One Voice Festival: Tales from the Quay

The One Voice Festival: Tales from the Quay at Wexford Arts Centre contributes abundantly to the long and rich tradition of the monologue on the Irish stage, seven writers – several new to the format – and seven performers who prove that composition and performance can be one and the same act.

Although the concept of personal stories waiting to erupt was conceived by director Paul Walsh seven years earlier, Covid 19 restrictions and lockdown have acted as a catalyst for bringing this project to fruition.

Two of Wexford Drama Group’s senior stalwarts, Phil Lyons and Andy Doyle, persuasively bookend an evening of introspection and reflection, rooted in original material suffused with the cornerstone of any good monologue, empathy.

Wexford Town (Hello in There) is a humorous though heartfelt lyrical paean by writer and performer Lyons to his adopted town, whereas Doyle in Thomas O’Leary’s The Trip of a Lifetime eschews superfluous trimmings to confront the brass tacks of a pandemic: illness and loss. ‘No pubs, no hurling, no travel,’ he laments, resignation and irony laced with fortitude.

Wexford, specifically the harbour, is a central character. ‘Ah the marina. Thank God we have it,’ says Doyle. Director Paul Walsh is keen for Wexford to be a strong personality in its own right, not merely a colourful backdrop, but throbbing with soul, refusing to age. Defiance is omnipresent.

These monologues are by writers steeped in an understanding of their own relationship to Wexford, performed by actors attuned to the nuances on the page and gifted in extemporisation before a masked audience. Strange times.

In Michelle Dooley Mahon’s Boots – the only outlier because it is set in the 1990s – John Crosbie’s edges are pared. He is embedded to his own patch like Beckett’s Winnie, complete with bag (of beer), a man whose colourful history Crosbie conflates into a controlled flow.

The past is a foreign country in Tales From the Quay: wistful in Wexford Town; a house of horrors in Eoghan Rua Finn’s Dei Gratia (with Jeanette Sidney Kelly); a lamentation in Boots; a suffocation in Carol Long’s Living Like a Fugitive (with Mairead Ryan); indecisive in Heather Hadrill’s Coming Home, but dispatched like a frisbee by Danielle Fortune in Jack Matthew’s Revenge.

Stasis is the enemy of  electrifying monologue, so Fortune’s Vikki roams the stage like it’s a cage, her feral gait venomously dispatching great Matthew one-liners, recalling that she ‘guts sea creatures for a living’, and how she ‘threw away her virginity on the quay.’

And because these are real lives there is betrayal and exits and entrances, specifically in Dei Gratia, Boots, A Method in Menapia – Paul Walsh’s sitcom with a terrific Imelda McDonagh as social climber Pamela and a cast of dead paramours – Living Like a Fugitive and Coming Home, Stephen Byrne as Christopher nailing the swallow note of the migrant forever destined to return to the nest. Tales from the Quay is rich in character and incident, reconciling the past and the present, and unafraid to make the heart the centre of the world.


Saxophonist, composer, and educator Andrew Van Tassel draws inspiration from a broad palette of genres: bebop/hard bop, fusion, indie rock, classical music, and more. His new release on Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records  Shape-Shifter, reflects this multifaceted approach that ultimately produces music distinctly his own, while unveiling compelling explorations with electronics in a contemporary jazz ensemble context.

The band Van Tassel assembled for Shape-Shifter features budding stars on the NYC jazz scene, including Michael Mayo – voice, Lucas Hahn – piano, Wurlitzer, Alex Goodman – guitar, Rick Rosato – bass, Kush Abadey – drums and Alex Van Gils – live electronics and processing. His previous album, It’s Where You Are (Tone Rogue Records), received international praise from jazz critics. Highly recommended. There is an illuminative essence to the recording which is ideal listening during lockdown, wherever in the world you may be. In the meantime, stay safe.

