For sixty years now many hundreds of thousands of people have made a pilgrimage to Wexford Festival Opera in search of buried operatic treasure. Wexford is a charming seaside town on Ireland’s southeast coast and since 1951 this town has hosted what has become known as one of the world’s most remarkable festivals. Wexford Festival Opera prides itself in giving new life to unjustly neglected operas, introducing artists and audiences to the forgotten masterpieces. And it does this in high quality productions which annually delight both critics and audiences alike.
But far from being satisfied with presenting three productions each year, also on offer is a packed programme of morning events, lunchtime concerts, afternoon ShortWorks and recitals and late night revues. As if this wasn’t enough, a vibrant Fringe Festival offers everything from art exhibitions through to singing and swinging pubs
And throughout all this, there is the remarkable camaraderie engendered by the warmth and intimacy of Wexford town itself. From the brand new Wexford Opera House seating just over 770, the 350 strong volunteer corps ready to welcome you to Wexford, to the hotels, bars and restaurants along the High, Main, and side streets of this Viking town, Wexford is a town which is truly taken over by the Festival. There’s something in the air that quickens everyone’s pulse – a common heartbeat of expansive good feeling and heightened sensibility that brings people back to Wexford again and again.
The Wexford Festival Opera has been running since 1951, playing a central role in the cultural life of Ireland, in the world of Opera and Arts internationally. From small and humble beginnings it has achieved world-wide success and critical acclaim by demonstrating passion, innovation and a willingness to lead audiences and artists into neglected territories to explore the rich vein of operatic work worldwide.
It all began with a gramophone recital. The great Scottish novelist and founder of the Gramophone magazine, Sir Compton Mackenzie, had been persuaded during a visit to Ireland to give a talk to the Wexford Opera Study Circle in November 1950. The Chairman of the Circle, Dr Tom Walsh struck up an excellent relationship with him and Sir Compton suggested Wexford should stage an opera in their little theatre.
A while later… Dr Tom, having studied the programmes for other festivals, discussed the idea of a local version with his friends Dr Des Ffrench, Eugene McCarthy the then owner of Whites Hotel and Seamus O’Dwyer an official in the local post office. Despite falling short of their fund-raising target, they nonetheless went ahead and ran a Festival of Music and the Arts from the 21st October to 4th November 1951, with a production of Balfe’s “The Rose of Castile” on the first four nights of November. Sir Compton was present and became Festival President, a position he held until his death in 1972.
In October 2008, dreams became reality with the historic opening of Wexford Opera House. Our Founders’ legacy will live on for the next 58 years and more.