In James Joyce’s novel, Ulysses, the character Lenehan provides the answer to his own riddle: ‘what opera is like a railway line?’ It is ‘The Rose of Castile’, a three-act opera set in Spain in the Middle-Ages, and composed by William Balfe, whose family moved from Dublin to Wexford when he was a child. Balfe’s influence, together with Wexford’s long musical heritage, was instrumental in setting the scene for something no one dreamed of before 1951. With the determination of Tom Walsh, it was not just an opera that was produced, (the said ‘Rose of Castile’), but an entire festival, which grew very rapidly in international standing and acclamation.
As part of the 70th anniversary celebrations, a series of short informal video clips is being presented, one for each year of the festival’s history. Featuring material from the festival archive and many private collections, the clips include a lot of items not seen before, with many famous voices featuring alongside photos of many productions. Compiled and edited by Ger Lawlor, these trips down memory lane involve a cast of thousands and feature audio and visual material selected to showcase the talent and passion of all those who have been involved since 1951. These excerpts from operas, interviews, videos and still photos provide a compelling insight into the workings of the festival, both onstage and behind the scenes. Early interviews with Dr. Tom Walsh are also included recalling the Theatre Royal in the 1920s and show the interest in opera that has been in Wexford for over 100 years.
The videos will be released over the coming twelve months, giving an informal online history of the Festival from the early days in the Theatre Royal, and ending with the Festivals of recent years in the National Opera House.