Festival Diary: Countdown to Opera

By Jane O'Faherty - Communications Intern.

The first time I felt that I really liked Wexford was when I was nine years old. I had moved from Dublin in early 2001. By October of that year I was still settling in. For the first few months of living in Wexford, I was deliberately difficult. I was angry that my family chose to leave the capital for what I saw as some small town on the coast.

Festival Diary: Countdown to Opera

Everything changed on the opening of that year’s Wexford Festival Opera. The exhilarating fireworks on the quay were unlike anything I had ever seen before. Passing by O’Hanrahan Station, glamorous passengers disembarked from what was then the iconic Opera Train. Along Main Street, both locals and opera aficionados fed off the unique buzz that ran through the town. My ambivalence towards Wexford vanished in a matter of hours, never to return.

From then on, I knew I really wanted to get involved with the festival. I started volunteering in Wexford Opera House from the age of 15, and loved every minute of it. At the not-so-tender age of 20, I’ll now have a glimpse of the operas backstage. I’m currently in my third year of Journalism and New Media in the University of Limerick, but I’ve come back for an internship with the Media Relations Manager, Elizabeth Rose-Browne.

This year’s festival promises to be one of the most exciting yet. Firstly, Wexford will play host to the autumn Opera Europa conference at the end of October. Interestingly, the theme of the conference is ‘Discovery’. As Wexford is known as a festival to come upon previously obscure gems of opera, it seems more than apt.

One of my personal aims is to unmask the genre of opera. I know very little about opera myself – the vast majority of arias I am familiar with probably appeared in television adverts and movies. However, I hope that I’ll be more aware of opera before I leave my post here. With this weekly column, I hope you will be too.

At first it was a little strange to be talking about Wexford Festival Opera in August. The reality is that in Wexford Opera House, the festival has already started. The backstage team is already working on building the sets for the three mainstage operas, after all the designs were signed and sealed off in January and February of this year.

“Right now we’re working on [Il Cappello di Paglia di Firenze], so we’ve got some local scenic artists who’ve been finishing off some of the extra scenery that they’ve been building,” said David Stuttard, Technical Director of Wexford Festival Opera. David added that a lot of the sets are currently being delivered from Dublin to be painted in the theatre, as they are simply too big for painting in the workshop.

Operatic sets in Wexford have included everything from trapdoors to trapezes, but what can we expect from this year’s productions? “This year, there are no tricks, bells or whistles. Everything is actually quite straightforward,” says David. However, finding props for some operas can prove challenging. “The props demands on [Cristina, Regina di Svezia] are particularly heavy this year. We’re trying to find 41 matched chairs, for instance,” adds David. “We’ve got a full-sized parachute this year, for Cristina as well.”

With all this activity already, it is becoming apparent that this internship will not be like others. Some work placements can be limited to making coffee and taking out the bins, but I don’t think I’ll have that problem. In between writing this column, blogging for the opera house and the festival, and welcoming artists and journalists, I don’t think I’ll have time for coffee. The first weeks have been hectic and lively, and things are set to become more demanding as the festival draws nearer. However, I wouldn’t have it any other way.