Rafiki Jazz

Rafiki Jazz exemplify the moment where culture, faith, sound and spirit collide in their fifth studio album, NDUGGU (pronounced ‘un-doo-goo’) meaning ‘Dust’. Once again, Rafiki Jazz place musical diversity at the forefront of their music with eight new internationalist songs of enlightenment and change that cherish the human spirit, its joy and fragility. The dust that is NDUGGU is both physical and symbolic. Rafiki Jazz focus on the changing climate with ever-increasing desertification of Northern Africa, while dust also acts as a symbol reflecting destiny.  ‘Nduggu Bouy’ is steeped in melodic charms and smooth vocals, encapsulating the collective sounds of the band, their experiences and transitions.  The track also features the unmovable force in the fabric of Rafiki Jazz that is London-based hereditary griot: Kadialy Kouyate. Featuring his warm and soulful Fula singing and the stunning 21-string kora, Kouyate notably brings the traditional West African harp to meet traditional Southern Asian tabla drums.

Since 2006, the longevity of Rafiki Jazz has seen them touring the globe from Montreal to their hometown of Sheffield. However, 2020 saw the world of music uprooted and thrown into a new isolated online virtual realm. In keeping with their pledge to stay accessible, Rafiki Jazz took on a whole new approach to recording, using online collaborative ‘real time’ music sharing platforms. A perfect example of their collaborative methods is the Turkish ode to their band manager ‘Gesi Baglari’ in which all members of the band contributed the tracks compositions remotely from the comfort of their homes. Each member of the group set up their own home digital recording workstations, as well as being able to feature guest artists K.O.G. aka Kweku Sackey on the rich highlife track ‘Ngozi Ucheoma’ (Unlock your heart…life is a blessing) and guest percussionists Millie Chapanda and Amir Ezzat plus audio programmer-engineer Robin Downe. As well as this, old souls come together in a new role: long term violinist Vijay Venkat shocked the band by picking up the vocal mic on ‘Naalaikku Nalla Naal. The album also features the comeback of a previously recorded track: this time produced as a more traditional and authentic take of the Kashmiri lullaby ‘Hukus Bukus’.

Taylor Ho Bynum/Matthew Harvey

 “The Temp”, a thrilling new oratorio from composer Taylor Ho Bynum and librettist Matthea Harvey was recorded live in concert at Dartmouth’s Spaulding Auditorium in February 22, 2020 – just weeks before the Covid 19 pandemic shutdown – with a 65-member ensemble combining two of the Hopkins Center’s flagship student ensembles, The Coast Jazz Orchestra, under Bynum’s direction and The Dartmouth Symphony Orchestra conducted by Filippo Ciabatti, with an exceptional group of guest soloists: vocalists Kyoko Kitamura and Michael Mayo, saxophonist Jim Hobbs, trombonist Bill Lowe, drummer Tomas Fujiwara, and violinist Erica Dicker. 

“The Temp” is a secular oratorio for classical orchestra, jazz big band and choir, with four instrumental soloists and two vocal soloists. It features an original libretto by acclaimed poet Matthea Harvey, winner of the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award and a 2017 Guggenheim Fellow. Harvey used erasure processes on Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”, extracting words and phrases to craft a new narrative – a story of contemporary labour relations and a rebellion against corporate hierarchy that manages to be engaging, witty, and ultimately uplifting.

Composer Taylor Ho Bynum is best known for his long collaborations with creative music legends like Anthony Braxton, Cecil Taylor and Bill Dixon and forward-thinking peers like Mary Halvorson, Jason Kao Hwang, Ingrid Laubrock, and Tomeka Reid. While Bynum is intimately familiar with large-scale orchestral projects, having premiered compositions with the Scottish BBC Symphony Orchestra and the Tri-Centric Orchestra, and having produced and co-conducted Braxton’s last two operas, “The Temp” is his most personally ambitious orchestra work to date. The music blends the pre-determined and the spontaneous through a series of movements that seamlessly shift between through-composed passages and conducted improvisations for the full ensemble. The composition uses two conductors, sometimes working simultaneously, with two of the instrumental improvisers and the two vocal soloists embodying the two lead characters, supported by a choir of workers’ voices. Unlike many jazz/classical hybrids where improvisation is relegated to a light flavouring – in this work it is the main course, embedded within the performance practice of the entire ensemble.

