Bearing in mind that Waterford’s International Festival of Light Opera in the Theatre Royal has gone by the boards, at least as the entity we all fondly remember, it’s interesting to observe the row currently raging down the road in Wexford.
The locals were understandably annoyed as hell when a leading British opera critic wrote in The Daily Telegraph that Wexford Opera House, built at a cost of €33 million, was probably the biggest operatic white elephant in the EU and was a financial deadweight around the town’s neck.
The comments by Rupert Christiansen, a regular visitor to the Wexford Opera Festival, were quickly refuted by a whole range of people including the Festival commercial director, Breda Cashe.
She pointed out that the opera house was in a healthy financial position and the commercial debt was very small considering the value of the asset. Referring to difficulties caused by the recession, Ms Cashe insisted the opera house had not only survived but thrived over the last five years.
Wexford Opera Chairman Ger Lawlor, said the recent festival had been one of the best in living memory and had received five-star reviews from all over the world.
The figures regarding the Wexford Opera House are interesting.
Completed in 2008, the government provided €26m of its cost with the remaining €7m coming from private donations and fundraising.
It costs in the region of €800,00 to run per annum and was losing €200,000 a year until corrective action was taken last year.
While the Opera Festival receives an Arts Council grant of €1.4m, the theatre itself receives nothing except an annual allocation from the local authority worth about €32,000.
Personally, I would wish the Wexford Opera House nothing but the very best of good fortune. The people in Wexford thought big and they achieved big. If the government hadn’t spent the money on the theatre it would have gone somewhere else.
In his article, Rupert Christiansen pointed out that Dublin was the only European capital without an operatic establishment. Perhaps we should have a National Opera House and perhaps it should be in Wexford.
Incidentally, the Wexford Opera House can seat over 800 and some of the local hotels have used it to attract business conferences to the town – I bet the hotels in Waterford city would just love to have a super-duper 800-seater conference centre on their doorstep.
I know it is two different things but I can’t help but think of the criticisms, snide remarks and guffaws when Knock Airport was built all those years ago.
But the years rolled on and, today, with its super runway that can accommodate jumbo-jets, it has turned out to be a wonderful facility and benefit for Mayo and the West of Ireland in general.
I love our own beautiful Theatre Royal dearly and long may it flourish but it’s a pity we don’t have a Knock Airport or a big Opera House on Suirside – and to hell with the begrudgers.