My first opera: a lot of fuss over a straw hat

It’s opening night at Wexford Festival Opera, and there is much for a novice to learn: don’t touch the intermission drinks, tiny binoculars are not the done thing, and don’t mess with an Italian’s headwear

Eoin Butler at opening night of Wexford Festival Opera. Photograph: Patrick Browne

Eoin Butler at opening night of Wexford Festival Opera. Photograph: Patrick Browne

Mon, Oct 28, 2013, 01:00

At the mouth of the river Slaney, about a third of a tonne of fireworks has just exploded in the night sky, marking the official opening of the 62nd Wexford Festival Opera. As the spectacle fades, tired children begin to slope homeward, clinging to their parents’ arms, while grey-haired couples in their finery wander merrily through the streets.

Meanwhile, in the bowels of White’s Hotel, the driver of Lyric FM’s van and I are locked in a frenzied death match to see who can secure the final free space in a packed basement car park.

An opera virgin, I have been listening to Mozart, Verdi and Rossini the whole way down the N11 to get myself in the mood for tonight’s performance, which starts in about 15 minutes.

The gambit pays off. So immersed am I in the operatic oeuvre that, when the Lyric FM van driver (quite reasonably) reverses into a parking spot I had coveted from afar, my gut instinct is to leap from the driver’s seat, puff out my chest and demand we settle the matter with a duel.

Fortunately, another space opens up nearby. So I end up just parking there instead.

At Wexford Opera House, volunteers of all ages from around the town are on hand to sell programmes, staff the ticket office and escort patrons to their seats. A friendly official shakes my hand as I collect my ticket. He introduces himself as David McLoughlin, chief executive of the Wexford Festival Opera.

I’m delighted to make his acquaintance.

“My name is Eoin,” I tell him. “I’m doing a sort of moron-goes-to-the-opera piece for The Irish Times.”

“Oh, very nice,” he says. Then I have to rush inside to find my seat.

The sets are stylish, the crowd sophisticated and well-heeled. The venue is packed. If my opera expectations are dashed in just one tiny respect, it is that none of the grande dames in the boxes are using miniature binocular sets to view the stage.

A minor quibble, no more.

Almost famous
Irish Times social diarist Maedhbh McHugh and I are seated together. I ask how many big names she’s spotted so far. The President of Ireland, a patron of the festival, is in Mexico. So far, she says, the biggest names present are Gerald Kean and Lisa Murphy. She points them out in the distance.

Oh well, the night is young.

A whimsical farce, Nino Rota’s Il Cappello di paglia di Firenze (The Florentine Straw Hat) is one of three major productions being staged at the festival this year.

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