Caroline Ward

Thanks to excavations at Pompeii, we have long known that the practice of still life painting is (a) ancient and (b) remarkably consistent in its use of well-worn conventions. For example, the double or triple level in the arrangement of objects, and the selection of what we might term pieces of the ordinary. And, if you examined Still Life With Peaches, from Pompeii, circa 79 AD, and Still Life With Pink Fish by Margaret Olley, 1948, you will not discern any obvious tremor in the evolution of still life painting. What Olley and the anonymous Pompeiian artist set out to achieve was the depiction of an arrangement, where colour is the great harmoniser of the space between the objects, in the same way that darkness fixes the planets. But of course, still life’s viscosity to change could not withstand the catalyst of genius, the nature of which is to bypass convention. Both Louis-Léopold Boilly, who invented trompe l’oeil, and Paul Cezanne, did this. But while Boilly created a technique – the optical illusion of realism – Cezanne created a new way of looking at still life. And his experiments, though he would not have labelled them thus, bequeathed to us a modern version, so to speak, of Vermeer’s mythical camera obscura, so that, with a contemporary still life artist like Caroline Ward, we are amply equipped to recognise her flawless mixture of detached precision, compositional repose and perspective accuracy.

Standing before Caroline’s Cracked Egg; Emblem’s Weave; Four Mushrooms or Folded Napkin is not simply a matter of admiring the representation of verisimilitude: the rewards are too easy. However, understand how Caroline is not giving a single view of anything, and rather than an existential take on the transience of nature, she is in fact stabilising the impression, and how she does this is the kernel of her gift: a display of realism which is astonishing to the eye. And the astonishment, I hope you will agree, is instantaneous. There is no preamble, no eyes beating about the visual bush. There is about her paintings a cinéma vérité quality in that improvisation, however subtle, can unveil truths. This is observational painting at its zenith.  With Mackerel Still Life, the artist was motivated by the iridescence of a fish she was gutting for supper. The Alessi Platter, and specifically the play of light around it, was spotted in a shop, and once she combined both, the fish and the prop, she had the luxury of determining every aspect of the painting. The use of lemon for a splash of colour, and the fact that Mackerel Still Life is the summation of a flow of perception, never fixed, emphasizes how a still life of this quality cannot be moored to a single view. Since her last exhibition in Kelly’s Hotel, one can detect a profound assurance and confidence in her still life compositions, specifically the courage not to refrain from the complex. In La Chaise Rouge, Caroline gives us an antidote to the lack of nuance often found in the manic swiping of visuals on social media: La Chaise Rouge is almost Zen-like in its appeal to the image-obsessive, Twitter and Instagram nerd in 2019, to submit to its contemplative calm, step out of yourself and return to the essential. Look again carefully at La Chaise Rouge and there is the intimation of an absent presence, or perhaps an arrival. The door frame, through which the light bounces from one room to another, is a metaphor for the human condition: the walls are devoid of that which enchants us, a painting, and in this way Caroline might be saying that in the absence of a linear story, you can apply your own narrative. We might feel alone, but there is no anguish. William Crozier famously said that landscape was a vehicle through which he could say anything, and he saw it as a means, not a subject, through which he could express the intangible. Imperceptible or not, neither art not nature is ever as cold or as detached as a glass, or a plate, and the still life reflected in art always reflects the artist’s own mind, but the still life artist, beset by many challenges, walks the tightrope between stabilizing an impression and taming transience.  Caroline Ward is a still life artist of the soul, an interpreter of the visible world, but an artist whose precision never looks laboured, although you know it must have been, and therein is the magic and mystery of the creative act. (Caroline Ward, Kelly’s Hotel, 2019)

Blake and Corea

Brooklyn-based Red Piano Records has released When Soft Rains Fall from pianist Ran Blake and vocalist Christine Correa. This recording is the latest yield from Blake and Correa’s remarkable 40-year friendship and singular musical collaboration. Lady in Satin was Billie Holiday’s penultimate recording, released in 1959, the year of her passing. Although the repertoire is derived from the Great American Songbook, Lady in Satin is unlike any of Holiday’s previous recordings as she specifically chose to be accompanied by the lush orchestral arrangements of Ray Ellis, and personally hand-picked each song based on its lyrics.

