Arts Council announces new opera company

Opera Theatre Company and Wide Open Opera will merge to form new entity

 Fergus Sheil speaking after picking up the best opera award at this year’s Irish Times Irish Theatre Awards, for The Barber of Seville by Wide Open Opera. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Fergus Sheil speaking after picking up the best opera award at this year’s Irish Times Irish Theatre Awards, for The Barber of Seville by Wide Open Opera. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Ireland is to get a new opera company that will present its first productions in 2018.

The company will be created through merging two existing opera providers, Opera Theatre Company and Wide Open Opera, both of which have Fergus Sheil as artistic director. The new entity will then become the Arts Council’s “preferred provider of main-scale opera in Dublin from 2018”.

The development is a result of the Arts Council’s Opera Policy Strategy 2016 and, says the council, it “will result in the return to the Dublin stage, after a gap of some eight years, of regular Irish productions of the great operatic repertoire”.

The Arts Council’s chair, Sheila Pratschke, said she is “delighted” at the increase in opera provision. “Along with the growth of smaller-scale touring opera and our ongoing support of independent and emerging opera artists and producers,” she said, “it will improve significantly the opera offering for audiences, and open up greater opportunity for artists.”

What’s behind the new development?

Opera Ireland, Dublin’s long-standing main provider of large-scale opera, ceased operation in 2010 to make way for the new Irish National Opera company that was set in train by Martin Cullen when he was the minister for arts. The new company never became operational. Jimmy Deenihan shut the project down when he was appointed minister for arts. And Dublin has been without regular, home-produced, full-scale opera since then.

There’s been no opera in Dublin since 2010?

Not exactly. The Arts Council created new production and project schemes for opera, which were awarded on a case-by-case basis. And new companies – Wide Open Opera among them – emerged as a result. Non-theatre productions continued at the National Concert Hall and visiting companies came to the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre. But the core provision of the most popular operas, which Opera Ireland provided, was lost, and work for Irish opera artists was curtailed as a result

What will happen to the production and project schemes?

They are to be retained and enhanced. The council says it will introduce “a new opera commissions award; bursaries for opera artists; a travel and training scheme for opera artists”, and “a new three-stranded opera production and projects award which will integrate support for independent producers and artists”.

What about Wexford Festival Opera and the national tours undertaken by Opera Theatre Company?

These will continue to be supported. And the new company is also tasked with presenting some of its Dublin productions in Cork and Wexford.

Is the deal done and dusted?

Not quite. Discussions are to continue over the summer about the shape of the new company’s plans, after which a three-year funding plan will be agreed.

How much money is involved?

The opera budget is to rise from €3.81 million this year to €4.85 million in 2018. It’s a step in the right direction. In 2006, the council agreed to earmark €5.7 million from 2008 (at 2006 prices), although it never delivered on that decision. For comparison, in 2015 Scottish Opera’s government support was £8.22 million (€11.32 million at that time) and in 2016 Opera North in Leeds received £10.486 million from the Arts Council of England (€14.24 million at that time). Public subsidy of the Bavarian State Opera in Munich was €65.8 million in 2015.

When will the new company’s first production take place?

Possibly early next year. That is one of the issues to be decided over the summer.