Wexford Festival Opera 2010

The Festival was extended from last
year’s slightly reduced calendar to fifteen cram-packed days, the
afternoon ‘Short Works’ programme was restored, and staged at the
recently-refurbished, hyper-swish White’s Hotel — evoking memories
of previous shows at the former ‘White’s Barn’, with queues
of eager locals snaking down the narrow Wexford streets. The main productions
were complemented by a diverse Fringe programme, and the 2010 seemed to offer
something for everyone, from international opera aficionado to Wexford

Indeed, the uniformly strong casts, excellent orchestral playing and
typically warm hospitality might have made one forget the backdrop of national
austerity and frugality against which this improbable but uplifting Festival is
mounted. Almost, but not quite. Built on the back of a seemingly buoyant
economic outlook and fully justified operatic ambition, when it opened in 2008
Wexford’s stunning new opera house promised not only improved access,
comfort and auditory richness, but also more opulent and adventurous stagings.
However, while traditionally a forum for repertoire commonly classified as
rare, unknown or unjustly languishing, this year quite understandable
commercial pressures seem to have compelled Wexford to it play safe, offering
lower-risk, even ‘child-friendly’ productions. Well-staged and
enjoyable such shows may be, but a lack of ‘edge’ was palpable; and
not all of this year’s repertory seemed entirely apt for a Festival which
has spent sixty years establishing an idiosyncratic ‘niche’ in the
international opera world.

Moreover, economic expediency has encouraged (forced?) artistic director
David Agler to build on the relationship with Opera Theatre of St. Louis which
was initiated by last year’s staging of The Ghosts of
: two of this year’s productions have a link with St.
Louis, and one imagines that there may be more co-productions in the years

Smetana’s Hubičke (‘The Kiss’) will be
performed at St. Louis in 2012. A fairy-tale village romance, tinged with
darkness — albeit of the faint, easily-dispatched kind —
Smetana’s opera is a tuneful, folk-inspired affair seldom heard outside
the composer’s native land, but previously staged at Wexford in 1984.

Following the death of his wife, Luk·š finds himself free to marry
his childhood sweetheart, Vendulka. However, despite the qualified approval of
her father, Palouck˝ Otec (who fears that the two lovers share a stubborn
temperament which will jeopardise their happy union), and her own willingness
to become a loving mother to Lukaš’ child, Vendulka is possessed
by a powerful ethical impulse which drives her to refuse Luk·š’
kiss until after their marriage — thereby impelling her drunken
‘fiancÈe’ to seek solace in the open arms of the village tavern
coquettes. Faced with such inconstancy, Vendulka determines to join a gang of
local smugglers — as one would … Reprimanded by his brother,
Tomeš, a repentant Luk·š’ vows to beg for Vendulka’s
forgiveness. His promises are overheard by Matouš, the leader of the
contrabands, who passes on the good news to Vendulka. Reassured, she eventually
relaxes her stringent demands — only to find herself the victim of
Luk·š’ own ‘moral integrity’, as he withholds,
infuriatingly but only temporarily, his kiss.

Michael Gielata’s production, with sets by James Macnamara, somewhat
gauchely recreates an ‘innocent’ rural world: strikingly green
grass is skirted by an arching, panelled cyclorama which serves to hint at both
domestic interior and forest enclave, effectively separating the intimate
spaces from the open village milieu. Christopher Akerlind’s lighting
juxtaposes vibrant oranges and cool blues, at times a rather simplistic
reflection of day and night, but also effectively dramatising the abrupt
changes of emotion as the central pair of lovers lurch from fervent passion to
bitter alienation and back again.

Potentially there is much to appeal, musically, dramatically and visually;
but there were several problems with this production. First, the costumes by
Fabio Toblini were an odd mix of the formal and rustic: why were the
men’s strictly knotted ties and smart business suits juxtaposed with the
rural head-scarves, floral dresses and agricultural boots of the women?
Moreover, this may be a ‘simple tale’, but that doesn’t mean
that choreography is superfluous: yet, in the absence of any meaningful stage
direction, the chorus floundered, lingering redundantly in straggly lines,
clutching plastic sunflowers, or struggling to control giant strings of
slippery smuggled sausages.

