with the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre, twice winning the Olivier Award for Best Actress; for various roles including Electra in 1990, and for Machinal in 1994. She won the 1997 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Solo Performance for The Waste Land. Her other stage work includes playing the title role in Medea, at the Abbey Theatre, West End and on Broadway (2001-02) resulting in a Tony Award nomination. She was awarded an Honorary CBE in 2001.

On Saturday, 28 October in the Jerome Hynes Theatre in the National Opera House, Canadian broadcaster and associate professor of musicology at the Faculty of Music of the University of Montreal, Sylvia L’Écuyer will present a talk entitled Operas of the Past, Mirrors of our Present, exploring the trends in updating operas into contemporary circumstances. Both lectures are just €10 each.

A Festival tradition, the Gala Concert 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.

Affiliated with the Festival since the 50s, are the Wexford Festival Opera Historical Tours, programmed by long-time associate of Wexford Festival Opera, Nicky Furlong on behalf of Wexford Historical Society. Led by expert guides, these tours explore places of historical interest throughout County Wexford’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. The tours are free and are open to all. Full details of these popular tours are announced each year in September. No booking necessary. For more information visit www.wexfordhistoricalsociety.com

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

Priority booking for Friends of Wexford Festival Opera opens on a staged basis from Saturday, 25 March. General booking opens on Saturday, 15 April. 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 more information on how to travel to Wexford, accommodation, and the most up to date casting and programme details or to download the Festival brochure, visit www.wexfordopera.com.

The 66th Wexford Festival Opera is supported by grants from the Arts Council, Fáilte Ireland, and Wexford County Council.

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