Kilkenny Arts Festival: Brahms, Beethoven and Bertie on the menu

Opera version of the ‘Odyssey’ and an open-air Shakespeare production will run in August

An open-air production of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream in Kilkenny Castle, along with world premieres of new dance and circus performances, are among the highlights announced for this year's Kilkenny Arts Festival, which runs from August 9th-19th.

The 2018 programme, which was announced on Monday and includes exhibitions, debates and multidisciplinary productions, also continues Kilkenny's strong musical tradition, with the festival presenting its first full-scale staged opera, The Return of Ulysses, Claudio Monteverdi's retelling of Homer's Odyssey, which has never before been staged in Ireland. The production brings together a world-class creative team led by award-winning director Patrick Mason and conductor Christian Curnyn.

The range of concerts includes Brahms in the Afternoon, a 10-day journey through the chamber music masterpieces of the great romantic composer; Later Beethoven, a three-concert series by the Irish Chamber Orchestra, contrasting Beethoven's later works with 21st-century compositions; musical collaborations in the Marble City Sessions hosted by renowned fiddler Martin Hayes; and a series of "beyond genre' artists", including a new jazz series and a celebration of late Kilkenny music legend Willie Meighan.

The festival will also present two world premieres: Inventions, by Irish Modern Dance Theatre set in the former Carlton Ballroom with an international cast led by Valda Setterfield and Oona Doherty; and The Lightkeepers' Last Stand, a free aerial circus show for all ages, playing in Kilkenny Castle park twice daily.

Actor Stephen Rea will perform Derek Mahon's poetic sequence, New York Time, with a new musical setting, and Eavan Boland is this year's festival poet in residence. A spoken word strand will explore history and contemporary events with national and international guests including BBC Newsnight presenter Evan Davis, and former taoiseach Bertie Ahern.

There will be new exhibitions of art and design at the Butler Gallery and the National Design & Craft Gallery, while architecture is prominent this year with Kilkenny Visions, an exhibition of new plans for Kilkenny's cultural future in partnership with the UCD School of Architecture, along with a lecture from Irish architects Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, curators of the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale.

Secret Garden, a series of free pop-up performances, will take place twice daily in a trail of historic gardens across the city, and bursts out on to High Street for the first time on both weekends of the festival.

Full details at kilkennyarts.ie