Fortunately, the singing was more engaging, not least the Vendulka of South
African soprano, Pumeza Matshikiza, who may be a little unpolished, but who
possesses a fresh open tone, and sincere dramatic commitment. She earnestly
conveyed the honesty and fierce independence of the zealous peasant girl, and
the Act 1 lullaby, when Vendulka vows to nurture Lukaš’ motherless
child, truly touched the audience’s heart. As Lukaš, Slovak tenor
Peter Berger – first passionate, then petulant, finally penitent —
confidently strode the stage and easily dealt with the demands of the role,
powerfully and clearly projecting to the far reaches of the auditorium.
Mezzo-soprano Eliška Weissov· was an assured Martinka (Vendulka’s
adventurous aunt, who entices her into a smuggler’s career), focused and
warm, avoiding stereotype; Russian soprano Ekaterina Bakanov‡ soared with
clarity and conviction as Barče, the Maid who dreams of the freedom of
the skylark; American bass Bradley Smoak was strong in the cameo role of
Matouš. The only ‘weak link’ was BJiri Pribyl, as
Vendulka’s father: an acclaimed young bass, he was perfectly adequate
vocally, but his caricature of the aging patriarch — stooping, shuffling
and posturing — was reminiscent of the worst of amateur dramatics.

The coordination between stage and pit was not always perfect, but conductor
Jaroslav Kyzlink drew fine playing from his band, not least from the woodwind
section, whose oboes and bassoons deftly recreated a folk ambience.

Sadly, despite spinning many an appealing melody, Smetana does not sustain
conflict and momentum, and this production struggled to create sufficient
dramatic energy in Act 2. Luk·š’ final ‘trick’ is over
before one knows it, and there is no musical complement for the brief dramatic
discomfort when he unsettles his betrothed by mimicking her own
conscience-driven restraint. Overall, this was a pleasant enough evening on the
ear, but presented little to convince one of the enduring merits of the

The second of the St. Louis collaborations was Peter Ash’s The
Golden Ticket
, an adaptation of Roald Dahl’s 1964 children’s
story Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The story is comfortingly
familiar — the composer and the librettist, Donald Sturrock, have
essentially stuck to Dahl’s narrative — but the idiom is more
disconcerting: for this work does not really know whether it wants to be opera,
music theatre or pantomime.

Ash’s score assembles and arranges snatches recalling an array of
twentieth-century composers, from Britten to Bernstein, Ravel to Sondeim. In
Act 1, the woodwind/brass-dominated ensemble presents some punchy, percussive
rhythms and textures, creating energy and pace as Charlie’s search for
one of the five ‘Golden tickets’, which will allow him to enter
Wonka’s fabulous factory of confectionary delights, becomes ever more
desperate. Tender string solos add a sentimental touch. But, in Act 2 the score
descends into schmaltzy mawkishness; flattened sevenths and rising
appoggiaturas convey thwarted yearning, leaping major sevenths suggest worthy
aspirations — all the ‘tricks of the Broadway trade’ are
employed as Ash creates a syrupy orchestral slush. As the children journey
through the factory’s secret chambers, the music abandons any dramatic
pretensions and becomes simply a backdrop of assorted colours and flavours.

