Wexford Festival always held a special place in my heart; I love opera!
I was at the first Festival in 1951, Balfe’s “The Rose of Castile”, but the second year, 1952, always took pride of place. 1952 was the first time an opera was performed in Wexford in the language it was written in, apart from English. Dr. Tom Walsh, the founder of the Festival, was Artistic Director and L’Elisir d’Amore by Donizetti was the chosen opera. The Italian tenor, Nicola Monti, sang the role of Nemorino and what a beautiful lyric tenor voice he had; he enthralled the audience, especially with his rendition of the beautiful aria “ Una Furtiva Lagrima” – I can still feel the thrill of it all. The opera was performed for four nights and I was very lucky to see it on the opening and closing nights. We had wonderful singers that year: soprano Elvina Ramella in the role of Adina and the famous Cristiano Dallamangas sang the bass role Dulcimara. The producer was Peter Ebert from Glyndebourne. Nicola Monti won everybody’s heart and he and Dallamangas sang at Wexford Festival for many more years. The chorus was comprised of local singers, all of a very high standard, one of whom was Nellie Walsh, sister of Dr Tom Walsh. We knew in Wexford that Opera was here to stay. There was a hum of excitement in the town, with everyone talking about the singers and the production and praising Dr Tom and his team for their foresight. It was wonderful to experience it all.
There were a lot of “sideshows” that year too; exhibitions, concerts, recitals, operatic films shown in Cinema Palace, lectures, conducted tours, and the popular Festival Forum which was very entertaining and was chaired by Fintan O’Connor. This was a big step up from the first Festival in 1951 and a very courageous step for all involved.Thank God we’ve had many years of exciting Festivals since then and have heard many wonderful singers, too many to mention here, including Mirella Freni. Italian soprano Mirella Freni’s performance in Bellini’s “I Puritani” (1962) stands out as another very special experience for me. She had the most beautiful soprano voice and I will never forget that wonderful opera with her singing the principal role joined by baritone Lino Puglisi and bass Franco Ventriglia.
May we enjoy many more Wexford Festivals in years to come.