A Symphony for the Senses

Michelle Heffernan Reports

Prepare for a cornucopia of pleasure. The Blackwater Valley Opera Festival (previously titled the Lismore Opera Festival) will returns for the June Bank Holiday Weekend, offering a programme of magnificent music, mouth watering food and those first sips of sweet summer wine, all nestled in the enchanting setting of Lismore Castle and environs. “Great music, meeting friends, wonderful food, unforgettable memories and a true escape from life.” That’s what a visitor can expect from this year’s festival, according to excited Festival Director Gemma Tipton.

The enchanting Dromore Yard, one of the intimate venues for recital performances at this year’s festival.

The enchanting Dromore Yard, one of the intimate venues for recital performances at this year’s festival.


This is Gemma’s first year as Festival Director, gushing with child-like enthusiasm for the upcoming event.
“I went to the very first Lismore Opera Festival, and to the one last year – not realising I would end up running it this year! It’s a magical night out in a gorgeous setting, and I’m completely in awe of the singers, musicians and all the crew who put it together each year.”
Together with Artistic Director Dieter Kaegi, Gemma made the decision to transform Lismore Opera Festival into the new Blackwater Valley Opera Festival, to showcase the expansive richness of the whole region.

“We realised that alongside the opera, there are these wonderful recitals in the historic houses of the Blackwater Valley, and that series is expanding, so we changed the name to reflect the full wealth of what’s on offer during the Festival. We also want to encourage people to come, explore, go to the opera and some of the recitals, but also to visit this unique and beautiful part of Ireland.”The opera itself is held in the breathtaking surroundings of Lismore Castle and Gardens. Nearby, three gorgeous stately houses, Tourin, Salterbridge and Cappoquin will open their gardens for musical recitals while another very special venue has been added to this year’s programme – Dromore Yard. This private 18th century farmhouse will be converted into an atmospheric and chandelier-lit barn creating captivating acoustics, right on the bank of the Blackwater River.

This year’s opera is ‘Italiana in Algeri’, “a story of love, intrigue, jealousy, and greed” says Gemma excitedly. The Rossini opera, first performed in 1813, follows the story of Algerian Governor Mustapha and the clever Italian lady who manages to outwit his advances. “Our Artistic Director Dieter is adept at making opera lively and fun,” said Gemma. “He has selected an opera that both translates well to an outdoor setting and is peppered with enough English to allow the audience to follow without subtitles.”
This year, the team have cleverly mounted the 19th Century opera against a 21st Century background. “We’ve set it in a hotel,” says Gemma “and made the female lead a supermodel, and male lead, a greedy hotelier. Isabella – the Italian Woman of the title has to outwit Mustapha, so that everyone ends up with the right partner in the end… It’ll be a lot of fun!”

The Blackwater Valley Opera festival is also making this superb opera available to schools, with a free performance specifically for schoolchildren on Thursday, May 29th.
“Children are adventurous,” said Gemma, “but at some point, as we grow up, we can start to think that certain things “aren’t for us”. Inviting kids to enjoy opera can open their horizons, not just for a love of music, but to realise that they can continue to adventure and explore, creatively and practically throughout their lives”.
Teachers are invited to get in touch with festival team member Fiona Howard, to bring classes to this special performance and access free summaries, learning tools and activities to get the most out of the opera experience. “It’s a great gift to give to children if you can,” felt Gemma

For those who miss out on the opera itself, there is still the opportunity to enjoy sweet music in special surroundings. “The Recitals are a lovely way to enjoy music, and experience some of the wonderful settings along the Blackwater Valley,” Gemma said. The Recital Series consists of shorter performances in smaller, more intimate venues over the course of the five days. Highlights include Swiss Cellist Nadége Rochat at Dromore Yard or acclaimed pianist Máire Carroll at Carthage’s Cathedral.
The Masterpiece Series at Dromore Yard also looks to be a favourite for festival goers, said Gemma. “Award winners from the Irish Heritage series are playing in the morning, then there’s a picnic lunch, and in the afternoon we have invited guests from the Garsington and Nevill Holt operas over, so it’s a gorgeous music-filled day out on the river.”

Festival Director Gemma Tipton with Artistic Director Dieter Kaegi

Festival Director Gemma Tipton with Artistic Director Dieter Kaegi


So what’s on the menu? “Eunice Power, head of the ‘Opera Pop-Up Restaurant’, is brilliant at making meals inspired by the opera.”
“She’s worked this year with Gianni Alen-Buckley to create a special middle-eastern inspired feast for the main event.”
At Dromore Yard, Wildside-based chef Ted Berner will be serving a romantic five-course summer menu ahead of Nadége Rochat’s cello recital on the Thursday evening.
For more informal diners, picnic boxes will be available from Waterford’s Mezze Foods, while the wines have been specially selected to offer something for every visitor at every price point. “A lot of thought goes in to making sure the whole experience of the Festival matches how wonderful the opera is,” said Gemma.
All in all, through the Blackwater Valley Opera Festival, Gemma and her team hope to bring music and visitors to West Waterford, showcasing the best in Irish and international talent, and putting this gorgeous part of our county on the map. “The objective is to create a festival that is a whole lot of magical fun,” she concluded. “I certainly believe that the Blackwater Valley Opera Festival looks set to be a symphony for the senses.”

For more on the Schools Performance of ‘Italiana in Algheri’ on Thursday, May 29th, contact Fiona Howard on friends@blackwatervalleyoperafestival.com. And for a full programme of events and to book tickets, visit www.blackwatervalleyoperafestival.com or call 085-2078944

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