Festival Diary: Calm before the storm

By Jane O'Faherty - Communications Intern.

After a hectic first three weeks, I have reached a point that I can only describe as “the calm before the storm”. The building and painting of scenery is continuing, and everyone in the technical team is hard at work. While we are doing our bit in the marketing and press office, our preparation for the festival doesn’t seem too stressful yet. However, I’ve been warned by nearly everyone in the office that this tranquility won’t last beyond mid-September.

Festival Diary: Calm before the storm

In the meantime, I’ve begun to settle into Wexford Opera House. When I was starting out, I must admit I was terrified. Of course, I was excited about working during the opera festival. However, on my first day I became concerned about my perceive ‘failings’.

I had never worked in public relations before. As a student journalist, it was the opposite of what I had been trained to do. Despite my interest in Wexford Festival Opera, my knowledge of the world of opera is primitive at best. I could appreciate an aria or think it was “nice”. I’d be stumped if someone asked me who the composer was, or what the lady was actually singing about.

Luckily for me, my first task was to familiarise myself with the world of opera. I’d use any interesting facts that I found on social media. Being knowledgeable about opera would also prove useful in all aspects of my life. Once I learned a few facts about librettos and the like, I would be able to appear witty, intelligent and credible at posh parties.

Before I don my finest ball gown and begin nonchalantly sipping from a glass of champagne, I’d like to tell you what I’ve learned. It turns out that I could even be an opera buff already. The quintessential football anthem ‘Nessum Dorma’ has its origins in Puccini’s Turandot, when an unknown prince vows to risk his neck to win the hand of a beautiful princess. Anyone who remembers the television series of The Lone Ranger will already know ‘The William Tell Overture’ by Rossini. One opera I was surprised to discover was Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, which features the Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong classic, ‘Summertime’.

Once I had a basic grasp of more famous operas, I turned my attention to the selected productions for this year’s festival. In line with tradition, the festival has selected three unjustly neglected operas. The most notable of the three mainstage operas is Cristina, regina di Svezia, which was relatively unknown until about six years ago.

I really hope Cristina has a renaissance like other operas performed in Wexford in the past. Less than a fortnight ago, Wexford Festival Opera’s original production of Maria by Roman Statkowski had its Polish premiere in Gdansk. Maria was rarely performed since its debut in 1906, but it received rave reviews during the opera festival in 2011. Updated to Poland in the 1980’s, it tells the story of true love that is threatened by a father’s lust for power. This Polish premiere followed the performance of Wexford Festival Opera’s 2010 production Hubička (or The Kiss) at St Louis’ Opera Theatre in Missouri in June.

Michael Gieleta directed both Maria and The Kiss in Wexford, and oversaw their continued success abroad. Speaking to John Allison of Opera Magazine, Michael talked about his connection with Wexford Festival Opera. “After the lovely success that my production of Smetana’s The Kiss had in Wexford, David Agler wanted to invite me back and he gave me a few ideas – three or four Polish operas that were going through his head. Maria was one of them,” he said. Michael added that when he heard the recording of Maria, it was a “revelation”. Perhaps that’s one of the things I like most about Wexford Festival Opera. It can surprise everyone, from the opera novice to the seasoned stage director.

As September is almost upon us, planning for the festival is set to step up a gear. We officially move forward towards the festival with the launch of the Wexford Festival Opera Volunteer Award on Friday, 30th August. After that, we’re expecting the arrival of the festival crew for the final touches to the sets. From that moment on, Wexford Festival Opera truly begins and the drama backstage unfolds.