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Artist Development

Wexford, a life long dream

Rosetta Cucchi Landscape

I arrived in Wexford one evening in September 1995, it was one of my first experiences abroad. I was picked up at the airport in Dublin by a very kind gentleman who I thought was a driver, then I learned that he was a very cultured professor who, like many others, gave his free time to the Festival as a volunteer.

I was tired from travelling and my English was quite primitive but...OMG I didn't understand a word of that man! The next day I realised that I didn't understand much even after a night's sleep, that accent was completely new to me. I decided that for that year, the best way to survive was to nod at everyone: to Jim Golden who every time he met me at the box office mumbled something fake grumpy, to Jerome Hynes who walked fast to have control of his festival and spoke even faster and above all to Ted Howlin of whom I did not understand a word and who together with his wife Mary, would become very close friends of mine.

But back to the first evening, we arrive in Wexford on the Riverbank side and I see two magnificent bell towers silhouetted in the sky, but no theatre! I leave my luggage at the B&B and decide to explore this unknown place. I arrive in High Street, the address given to me to reach the theatre. I remind you that it was raining, and it was dark, and I see a series of low houses very similar to each other but no theatre!

I'm starting to feel uncomfortable, was this a bad joke?

Anyway, I continue on High Street and at a certain point a small blue door appears with the words "Stage Door". I entered and what I found beyond that small door changed my life. The rest is history!

I first arrived at the Festival after I was invited, by Luigi Ferrari as pianist. In 1999 I was given my first chance to direct La scala di seta by Rossini, in one of the Opera scenes as they were called at that time. In 2005 David Agler succeeded Luigi Ferrari and asked me to stay as deputy Artistic Director and in 2019 I participated in, and won, the tender for the new Artistic Director. What a great adventure!

I learned the outcome of the competition one day in November. It was the end of the Festival that year and I was still in Wexford. I went down to the stage, it was completely empty, I sat down on the floor and cried with joy.

Certainly for the news of being appointed Artistic Director but also because I could finally do something for the Festival that had given me so much.

It has been 25 years since that September evening and my career as a pianist and director has become international. I had already been the Artistic Director of two theatres and an important orchestra in Italy, but the Wexford Festival Opera presented me with the challenge of expanding its already vast borders.

Two things were urgent and indispensable to my vision: the creation of an academy dedicated to young Irish singers to raise a new generation that had a strong link with the most important opera festival in Ireland; and to work even closer with the community that was doing so much for us.

With these objectives in mind, I created the Wexford Factory inspired by Andy Warhol's New York Factory, a place where young artists (initially only singers, now also pianists and who knows in the future) can experience exchanges with the rest of the operatic world under the guidance of international tutors and understand that music is not a solitary art but by uniting with other arts it can open vast horizons.

To achieve the second objective, to further even more the relationship with Wexford, I have created a series of small performances that appear in various places of the town; from the balconies of Barkers to James O'Connor Green Acres gallery or from the quays of Wexford Harbour to the Crown Bar. I have called them Pop-up events due to their nature of small concerts that appear and suddenly disappear after they finish, combining music, singing, dance, painting and poetry. They are free of charge to all, with the hope that even the youngest audience will understand that there is nothing to be afraid of with opera and that there could be many beautiful surprises behind that "blue door" of the theatre.

That wasn't enough! So, this year there will be a dedicated production featuring members of the Wexford Community.

An opera by Puccini, Gianni Schicchi, will be transformed into a performance where the singers will work closely with a non-professional group of people from Wexford and the audience will move through the various stations that will be installed in the old granary in Wexford. A real adventure!! Every month I am already working with those people who will be involved and it is a pure joy.

Something was still missing in my goals however, the possibility of speaking to society and about society, and for this reason I decided that every year the festival should have a theme to which all the events were connected.

The first year 2020 should have been Shakespeare then Covid19 made it “Waiting for Shakespeare” but it also made us understand how important the media are to share our content.

So, 2021 became “Shakespeare in the heart" and 2022 “Magic and Music”.

We had explored literature and magic, but it will be in 2023 that the chosen theme will talk about us, about the society in which we live with its contradictions, its joys and its pains.

Let's talk about women: Women&War is the theme, a theme very dear to me since I was appointed Artistic Director in Wexford which I consider my home and when you feel at home you feel free to tell the stories that are closest to your heart.

Women and war is a theme that highlights the struggles that the female gender has had to fight throughout history.

But a war is not only one that is fought with weapons. The wars that women courageously fight every day are those against prejudice, violence, denied rights and the right to freedom.

Therefore this year includes three operas, three different historical periods, and three great interpreters!

But don't be afraid, as in all previous festivals, people will laugh, cry and think, because art is also created to encourage people to think and ask questions.

To conclude Wexford will always be in my heart for so many reasons, not least that my husband asked me to marry him 20 years ago during a dress rehearsal in the old Theatre Royal. We were seated in the stalls seats numbers 9 and 10.

Those two chairs are now in our living room, but my heart is still behind that little blue door.

Rosetta Cucchi