I first visited Wexford Festival Opera, on the southeast coast of Ireland, in 1992. It has been running since 1951, when it was founded by Dr. Tom Walsh, with a mission to present operas that have been out of the running in the repertoire. Among the memorable discoveries I have made over the years in Wexford: Marschner’s Der Vampyr, Richard Rodney Bennett’s The Mines of Sulphur, Fauré’s Pénélope, Pedrotti’s Tutti in Maschera, Ambroise Thomas’s La Cour de Célimène, Mariotte’s Salomé, Donizetti’s Maria di Rohan and Maria Padilla, and this year, Alfano’s Risurrezione. The opportunity to experience first-class productions of these rarities has enriched my opera-going life on many levels. Over the years, Wexford has become one of my favorite subjects as a journalist. I have written about the Wexford experience extensively, for Opera News, Opera, and The Wall Street Journal.
But the operas on the main stage make up only part of the Wexford story. Wexford Town itself is a rich community of remarkable individuals, many of whom are long-standing members of Wexford Light Opera Society, which each year presents a full season of musicals and operettas. On October 31, I attended the Society’s annual “HIts from the Musicals” concert. It was an impressive evening of local talent that seemed anything but local—and in fact, some of the Wexfordians have appeared in the West End. Under the unerring guidance of musical director Fintan Cleary, stage director Stephen Acton, chorus mistress Eithne Corrigan, and choreographer Sophie Wilson, it was a highly memorable evening, enthusiastically hosted by Catherine Biddy Walsh.
One of the most impressive aspects of the performance was the individual commitment shown by the singers. There was a practically no “walking through” of the numbers; most of the artists had something individual to say about the songs they had chosen, as well as the vocal technique to enable them to say it. An example: Tony Carty does not possess the shaking-the-depths voice that we associate with so many people who take on Showboat’s “Ol’ Man River,” yet he made it his own. Instead of hurling the song at the audience, we came to him.
This kind of unobtrusive personal signature was on bountiful display all night long. I was particularly impressed with Sharon Clancy’s “GIrl in the Mirror” from Grand Hotel; Antonia Close’s “Cabaret”; and Aileen Donohue’s “I Have Confidence” from the film version of The Sound of Music.
The Wexford Light Opera Society’s “Hits from the Musicals” should be counted among the richest traditions of a remarkable community. I have heard many (too many) high-gloss professional concerts in New York City that didn’t leave me with a sense of the joy in music-making that I experienced on October 31.