The big league beckons


OPTIMISM and opera just don't go together: doom, gloom and the prediction of imminent demise are, after all, the stuff of real music drama. But if last year's trends continue apace, there are grounds for cautious optimism as regards the Irish opera scene in 1997.

Under the guiding hand of Luigi Ferrari the Wexford Festival has accelerated with impressive smoothness into the big league of European festivals; James Conway and Opera Theatre Company have been busily exporting high grade Handel to all corners of the globe at every available opportunity; the newly named Opera Ireland will soon have at its helm, in the person of its new artistic director Dieter Kaegi, a creative artist of immense ability and style; Opera Northern Ireland's Stephen Barlow is full of ideas, including ideas for cross Border co productions; and there seems, happily, to be no end to the number of young Irish singers who are developing by leaps and bounds, both at home and abroad - Majella Cullagh, Orla Boylan and Lynda Lee, to name but three.

Of course we still lack a permanent opera company, let alone a venue, in Dublin and the visit of the American baritone Thomas Hampson in November, while a treat in, itself, also served as a reminder of the awesome international standards which are out there to be emulated. Nevertheless, there's lots to look forward to in the coming 12 months.

Artist to watch:

The Cork born soprano Cara O'Sullivan, who will be making a brief appearance here in the new year when she sings at an Opera Gala. Plus concert in the National Concert Hall on January 25th, before disappearing to do extensive stints with Welsh National Opera and Opera North. This could just be her year, so don't say we didn't tell you.

This year's Must Sees:

1. Rusalka (Wexford, October/November): Wexford has made a speciality of rare Russian repertoire in recent years, and this folksy fantasy by Alexander Dargomizhsky looks like being another treat.

2. Macbeth (Dublin, April): Opera Ireland has assembled a mouthwatering company for its spring production of Verdi's Shakespearean showstopper. Alexander Anissimov will conduct the lead role will be taken by Anatoly Loschak, and the production will be directed by the company's new artistic director Dieter Kaegi.

3. Life on the Moon (Touring, Feb/March): a fruit of the collaboration between Opera Theatre Company and Opera Northern Ireland, this new English version of Haydn's comic opera will bring a touch of 18th century elegance to venues all over Ireland.

4. The Magic Flute (Touring, April/May, November/December): the ever resourceful OTC has combined with the ever generous ESB to produce a new adaptation, by Susie Kennedy and Andrew Synnott, of Mozart's exquisite singspiel. Designed to appeal to children of all ages, it will tour in conjunction with an exciting series of schools workshops.

5. Jose Cura (Limerick, Cork, Dublin, April): the dynamic young Argentinian tenor returns to Ireland for a three city tour with a programme of popular operatic favourites.

6. Spoil yourself(Monte Carlo, March): next year being the bicentenary of Donizetti's birth, who not treat yourself to a couple of days in Monte Carlo and take in Opera Monte Carlo's productions of Anna Bolena, Thria Stuarda and Roberto Devereux? Yeah, well, it was just a thought.