First staging of “The Sleeping Queen” by M.W. Balfe coming up at NCH.

First staging of “The Sleeping Queen” by M.W. Balfe coming up at NCH.

Not many people outside of the opera world know that the song “I dreamt I dwelt in marble halls” (made popular, among others, by Enya) is, in fact, a ballad from an opera, The Bohemian girl (1843), written by the most prominent Irish operatic composer of the past, as well as of the Victorian period: Michael William Balfe.

Now largely fallen into oblivion, in his days Balfe truly enjoyed an international career – first as an opera singer and then as a composer – between Italy, France and England. His operas were so successful that they were staged across the globe, from New York to Sidney.

His only operetta, The sleeping queen (1864), will receive its first modern staging in its complete form (arias and dialogue) on Monday 22nd of January, in the John Field Room at the National Concert Hall. The show, directed by Peter McDermott, is presented by DIT Conservatory of Music and Drama and the producer, Una Hunt, will give a short pre-opera talk.

There are only a handful of recordings of entire operas by the Irish composer. For a sample of the eclecticism of his music, on iTunes you can listen to two very different operas: the aforementioned The Bohemian Girl, a ballad opera (typical of the English tradition), and Falstaff (a live concert recording from 2008), an Italian style opera, visibly drenched in Rossini and Donizetti’s orchestral and vocal lines.
To book tickets, visit https://www.nch.ie/Online/The-Sleeping-Queen-22Jan18.

*Picture: Tenor Oisín Ó Dálaigh and soprano Catherine Donnelly. Photo by Conor Mulhern.

Cast

Maria Dolores, Queen of Leon –  Catherine Donnelly, soprano
Donna Agnes, Maid of Honour –  Sarah Kilcoyne, mezzo soprano
Philippe D’Aquilar, a young exile –  Oisin O Dalaigh, tenor
His Excellency, the Regent –  Kevin Neville, baritone

Vocal director, Stephen Wallace
Musical director, Una Hunt
Directed by Peter McDermott
Produced by Una Hunt

DIT Sleeping Queen FLYERx2 A5

The Arts Council has announced a 49% increase in opera funding for 2018 and an open call to (re)establish a national opera company.

This is quite ironic, but for the best. Only last week we were lamenting on this blog the lack of funding and of an appropriate policy for opera in Ireland and, right after (on the 17th of February), we found out that the Arts Council announced some major initiatives in this sector. So much for the power of wishing!

The big news is that the Arts Council has issued an ‘open call’ for proposals for a “regular provider of an annual season of Irish-produced, main-scale, predominantly core-repertoire opera in Dublin from an agreed date in 2018”. Yes, that means we will see more Traviata and Tosca in Dublin. This “provider” would basically take the place of what Opera Ireland was until 2011, filling a six year gap in the existence of a national opera company. This will be possible thanks to a significant 49% increase in opera funding: the budget for opera will in fact go from 3.26 M in 2016 to 4.85 M in 2018.

Among the other initiatives that will be covered by this increase in opera funding, we find the following: a “new opera” commissions award to fund, in advance, new works by Irish composers and librettists; the restoration of bursaries for individual opera artists for amounts of up to €10.000; a significant increase in 2017 of the Council’s “Travel and Training” fund to allow Irish artists to undertake specialised training abroad. There will also be a continued support from the Council to festival opera and small-scale touring opera.

This is all welcome news and will sound like music (forgive the pun!) to the ears of both opera producers and opera lovers. Next step, the planning and construction of a dedicated opera house in Dublin ;-).

 

Young Irish mezzo Tara Erraught to sing at the Met (and of other losses for Ireland).

The Irish mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught has announced last night on Twitter that she got an engagement with the Metropolitan in New York to sing in Les contes d’Hoffmann in the role of

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Tara Erraught. Photo by Dario Acosta.

Nicklausse. Anybody who has had the chance to hear her luscious voice will not be too surprised by this
news. Her performance as Rosina last year in Il Barbiere di Siviglia in Dublin for Opera Theatre Company at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre was a real highlight of the opera scene inIreland.

As much as we are delighted at the news that a local young talent will appear on one of the world’s most famous stages for opera, we can’t help but regret the lack of opportunities in Ireland for the many talented Irish classical singers. Another name that comes to mind is that of Jennifer Davis, the young soprano currently in the Jette Parker Young Artist program at Covent Garden: if you ever heard her singing Un bel dì vedremo you’d know what we mean; she too will be singing at the Met one day (you’ve read it here first!). Each of these singers could fill a theatre in no time.

We truly wish that somebody in the high spheres of politics is listening to the outcry of the many opera lovers in this country. Now that m

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Soprano Jennifer Davis. Photo by Brendan Davis.

oney is back in the economy, what’s the excuse for not having a national opera company, like the long standing one that was shamefully shut down in 2011, Opera Ireland? Does Ireland really want to remain the only country in Europe  without a national opera company, and Dublin the only European capital without a dedicated opera house?  Because, as wonderful as Wexford Festival Opera is, a “National Opera House” should be where the people are, and 33% of the Irish population lives in Dublin, not Wexford. If we want culture to be really democratic and not elitist, as opera is often unjustly accused to be, we should bring culture to the people, and that involves physically bringing it to the people: not everyone who loves opera in Dublin can afford the luxury to travel two hours and back (or less staying overnight…) to attend a performance in Wexford. And anyway the problem remains of the shortage of opportunities to hear the ‘classics’ of opera, as repeatedly pointed out by Michael Dervan in the pages of The Irish Times. Ireland needs to make opera available and affordable, and to do so where the majority of Irish people live. Is anybody listening?

 

Feel free to add your comments below, we’d really love to hear the readers thoughts on this.