Behind the Scenes of Wexford Festival Opera with Nora Cosgrave
Established in October 1951 under the guidance of Dr Tom Walsh and Scottish novelist and founder of Gramophone, Sir Compton Mackenzie, a ‘Festival of Music and the Arts’ debuted in Wexford’s Theatre Royal. Now housed in the magnificent National Opera House, the event has evolved into one of the world’s leading and most successful opera festivals. Director of Artistic Administration Nora Cosgrave takes us on a backstage tour of Ireland’s Wexford Festival Opera.
Planning is probably the most important aspect of my job. It’s like a juggling act trying to satisfy the demands of agents, directors, designers, singers and production staff."
How did you first become involved with Wexford Festival Opera?
My involvement in WFO has been a long and varied one. As a teenager, I became a volunteer and fell in love with the business. This led me to a career in Stage Management. After a long break, I retuned to the Festival in 2005 to answer the phones and I haven’t left since! I now work closely with the Artistic Director and our Technical Director in all aspects of the planning of WFO.
Tell us about your role as Director of Artistic Administration.
It’s not easy to describe my role, as it wouldn’t be considered typical. We are a festival so most of my colleagues are based worldwide. Myself and the Technical Director are the only two fulltime people in Wexford all year round. My year typically starts off with our AD announcing the operas for next year. I organise auditions and then begin the process of offering roles and issuing contracts. My office is the font of all information. Planning is probably the most important aspect of my job. It’s like a juggling act trying to satisfy the demands of agents, directors, designers, singers and production staff.
Once the actual festival rehearsal process begins, it’s time for me to pass on all the information to our production staff
Although the festival is 18 days long–it is a never-ending cycle. I have already completed my budgets for 2018…creative teams are forming…and auditions will begin in January. Then the rollercoaster of 2018 begins with auditions, scheduling, issuing contracts, attending design presentations, managing the budget, housing the company, and so on. I consider myself very lucky to work in a role that I love so much.
The Festival is renowned for its engaging and authentic interpretations of lesser-known musical gems—do any recent productions stand out for you in particular?
That’s like asking a mother which child she prefers, but seeing as I have to pick one…I suppose Giguliemo Ratcliff has a special place for me. The entire production, from a musical and visual aspect had it all…it was the one whch had me in tears. I keep telling my colleagues and family that I want the Intermezzo played at my funeral…I don’t suppose I could afford the orchestra!
If you had to sum up Wexford in 5 words, what would you choose and why?
In this business, you make friends. In Wexford, YOU MAKE FRIENDS FOR LIFE.
The Festival was born out of the community of Wexford. It was never imposed on the community, which is quite unique."
How important is the role of Wexford town and its community in the success of the Festival?
The Festival was born out of the community of Wexford. It was never imposed on the community, which is quite unique. There is an ownership and a love of the Festival in the town and this is felt by the audiences that come to Wexford. We have more than 300 volunteers across 11 departments, plus an enthusiastic business community. When you think that 67 years ago, a group of opera enthusiasts from a geographically isolated, economically depressed, rural seaside town came together and decided to put on a festival that explored the neglected and often obscure opera repertoire, and had the unstinting support from the local community, it says a lot about Wexford. It is certainly one of the reasons why Wexford Festival has been nominated several times and finally won ‘Best Festival’ at this year’s International Opera Awards in London.
What does such an honour mean to the company?
It was heartening to hear the cheers from the international opera community as we approached the stage to collect our award. It was our third time to be nominated and our first time to win. Being nominated in the same category as such international Festivals as Salzburg, Bayreuth, Glyndebourne and d’Aix-en-Provence, is a real honour. To come out on top and to come home with the award to the people of Wexford was FANTASTIC!
To find out more about Wexford Festival Opera see: www.wexfordopera.com
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