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70th Anniversary, Watch

Wexford Festival Opera's clips from 1960s

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.


In the early 20th century, touring opera was an important part of the cultural life of Wexford and many similar towns. Tom Walsh attended his first opera in 1922 at ten years of age. Here he is talking about it. Audio courtesy of RTÉ.


In 1961 the extended Theatre Royal opened with a new stage and improved facilities for artists and patrons alike. The proscenium arch, so fondly remembered until 2005 was also added. The Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra was engaged to play.


For one of the most memorable Festivals in its history, Mirella Freni, was engaged to sing Evira in Bellini's 'I Puritani', heard here in a live recording from that year. Tom Walsh recalled with some pride that having sung only soubrette roles up until then, Freni chose Wexford to try out heavier repertoire, (for £120 per performance) and in his own words, 'the rest is operatic history'. 1962 also saw the début of the RTÉ Symphony Orchestra and the only appearance in Wexford of the late Dr. Veronica Dunne, heard here with Nicola Monti, from a live performance of Mascagni's L'Amico Fritz.


Today's audio is a clip from the 1963 production of La Gioconda, featuring most of the principals listed in the video. It's from a private recording so the audio isn't the best. However, it demonstrates in particular the strength of the Wexford Chorus and the part they played in the success of the Festival. Bear in mind that the majority were local singers who rehearsed in the evenings. Sadly, we have no images from the production available at present.


Featuring the voice of Spanish Tenor Giacomo Aragall, our 1964 memory includes a selection of advertisements from the programme book of that year and the first known colour photograph of a Wexford Festival production.


Massenet's Don Quichotte was a particular standout in 1965, with the Serbian bass Miroslav Cangalovic as Cervantes' old knight, featured here singing 'O Seigneur' with the Wexford Chorus and the RTÉ Symphony Orchestra.


In 1966 Tom Walsh said farewell to the Wexford Festival. As the driving force behind the festival from its foundation, he put a sleepy rural Irish town on the map as of one the most highly respected and admired Opera Festivals in the world. He went on to an academic career as an author, writing definitive books on opera in Dublin, Paris and Monte Carlo. He was conferred in 1956 with an MA honoris causa for services to music from the University of Dublin. Between 1967 and 1980 he was a frequent member of the jury of the Concours International du Chant de Toulouse. He became an honorary opera adviser to the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and a member of the Irish Arts Council (1973–83).


In January 1967 Brian Dickie was appointed as Artistic Director of the festival. Walter Legge had originally been appointed to the position, but had to withdraw due to ill health. And so with less than 10 months to the festival, the 25 year old Dickie set to work. It was not going to be an easy task, as there was a very strong opinion that he festival could not, and indeed should not continue without Dr.Tom. Speaking during the Dr. Tom Walsh Memorial Lecture in November 2011, Brian Dickie remarked that he had to get his act together pretty quickly, and chose a Shakespearean repertoire for his first season.


The third opera of the 1968 Festival, L'equivoco Stravagante was quite a hit. Rossini's early comedy has a typically convoluted comical plot with wonderful music. Directed by John Cox with designs by John Stoddart, the opera was conducted by Aldo Ceccato with a style and energy that matched the production, evident in this short excerpt from act two. On a very sad note, shortly before the rehearsals began, news arrived of the death of Renza Jotti at the age of only thirty one. She was engaged to sing Ernestina having enjoyed huge success in the 1967 production of Otello, also by Rossini. Renza was replaced at very short notice by Argentinian soprano Nelie Praganza who was extremely well received.