Grant of €1m for ‘updating’ of National Opera House in Wexford

Allocation announced by Minister as annual Wexford Festival Opera gets underway

The National Opera House in Wexford has received a €1 million capital grant for ‘updating and refurbishment’ works. File photograph:  David Sleator/The Irish Times.

The National Opera House in Wexford has received a €1 million capital grant for ‘updating and refurbishment’ works. File photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times.

 

As the curtain was about to rise on the Wexford Festival Opera on Friday, the Government announced a €1 million capital grant to refurbish a venue that is just 10 years old.

The National Opera House is the festival’s established home but, after some years of under-investment, it is in need of catch-up works that include repainting and treatment of its walnut floors.

Despite the appeal of the festival, it has had, like all the arts, to navigate a recession as well as a competitive funding environment.

“The market is recovering and the audience is growing but like all arts organisations we have to continue to work hard for every single ticket we sell,” said chief executive David McLoughlin.

Tickets for evening shows on this year’s programme, which runs to early November, cost between €20 and €150.

The opera house was officially opened in 2008 at a cost of €33 million, and is more than four times the size of the 1832 Theatre Royal it replaced. Its main auditorium has seating for up to 780 people.

At its unveiling, then taoiseach Brian Cowen acknowledged the festival’s status as “one of Ireland’s most important cultural events” and a globally recognised fixture.

Announcing a cash injection that will run over three years, Minister for Culture Josepha Madigan said that while the “auditorium looks as good as the day on which it opened, we are all aware that every house requires continued investment to keep it in shape”.

It was a point underscored by Mr McLoughlin who explained that some 1 per cent of a modern opera house’s construction cost, in this case about €300,000, is required annually to keep it at a consistent standard.

“The truth is that hasn’t been happening, mainly for recessionary reasons,” he said. “We have been behind.”

While Arts Council grants help support the annual festival, the cost of capital spending on the building is met by government.

The festival made a modest surplus in 2017, according to Mr McLoughlin, but the ever-challenging nature of the arts is reflected in its previous financial performance.

Operating loss

According to the latest accounts available for the National Opera House itself, there was an operating loss of almost €21,000 in the nine-month period to the end of 2016, from a gross profit of just over €123,000.

In that time it made €357,500 from its box office and theatre hire.

The National Opera House is a subsidiary of the Wexford Festival Trust, on which it is dependent for support.

Accounts for the trust in the same period note that its investment in activities is “contingent on the maintenance of, and indeed increase in, funding being received from the Arts Council”.

A need for continued growth in the festival’s box office, voluntary income and sponsorship were also cited. In the nine-month period, Wexford Festival Trust made an operating loss of just over €366,000.

The accounts show more than €1.2 million in box office income and a similar amount of money in grants.

The Department of Culture said the application for capital funding by the opera festival was “considered separately as it was important that the State continued to invest in the upkeep of this major new cultural asset”.

Other refurbishment at the Opera House will fund include a natural gas conversion, works on its water heating system and leak prevention.