The purely decorative ‘busyness’ of the score creates additional
difficulties: for while the singers tried hard to make themselves heard above
the hectic textures — as conductor Timothy Redmond urged his brass
section to ever greater brashness — even the amplified soprano of Michael
Kepler Meo, as Charlie, was lost at times. Moreover, the amplification
presented its own problems, as phrases which began in the lower register were
entirely inaudible but frequently climbed to ear-piercingly strident

Perhaps the inaudibility doesn’t matter too much, as Sturrock’s
libretto is rather bland, drawing on Dahl’s own ‘Horrible
Rhymes’ but not quite matching their disturbing surprises. Set to music,
Dahl’s startling rhyming juxtapositions are watered down, and the lines
lose their rhythmic bite. An incessant string of rhyming couplets offers little
to shock — Augustus Gloop loves “indulging/see how my fat
tummy’s bulging”; and “Nasty Veruca’s such a
brute/We’ve thrown her down the rubbish chute”. The children have
temper tantrums (“Daddy, I want one of those — Now!”) and,
Disney-style, are comforted that all will be well if they just “close
their eyes and imagine”.

One certainly could not accuse the cast of lack of commitment and there were
some very fine performances, not least from bass-baritone Wayne Tigges in the
prime role of Willa Wonka-Mr Know (the latter — Wonka’s alter ego
who gently guides Charlie towards his destiny — being the creators’
only significant addition to Dahl). Tigges’ strong, buoyant bass and
engaging stage presence provided a much-needed musical and dramatic focus. Of
Charlie’s four grandparents, only Grandpa Joe is really distinguished
from the other ancient, bedridden crones, and American tenor Frank Kelley
successfully communicated Joe’s grandfatherly affection and
still-youthful, lively wit. Enjoying their caricatures, the other geriatrics
also doubled as the children’s grisly parents: Bradley Smoak (in the
third of his four Wexford incarnations) was a convincingly indulgent Mr
Beauregard; Canadian mezzo soprano Leslie Davis doubled as Mike Teavee’s
hapless mother; and Irish soprano Miriam Murphy displayed a pure, ringing tone
in Mrs Gloop’s long lines of despair as her Bunter-esque boy was
swallowed by the confectionary canal.

There’s always a risk that adults playing petulant, pouting children
will fail to convince, but here all four singers — all from across the
Pond — gave persuasive, engaging performances. Soprano Kiera Duffy, as
the gum-chewing cowgirl, Violet Beauregard, and mezzo soprano Abigail Nims, as
the obnoxious spoilt Brat, Veruca Salt, were credibly appalling, rising to the
vocal challenges of their respective roles with aplomb. American tenor nOah
Stewart rolled convincingly around the stage, as the spherical chocoholic,
Augustus Gloop. As commando-costumed, machine-gun slinging Mike Teavee, David
Trudgen, a Canadian countertenor, startled with the power and precision of his
striking coloratura flourishes and stratospheric runs, creating a disturbing
vision of what a passion for violent video games and an obsession with TV-fame
can do to a young boy.

Kepler Meo was an engaging Charlie — innocent, imaginative, curious,
and justly rewarded with the keys to Wonka’s weird domain. His
‘apotheosis’ was superb — the never-before-pressed ‘Up
and Away’ button lifting Charlie and Wonka aloft on the power of their
dreams — but was unfortunately followed by an anti-climactic reunion
scene, in which Charlie’s grandparents voiced their reluctance to leave
the bed where they have resided for fifty years (visual echoes, perhaps, of
Beckett’s Nagg and Nell, ensconced in their dustbins?) and Charlie
yearned to tell Mr Know all about his adventures. Charlie may dream of
sparkling blue balls which metamorphose into delicate pink birds perched on the
end of one’s tongue, but The Golden Ticket ends in more mundane

Bruno Schwengl’s sets and Martin Pakledinaz’s costumes are
clever without being overly complex, and visually entertaining without being
wearisome: projections of swirling Smarties and whizzing lollipops capture the
zany weirdness of Wonka’s world; snaking chocolate rivers and exploding
human-blueberries infer a hint of dark humour; garish colours and gaudy fabrics
highlight the tasteless coarseness of the over-indulged youngsters. Props and
stage furniture were pushed on and off by stage hands — remember you have
to use your imagination to transform the ordinary to the fantastical

