Irish National Opera launches with a Big Bang!

A day of celebration and an opera marathon mark birth of a new approach to opera

New Irish opera company, Irish National Opera have launched an ambitious inaugural programme of 38 nights of opera across seven productions that will be performed all over the country. Video: Bryan O'Brien


“If opera was a cake, for the middle there’d be some jam or something so there was always a part on the inside that gets you.” Children giving their very mixed opinions about opera was the basis of a new seven-minute opera by Brian Irvine. The irreverent, skilful and joyous Opera – It’s all about like . . . took the mickey out of opera clichés and was a total hoot.

It struck a perfect tone for a new era for opera, at the launch in the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin, of Irish National Opera. It promised to deliver opera “in a completely new way”, said its artistic director Fergus Sheil.

“I’ve been dreaming of this for 25 years,” said Sheil. The ambitious inaugural programme sees 38 nights of opera this year in seven productions, in Wexford, Kilkenny, Navan, Sligo, Dublin, Tralee, Galway, London, Limerick and Cork.

“Irish National Opera (INO) wants to give pride of place to Irish singers and celebrate their work at home in Ireland, the way it is celebrated in leading opera houses around the world,” said Sheil. “We want to bring our creative talent to venues large and small, to communities around the country, and create thrilling experiences that will attract new audiences to our uniquely multifaceted artform.”

INO jumps right into a busy year with a tour of contemporary composer Thomas Adès’s darkly comic, sexually-charged chamber opera Powder Her Face in February. It is followed by a full-scale production, Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro at the Gaiety and Wexford Opera House, directed by Patrick Mason, with baritone Jonathan Lemalu and Irish mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught.

Other productions this year are Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice (with Galway International Arts Festival); Donnacha Dennehy and Enda Walsh’s The Second Violinist (with Landmark Productions, at London’s Barbican); a touring Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann; Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle, with Dublin Theatre Festival; and an epic production of Verdi’s Aida in Dublin’s Bord Gáis Energy Theatre.


Arts Council support of €2.8 million backs INO, and chairwoman Sheila Pratschke declared it “one of the most exciting days of my life”. The council was proud to “shine a well-deserved spotlight on world class opera singers, orchestras, conductors, directors and creative teams in this country – 2018 will be a wonderful year for Irish opera audiences”.

It has taken nearly eight years, at least one false start, several changes of arts ministers and Arts Council leaders, a recession, and a mix of one-off, touring and visiting opera productions filling the gap, but after a protracted gestation, Irish National Opera was finally born.

The establishment of Irish National Opera was first announced by arts minister Martin Cullen in March 2010. On Tuesday, glorious voices sang from the rooftops – or at least the grand rooms – of Dublin City Hall and the National Concert Hall, to mark its delivery in style with a day of celebration. It included a free opera marathon by emerging Irish opera singers all afternoon at City Hall; an outdoor screening of a new street-art opera Drive-by-Shooting; and The Big Bang! at the National Concert Hall, a concert by leading Irish opera stars.