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70th Anniversary, Watch

Wexford Festival Opera's clips from 1950s

Introducing Wexford Festival Opera's 70 video clips for our 70th anniversary 2021-2022. these informal videos will give a short vignette for each of the years 1951-2021.


For its inauguration in 1951 Wexford Festival opera presented Balfe's opera 'The Rose of Castile'. This clip features the voices of Murray
Dickie and Maureen Springer, and an excerpt from the closing night speech made by Compton Mackenzie, the festival's first president, in which he addresses Dr. Tom Walsh, the festival founder and artistic director from 1951-1966.


For the second Wexford Festival in 1952 Tom Walsh chose an Italian opera, sung in Italian. This clip features the voice of the young Nicola Monti, who became one of the leading tenori di grazia of the 1950s, making his international debut in Wexford. Images from the Festival Archive with additional contributions from Victoria Walsh-Hamer.


By 1953 the festival was attracting serious international attention. This clip features images from the production of 'Don Pasquale' by Donizetti, who remains the most performed composer in the festival's 70 year history. The audio, a 78rpm recording, gives a flavour of the influences prevailing in the early days of the festival.


In 1954 the Wexford Festival produced La Sonnambula by Bellini. In this clip Tom Walsh talks about the inspiration behind the founding of the festival as well as some background into the challenges of the first few years. Images from La Sonnambula. Audio courtey of RTE Radio Archive.


In this archival recording from the 1955 Wexford Festival we hear Elizabeth Lindermeier singing the role of Baroness Freimann in the Festivals's first German opera, 'Der Wildschutz', Images are contemporary photos from the production and programme book of that year. Remarkably, in 1955 the festival staged two productions opening and running on consecutive evenings, which given the primitive facilities of the theatre was a miracle in itself.


In 1956 Flotow's opera 'Martha' created quite an impression. Paired with Rossini's 'La Cenerentola' and with two astonishing casts, by now Wexford was firmly established as a serious international festival with an impressive programme of ancillary events. Images from both productions are included in the video.
The Arts Council Of Ireland reported: "The Sixth Wexford Festival of Music and the Arts, to which the Council gave considerable financial assistance, was held from the 28th October to the 4th November 1956. The standards set in previous years were fully maintained in this Festival.


In this clip the Romanian tenor Petre Munteanu sings the concluding part of Languir per una bella from Rossini's L´Italiana in Algeri, with the usual selection of contemporary images including a rather stylish 1957 sketch of the Bullring in Wexford. Sadly we have no recording of the Donizetti with its impressive cast.


Reading the programme and cast lists for 1958, it becomes clear that Wexford wasn't resting on its laurels. Whilst also presenting an extensive recital programme, the two opera productions received excellent notices abroad and at home. The international debut of Fiorenza Cossotto played a large part in the success of the festival. We have audio from both productions in this clip.


This edition features Italian soprano Mariella Adani and Janet Baker, aged 25 and 26 respectively, singing from the stage of the theatre Royal in 1959, followed by some blood thirsty Verdi featuring Aldo Protti who was by then a regular at La Scala. Finally we hear the Wexford chorus, the majority of whom were local singers. The conductors were John Prichard and Charles Mackerras. It was a remarkable festival and the last on the tiny stage of the theatre. There would be no festival in 1960 while the renovations took place - the only break in seventy years.