Yet, despite the vocal prowess of the cast and the creativity of design
team, this work fails to fully ensnare its audience, young or old, for it is
not entirely sure if there is real danger in the darkness or whether it’s
all just good old harmless fun. Despite its ‘happy ending’,
Dahl’s novel leaves us wondering just what does happen to children who
drown in chocolate rivers or disappear into the juicing machine …
children are amused by the brutal nastiness and comforted by the slick neatness
of the ending, but adults remain alarmed by the vicious violence. However, Ash
and Sturrock dispel all doubts and fears: Act 2 begins with a chorus of Oompa
Loompas reassuring us that, despite the cruel events which are about to unfold
before us, no real harm will come to the children whom we see punished for
their avarice and gluttony.

There is more genuine maliciousness and menace in Hansel and
. Here we are presented with a simple moral fable, illustrating the
dangers of materialism and consumerism — modern perils which make you
fat, bad and dangerous to know. Man can only be saved by the power of his
imagination; unfortunately there was not quite enough imagination at work here
to genuinely bewitch us.

Undoubtedly pre-eminent among this year’s productions was
Mercadante’s Virginia. Although musically unexceptional —
the composer was drawing on styles and conventions which were already
out-of-date when the opera was premiered in 1866 — the
recitative-aria-cabaletta format certainly satisfies one’s expectations
without ever quite taking one’s breath away. Mercadante knew how to
please the crowds, and this was a musically and theatrically appealing
performance, well-paced by conductor Carlos Izcaray who coaxed a rich palette
of textures and colours from the talented and responsive Festival orchestra led
by Fionnuala Hunt.

Drawn from Livy’s History of Rome, Cammarano’s libretto
dramatises the animosity which existed between patricians and plebeians in the
early days of the Roman Empire. Appio Claudio has issued an edict forbidding
marriage between the two classes, only to find himself enamoured by Virginia,
the daughter of a plebeian soldier. Initially consumed with self-disgust, Appio
is unable to resist her charms and sends his murderous henchman, Marco, to
bribe and seduce Virginia, and to ‘remove’ Ilicio whom,
inconveniently, Virginia loves. Failing in his mission, Marco constructs a
tale, before the Forum, that Virginia was born to one of his slaves, and is
thus his own possession. Before she is handed over to her new master, her
father, Virginio, asks for one final embrace with his daughter — a
request that, with mock generosity, Appio grants. Virginio draws his dagger and
stabs Virginia, who dies declaring that in granting her death rather than
dishonour, Virginio has proved himself to be her true father. Appalled by his
abuse of power, the crowd fall upon Appio.

Director Kevin Newbury has chosen to focus on the political overtones of the
work, juxtaposing the grand arenas of patrician public life — the
business and pleasures of State and Church — with a humble domestic
kitchen, the heart of the plebeian private dwelling.

However, Newbury’s conception is not entirely clear at the start. We
begin, apparently, at a raucous Roman festival, the arena ornamented with black
marble and gilded lions: the chorus, somewhat disconcertingly, are decorated
with gaudy Carnivalesque face-paint and entertained by three almost-naked
dancing cherubs, the latter’s blushes saved merely by some judiciously
hung clusters of golden grapes. The licentiousness is interrupted by the
arrival of the Mafiosi, suitably menacing in sharp suits and shades, before we
are transported to a 1980s kitchen in which the devoutly religious Virginia
mourns the death of her mother. It only subsequently becomes evident that what
seemed like a gratuitous excuse for on-stage male nudity and debauchery was in
fact a fancy-dress party. However, once the confusing anachronisms have been
explained, things move entertainingly along; and this is due in no small part
to outstanding performances from all three principals.

