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

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


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 ;-).