Le Pré aux clercs, a co-production between Wexford Festival Opera and Opéra-Comique opens Paris

Le Pré aux clercs ('The Clerks’ Meadow') by Ferdinand Hérold, a co-production with the famed Opéra-Comique de Paris, opened in Paris to a capacity crowd of more than 1,200.  Based on a novel by Prosper Mérimée, Hérold’s opéra comique was a runaway success in the wake of its triumphant premiere in 1832. 

This first co-production between Opéra-Comique, Paris, in partnership with La Fondazione Palazzetto Bru Zane - Centre de musique romantique française, and in association with the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, will transfer to Wexford in October for four further performances on 23, 26, 29 October and 1 November.  Wexford audiences will be able to book tickets for this production and all other events for the 64th Wexford Festival Opera when general booking opens this coming Saturday, 28 March at 9.30 a.m.

Le Pré aux clercs is Hérold’s last and finest opéra comique and received more than 1,500 performances in Paris between its premiere in 1832 and the end of the nineteenth century.  Hérold was too ill from tuberculosis to appear on the stage to enjoy his triumph and the audience’s wildly enthusiastic applause. He died five weeks later, aged forty-two.

Set during the French wars of Religion, Le Pré aux clercs is a touching romance in which a young countess rebels against the suitor chosen for her by the King of France and hatches a daring plot to escape with her lover to Navarre. 

When the production transfers to Wexford in October, Canadian soprano Marie-Ève Munger, who sang in last year’s very popular Don Bucefalo will return to Wexford to sing the role of Isabelle. Joining her from the cast in Paris will be Marie Lenormand and Eric Huchet, both of whom will make their debut in Wexford.

Jean-Luc Tingaud returns to Wexford to conduct for the fifth time, having previously conducted Sapho by Massenet (2001), Manon Lescaut by Auber (2002), Pénélope by Fauré (2005) and Le Roi malgré lui by Chabrier (2012).  In 2014 he recorded two CDs (Dukas and Bizet) for Naxos with RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, Dublin.

Éric Ruf is both director and set designer for this new production and has a long and varied career in both fields with a distinguished career as actor in theatre, television and film as well as director of theatre and opera.  In 2007 he received two Molière Awards for his acting and set designs for the play Cyrano de Bergerac (2006) at the Comédie-Française, where he currently serves as Managing Director. 

In addition to this co-production, there are two other main stage operas at Wexford Festival Opera: Koanga by Frederick Delius and Guglielmo Ratcliff by Pietro Mascagni, as well as three daytime ShortWorks operas: The Portrait of Manon by Jules Massenet, Hansel and Gretel by Engelbert Humperdinck and Tosca by Giacomo Puccini. There are also concerts, lunchtime recitals, lectures and talks: 52 events over the 12-day Festival.  There is a range of ticket prices for the evening operas beginning at just €25, while daytime events range from just €10 to €25.

Koanga by Frederick Delius is considered to be the first opera to use African-American music.  Inspired by the African-American songs Delius heard as a young man working on an orange plantation in Florida, Koanga is a powerfully atmospheric opera about a proud African prince, sold into slavery in Louisiana, who falls in love with a mixed-race maid, with tragic consequences. 

Guglielmo Ratcliff by Pietro Mascagni is recognised as having one of the most demanding roles ever written for a tenor.  Jealousy is at the heart of Mascagni’s blood-soaked opera, in which a young Scot, spurned by the object of his affections, challenges any other suitor to a duel.  Distinguished by atmospheric orchestral writing, full-blooded melodies and great dramatic pace, Guglielmo Ratcliff is the work of a master in full flow.

A taster menu of one hour ShortWorks (daytime short operas):  The ever-popular ShortWorks return to Whites of Wexford Hotel again this year with three intimate productions, including: The Portrait of Manon by Jules Massenet (1842–1912), Hansel and Gretel by Engelbert Humperdinck (1854–1921) and Tosca by Giacomo Puccini (1858–1924). Approximately an hour in length, the ShortWorks operas allow audiences to enjoy an original short opera or a condensed version of a more familiar opera.  Seating is allocated for all of these performances. A special daytime package is on offer for €60 which includes a Lunchtime Recital, lunch and a ShortWorks opera.  Timings allow audiences to travel easily to and from Wexford by car, bus or rail within a day.

Continuing a long-established Wexford tradition, the popular Lunchtime Recitals (approximately 50 minutes in length) will be presented in St Iberius Church in the centre of Wexford town. These recitals afford a unique opportunity to hear the principal artists of the Festival display their versatility in an intimate setting.  The artists and their performance dates will be announced prior to the Festival.

Always a great favourite, the Gala Concert is one of the highlights of the Festival, featuring a collection of favourite party pieces from members of the Festival Company. This event sells out early, so it is best not to hesitate. 

Tara Erraught will perform a special recital on the October bank holiday Monday from the stage of the National Opera House.  The Dundalk-born mezzo-soprano is a graduate of the Royal Irish Academy of Music and continues to study with Veronica Dunne, whom she describes as the guiding force in her musical career. Tara came to worldwide attention in February 2011 when she learned the role of Romeo in five days for a new production of Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich, in order to replace an indisposed colleague. She had already sung solo roles in a number of productions at Glyndebourne, the Wiener Staatsoper, Theater an der Wien and the Bayerische Staatsoper, being hailed by the press as ‘the new queen of bel canto’. She has been a member of the opera studio at the Bayerische Staatsoper since 2008.

Wexford Festival Opera is delighted to be associated once again with the Dublin International Piano Competition. The 2015 Dublin International Piano Competition takes place in May when 69 selected applicants, including six from Ireland, will take part in the triennial competition, and as part of the first prize package, the 2015 winner will perform a very special concert on the stage of the O’Reilly Theatre in the National Opera House.  The Wexford recital will be an early opportunity to hear the winner of this prestigious competition, which, like Wexford Festival Opera, prides itself on presenting the very best performers on the threshold of their careers.

In a change to the previously announced programme, the 2015 Dr Tom Walsh Lecture will now be given by the conductor of Koanga, Stephen Barlow. Stephen is the Artistic Director of Buxton Festival and has an impressive international opera and orchestra conducting career.   Stephen’s long association with Glyndebourne began in 1977 and he made his international debut as an opera conductor in 1989 with Vancouver Opera. As an opera and orchestra conductor he has worked throughout Europe, North America, Australia and South Africa. He has accompanied baritone Mark Stone on a number of CDs of English songs, including the complete songs of Delius. He has composed an opera, King, about Thomas Becket and King Henry II, which was premiered in Canterbury Cathedral in 2006, and Rainbow Bear for orchestra and narrator, which he has recorded with his wife, Joanna Lumley (narrator). 

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, historical tours, and of course the Singing and Swinging Pubs competition.  Full details: www.wexfordfringe.ie

Attendance at last year’s Festival was at an all-time high, with most performances sold-out.  Priority booking, which opened at the end of February, has also been very strong, so for the best selection of dates and ticket prices, and to avoid disappointment, early booking for this year’s Festival is highly recommended. 

There are still a few days left in the priority booking period for Friends’ memberships, which offers many benefits, including invitations to exclusive post-opera parties, recitals, talks, overseas events, behind the scenes news and lunches.  To learn more about becoming a Friend, visit www.wexfordopera.com/friends/ and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xknw0cX_Ens

The 64th Wexford Festival Opera is grant-aided by the Arts Council, Fáilte Ireland and Wexford County Council.