For the role of the eponymous tragic heroine, Virginia requires a
soprano of considerable power and stamina, able to sustain long, flexible
bel canto lines and to rise deftly to vertiginous heights, retaining
lightness throughout the extensive decorations. Although she made her
professional debut just two years ago, American Angela Meade is a dramatically
assured and technically accomplished performer; she displayed outstanding
flexibility throughout the protracted ornamental flourishes, astounding
athleticism, and delicate sweetness even at the very top of her range. Her
breath control was superb: Virginia is a long, taxing sing, but Meade
was clear and strong in the final scene, scarcely taxed by the excessive
demands of the preceding three acts. Possessing an easy grace on stage, she
will surely be greatly in demand in the nineteenth-century bel canto

Moreover, Mercadante’s opera requires not one tenor but two, and
Wexford was fortunate in both Ivan MagrÏ and Bruno Ribeiro, who delivered the
goods, high notes ringing true. Slim, handsome and athletic, both looked the
part too. Portuguese Ribeiro’s tone is the more ardent, and his
representation of the impulsive, temperamental Icilio was exciting and
engaging. Sicilian MagrÏ had no trouble adopting the strut and swagger of a
mafioso thug, and he was ably abetted by Italian Gianluca Buratto as his
henchman, Marco, whose booming bass struck just the right note of menace and
bluster. As Virginia’s father, Virginio, Canadian baritone Hugh Russell
presented a credible account of paternal devotion and despair, but was a little
woolly in tone and employed a wide, continuous vibrato which diminished the
dramatic variety and nuance. Irish soprano Marcella Walsh (Tullia) and American
tenor John Myers (Valerio) completed the strong line up. The chorus, although a
little ragged in the opening scene, tightened up as the action progressed and
produced some thrilling dramatic singing in the later ensemble scenes.

Complementing the three main productions, Wexford mounted three ‘Short
Works’. These afternoon performances have, in various years, taken the
form of either seldom-performed short operas, lasting perhaps 60-90 minutes, or
‘potted operas’; that is, reduced versions of well-known full-scale
works: the former appeal to the devotee eager to sample the rarely-heard, while
the latter attract members of the local community eager for to experience
renowned operas for the first-time. This year we were presented with both
approaches: Pergolesi’s witty, one-act La serva padrona;
Puccini’s evergreen La bohËme; and a new work, Winners,
with libretto and score by American composer Richard Wargo, based on the first
part of Brian Friel’s play, Winners and Losers.

Director Roberto Recchia took charge of the first two offerings. La
serva padrona
began its life as a humble intermezzo, presented
between the acts of a serious opera, although it is now best remembered for
having triggered the famous Querelle des Bouffons in 1752 between
supporters of the French comic style and promoters of the new lively Italian
school. Drawing on centuries of comic theatrical conventions — from
intermezzo, through commedia dell’arte, opera
and incorporating farce ‡ la Chaplin — Recchia
certainly made the most of the semi-theatrical, play-within-a-play origins of
the work. In the mute acting role of Vespone, he began proceedings with a
fifteen-minute spoken preamble which, in the absence of surtitles provided a
useful introduction to the plot, but which also incorporated improvisations on
the merits and demerits of the mobile ‘phone and the exigencies of health
and safety legislation. Though brilliantly, effortlessly carried off, what was
initially surprising and amusing, did become a little wearing — designed
perhaps to divert the audience’s attention from the fact that the opera
is itself only 45 minutes long…

The plot is simple. A scheming servant girl, Serpina, determines to trick
her master, Uberto, into marrying her. He enlists the help of Vespone to help
him find an alternative wife, but underestimates the wiles and will of the two
accomplices: disguised as Captain Tempesta, Vespone demands a huge dowry from
Uberto in exchange for Serpina’s hand, an exorbitant ultimatum which
scares Uberto into promising to marry Serpina himself. Servant becomes
mistress: mission accomplished.

Kate Guinness’ neat, minimal set, Uberto’s CafÈ, mirrored the
bar of White’s Hotel and enabled Recchia to suggest that such ruses and
conspiracies are commonplace. Moreover, seating several audience members at
cafÈ tables on the stage, and involving them in the action, further blurred the
boundaries between artifice and reality. Indeed, alongside superb comic-timing,
Recchia possesses a deft eye for detail and dramatic effect: Vespone avidly
scoured the audience for potential wives for Uberto; moved by Serpina’s
faux melancholy, he wiped a tear from his eye, only to wring bucket
loads of water from his dishcloth, cynically indicating the depth of his trauma
… While never fussy, this was a lively, alert production, requiring
athletic and attentive performances from the two principal singers.

