Irish National Opera ‘s diverse 2021-22 season is now underway with screenings of Edwina Casey’s new film of Peter Maxwell Davies’ chamber opera, The Lighthouse.
“It’s been a most exciting year at INO,” says artistic director, Fergus Sheil. “Hectic, changeable, unpredictable and challenging. And yet peculiarly rewarding as the best laid plans had to be revisited and reshaped to keep opera alive as we found new ways of bringing it to our audience. We also wanted to make sure the creators and recreators of opera could be remunerated for plying their craft. Opera at any time is a complex matrix to manage. And for the last 16 months we have all been grappling with extra dimensions of that complexity. The richness of our new offering is explained by us having had to carry forward productions from last season, and also branch out to find new connections with opera lovers. And also by a sizeable uplift in our Arts Council grant.”
The branching out includes the company’s largest-ever outdoor undertaking, Richard Strauss’s epic Elektra, in the atmospheric setting of the Castle Yard in Kilkenny with Belfast soprano Giselle Allen making her INO debut as the vengeful heroine. She says that Elektra is “a woman driven by the all-consuming grief of losing her father, she is hell-bent on revenge against her mother who ordered his murder,” and adds, “It’s a complex and difficult mother/daughter dynamic that resonates even today.” Conall Morrison’s new production is presented in association with Kilkenny Arts Festival, one of the many new working partnerships that have made such an enlarged new season possible. The five performances run between Thursday 5 August and Saturday 14 August.
The new season’s opening tour started on Wednesday 7 July, with a series of late-night outdoor screenings of Edwina Casey’s new film of Peter Maxwell Davies’ The Lighthouse. It’s one of three new films which INO produced this year when lockdown did not allow live performances with an audience. The Lighthouse will be screened at places as appropriately atmospheric as Hook Head Lighthouse in Wexford and Fanad Head Lighthouse in Donegal.
Later in July, INO will stream Amanda Feery’s A Thing I Cannot Name, a new filmed opera exploring experiences of female desire, with a libretto by Megan Nolan. The world premiere is being presented as part of the West Cork Literary Festival on Tuesday 27 July and will feature a conversation between the work’s creators and Julie Kelleher, CEO and artistic director of the Mermaid Arts Centre in Bray, and a former artistic director of The Everyman in Cork.
The last of the season’s three films captures Gerald Barry’s comic masterpiece Alice’s Adventures Under Ground. This was originally planned as a live production for last season, but with the cast, sets, costumes and crew all available, the only way to get it done was as a film. With Claudia Boyle in the astonishingly demanding title role, Hugh O’Conor directs the film of Antony McDonald’s production. The film will stream for six months from Friday 5 November on www.irishnationalopera.ie (tickets €9) and also on www.roh.org.uk, the website of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, co-producers with INO of the original production. At the same time a new recording of the work, on the Signum Classics label, will be issued on CD and also be available online for streaming and download.
Elektra is one of nine new productions in a schedule that also includes the first national tour of Brian Irvine and Netia Jones’s big 2019 hit, Least Like The Other – Searching For Rosemary Kennedy. This examination of the fate of JFK’s sister Rosemary was first presented at Galway International Arts Festival in 2019. Between Saturday 11 and Saturday 25 September it visits Dublin, Cork and Limerick in a new, 16-track surround sound version. Like Elektra, it will be performed with live cast and pre-recorded orchestra.
Irish soprano Sinead Campbell Wallace stars in the title role of the season’s first totally new, indoor offering, of Beethoven’s Fidelio. Fidelio will have five performances in Annabelle’s Comyn’s new production at the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin, between Sunday 7 and Saturday 13 November.
A live production of Peter Maxwell Davies’ The Lighthouse, also directed by Edwina Casey, goes on a 10- performance tour between Saturday 15 November and Saturday 11 December. It will be seen in Dundalk, Cork, Tralee, Ennis, Navan, Dublin, Bray and Letterkenny.
The next new production is of Vivaldi’s Bajazet, a highly-regarded 1735 pasticcio incorporating arias by other composers with Vivaldi’s own work. It is directed by Adele Thomas and will delight fans of INO’s first Vivaldi production, Griselda, in 2019. It features the powerful Italian bass-baritone Gianluca Margheri in the title role and marks the INO debut of Irish mezzo-soprano Rachel Kelly as Irene. After its eight performances in Ireland, the opera, which is another co-production with Covent Garden, will run for six performances at the Royal Opera’s Linbury Theatre in London between Friday 4 and Saturday 12 February 2022.
One of the early operatic victims of the pandemic was INO’s production of Bizet’s Carmen, which was already four weeks in rehearsal when it had to be cancelled. The re-scheduled first Dublin performance of Paul Curran’s production, again with Paula Murrihy in the title role and Celine Byrne as Micaela, is at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre on Monday 7 March 2022, with further performances on Wednesday 9, Friday 11 and Saturday 12.
INO is part of Elaine Agnew and Jessica Traynor’s new community opera Paper Boat, a Galway 2020 European Capital of Culture legacy project being presented by Music for Galway. The work was specifically conceived for and themed about St Nicholas’ Collegiate Church, which celebrated its 700th anniversary last year, and the world premiere production will be given there between Thursday 21 and Saturday 23 April 2022.
Two Irish singers compete for dominance as the rival queens – Elizabeth and Mary – in Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda. Mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught is in the title role and Anna Devin is Elisabetta, Tom Creed directs and Fergus Sheil conducts the Irish National Opera Orchestra and Chorus. There are four performances in Dublin, at the Gaiety Theatre, between Sunday 5 and Saturday 11 June 2022, and one each in Cork (Thursday 16 June) and Wexford (Saturday 19 June).
The season’s line up also includes INO’s first virtual reality community opera. Finola Merivale’s Out of The Ordinary is being written in conjunction with communities in Inis Me in, Tallaght and South Dublin, and rural Ireland. This truly ground-breaking project, directed by Jo Mangan has already won the coveted €50,000 Fedora Platform Digital Prize for 2021.
Horse Ape Bird, by composer David Coonan and writer Dylan Coburn Gray, is INO’s first specially commissioned youth opera. It asks the provocative question, “Are animals animals because they lack something we possess, or vice versa?” INO is producing it with Music Generation Kildare, Music Generation Meath and the Solstice Arts Centre, Navan, in partnership with the Music Department, Maynooth University, and it is also supported by St Patrick’s College, Maynooth.