Bradley Smoak and Ekaterina Bakanov‡ relished the humour and verve of
Recchia’s conception, the former breaking effortlessly into a jazzed-up
karaoke, the latter convincingly creating mock pathos in her
Pulcinella-style serenade. Smoak has a warm, focused sound and an
appealing and relaxed manner, which aroused the audience’s sympathy for
the incompetent Uberto. Bakanov‡’s soprano is light, fresh and jaunty;
she hit the high notes with ease and indulged in some unscripted, crystal clear
coloratura flights. This was an accomplished, cleverly conceived production,
self-knowing yet never glib.

Unfortunately, Recchia’s take on La bohËme was less
successful. Updating the action to the 1940s, the set (again by Guinness) was
pleasingly uncluttered and the choreography well-considered but uncomplicated;
the cast readily evoked a sense of easy camaraderie and bon vivo
between close friends. However, Recchia preferred to focus not on the tale of
friendship, loyalty and ill-fated love, but to inject a ‘political’
reading, paralleling the ‘deprivation’ of Puccini’s
nineteenth-century bohemians with the suffering of the Jews in 1940s Paris.
Thus, archive film sequences were projected between scenes (rather
inappropriate perhaps, given the essential inconsequentiality of
Puccini’s original tale), Musetta flirted with a German officer, Stars of
David and armbands indicated the artists’ persecution and subordination,
and Mimi died draped in a French flag. This all seemed rather unnecessary and
distracting — none more so than in the final moments when, turning their
back to the stage, the bohemians were shot for their Resistance to the German

Fortunately, some excellent singing from the young cast restored
Puccini’s score to the foreground. As Mimi, English soprano Rebecca
Goulden demonstrated a beautifully clear, fresh tone; her Act 1 aria was
especially affecting. nOah Stewart’s Rodolfo was fervent and committed.
When singing in the middle of his range at a medium dynamic level, Stewart
produces a relaxed, charming sound to match his natural stage confidence and
poise. Unfortunately, he has not yet learned to control his voice when power is
required; an ugly ‘edge’ can appear in the higher
fortissimo passages, and Stewart often struggled to manage his
breathing and intonation. Marcello was well sung by Irish baritone, Gavin Ring,
while Gianluca Buratto’s Colline was a touching portrayal.

The last of the three Short Works was Richard Wargo’s
Winners. Set in the fictional Northern Ireland town of Ballymore,
Winners intertwines the gradually unfolding tale of two young lovers,
Mag and Joe, as narrated by two ballad-singers, with the lovers’ own
dialogue as they reflect on their hopes and fears for the future. Mag is
pregnant and they are to be married in three weeks’ time; the excitement
of moving into their own home is juxtaposed with the problems which will face
them: they are divided by class, ostracised by their community. In a sudden
twist we learn from the sean-nos singers that this is the last day
that Joe and Mag will be alive — yet, they are ‘winners’
because they will die with their love and hope intact, untouched by the
disillusionment that the future would bring.

Uniformly committed and proficient performances from all four principals
saved this rather humdrum score from clichÈ and monotony. As the balladeers,
two young American singers — mezzo soprano, Jennifer Berkebile, and tenor
Adam Cannedy — established a haunting stage presence, delivering their
lines in an unaffected manner, clearly enunciating the text; their movements
around and between the singers were carefully and effectively choreographed.
Australian Kristy Swift was a fittingly excitable Mag, injecting a natural
enthusiasm and energy into her bright, lively soprano, a pleasing complement to
Robert Anthony Gardiner’s more pensive tenor.

David Stuttard’s lighting cast an eerie glow over Kate Guinness’
empty, raked hillside; Wargo attempts to enhance the uncanny ambience by the
inclusion of recorded Irish pipes at the opening and close of the work. These
pipes are, however, an unnecessary distraction; despite the significance of
location in Friel’s play, the story of Mag and Joe is not rooted in place
in Wargo’s telling, although the score is rather facilely coloured by
traditional motifs and harmonies of Irish folk song, which intermingle with the
conventions of the American musical. Winners may not be an entirely
appropriate choice of Short Work for a festival which has prided itself on
presenting the experimental and the cutting edge; but the audience certainly
warmed to the young cast and appreciated their dedication and sincerity.

In addition to the Festival’s programme of choral and orchestral
concerts, and lectures, recitals are held daily in St. Iberius Church, offering
the audience a chance to hear members of the operatic casts ‘close
up’, and giving the singers themselves the opportunity both to show off
their talents and develop friendships formed during the Festival. Thus, Bruno
Ribiero and Angela Meade teamed up to confirm their undoubted bel
credentials. Ribiero’s renditions of Verdi were noteworthy for
his superb breath control, ringing upper range and pleasingly burnished lower
register; Meade offered a tender but powerful account of ‘Casta
diva’, her stunning final note perfectly centred and endlessly,
effortlessly sustained. Gershwin’s ‘By Strauss’ and ‘I
want to be a prima donna’ revealed Meade’s relaxed, fun-loving
side. The Act 1 duet from Don Carlos and the Brindisi from La
provided evidence of the strong rapport that develops between so
many of the performers at Wexford.

Irish soprano Miriam Murphy was naturally relaxed and at home among the
Wexford crowd. She presented a thoughtful recital, including Beethoven’s
Op.48 cycle, in which she skilfully manipulated colour to convey the depth of
Beethoven’s emotions at a time when his deafness was worsening: the
subdued sincerity of Murphy’s lower register in ‘On Death’
powerfully suggested the composer’s despair. Traditional Irish songs,
such as ‘I dreamt I dwelt in marble halls’, provided a refreshing
contrast; Andrea Grant was a sympathetic and nuanced accompanist throughout.
One of the undoubted ‘stars’ of this year’s Festival was nOah
Stewart who, despite some technical short-comings (which were as much in
evidence in his lunchtime recital as they had been during La bohËme), won the
hearts of all Wexford ladies-of-a-certain-age. The departing crowd threatened
to bring Wexford to a standstill as they lingered to shake the young
singer’s hand or request an autograph! Certainly, Stewart has much
charisma and is deeply serious about his performances. Considerable thought had
been given to his recital programme which, including songs by Haydn, Reynaldo
Hahn, Rachmaninov, Tosti as well as three American spirituals, allowed him to
demonstrate his proficiency in a range of languages and national musical
styles. It’s always risky to sing ‘O Danny Boy’ to the Irish,
but Stewart pulled it off. There is no doubting his presence and appeal; but
now some hard work is necessary to overcome the technical deficiencies.

The programme for next year’s Festival when, remarkably, Wexford will
be hosting its sixtieth opera festival, will be announced in January 2011
— following crucial funding decisions and announcements. The Festival
team have obviously worked hard to improve private sponsorship, and to make
both international visitors and native audiences feel welcome —
White’s Hotel was buzzing before, after and in-between performances; the
Friends’ Room was opened up to opera-goers during the day; the Festival
even arranged courtesy travel to and from Waterford airport for opera
attendees. Let’s hope that when the mandarins tighten their belts, the
remarkable ambitions and achievements of this small Irish fishing town are not
overlooked or disregarded.

Claire Seymour

image_description=Entrance to Wexford Opera House [Photo by Ros Kavanagh courtesy of Wexford Operahouse]
product_title=Wexford Festival Opera 2010
product_id=Above: Entrance to Wexford Opera House [Photo by Ros Kavanagh courtesy of Wexford Operahouse]