On When Soft Rains Fall, Blake and Correa pay tribute to the great Billie Holiday, 60-some years after the release of her Lady in Satin recording through an intimate recording of the songs from that classic album. In contrast to the grand orchestral arrangements of the original album, Correa and Blake interpret the music in a duo setting probing deep into the songs and exploring Lady Day’s emotional palette of hushed innuendos, loss, lamentation and unrequited love.

 Holiday holds a special place in the hearts and souls of these artists; a place where her music, her sound and her aesthetic resonates deeply. On When Soft Rains Fall Correa captures the raw emotion, drama and the intimacy that is associated with Holiday, quite present in the way she bends and slurs her notes, her rhythmic phrasing and the liberty she takes in her interpretations. 

In addition to the twelve songs from the Holiday album, Correa and Blake include, “The Day Lady Died,” a Blake composition that has the great Frank O’Hara poem superimposed over it as well as a solo piano version of “Big Stuff” (from Holiday’s Decca period) and a vocal solo version of Herbie Nichols’ “Lady Sings the Blues” (Verve). Together they capture an intensity in their interpretation of, “I’m a Fool to Want You,” and “You’ve Changed,” and lightness and frivolity in, “The End of a Love Affair,” and I’ll Be Around”. 

Blake and Correa are a united force in presenting this material. There exists between these two incomparable artists an uncanny, imaginative rapport, a sense of inevitability in their interpretations, which emboldens and challenges their audiences’ sonic imaginations. 

Matt Slocum

On Sanctuary drummer/composer Matt Slocum unleashes lovely, inspiring missives that could compel you to imagine a world in which peace, kindness and solace prevail – his music comes from an unsullied place, where the music is all that matters.

And, he has a sound! An inviting, burnished sound as pure and effervescent as water streaming from high peaks that reveals itself as much through his compositional output as it does through his choices behind the drums. Slocum is also a conceptualist and an instigator, traits which have produced five acclaimed recordings of mostly original music, four of them featuring the great Gerald Clayton on piano (a friend and musical partner for almost two decades), and Sanctuary being the first to feature first-call bassist Larry Grenadier (a modern-day giant known for his 25-year association with the Brad Mehldau Trio, as well as consequential engagements with Pat Metheny, Paul Motian, Charles Lloyd, Joshua Redman, and Mark Turner). 

The three protagonists on Sanctuary, recording after a single rehearsal, listen and interact on such a high level as to give the impression that they’d internalized the music after a long tour – a credit to Slocum’s leadership. Also notable on Sanctuary is the programmatic quality that underpins the proceedings. It’s definitely an ALBUM – the tunes connect emotionally, they cohere into a narrative arc.

Usually Matt has in mind a specific instrumentation and group of musicians before he arranges music for a project, so that it becomes tailored to that configuration and musical aesthetic. With Sanctuary, and for the first time, he took a different approach. He allowed myself to write whatever he felt like without those preconceptions. This seemed to make him reflect musically more on what he would call places and characters that, at one time or another, have provided a perceived sense of creative refuge and even a feeling of home.

Melissa Alanda

Each movement of the multi-media performance titled Visions for Frida Kahlo  depicts a personal relationship that shaped Kahlo’s life and influenced her artistic expression.

Inspired by the way she believes Kahlo’s works embrace trauma, reckoning, discomfort and pain, Melissa Aldana crafted each movement of the suite to help express – or begin to address – her own personal pressures and certain complexities in relationships she has with those closest to her.   

Bringing together some of the music’s most distinctive voices in music today, Sam Harris, Pablo Menares, Tommy Crane and Joel Ross, Aldana’sVisions for Frida Kahlo represents a metamorphosis of sound and intention.

She seeks to channel the exquisite, painful – at times, unceremonious – transformation Kahlo embraced as she developed into a unique artist, and offers in each movement and each interlude a true conception of herself and presentation of her own expression.

Looking back: David Agler

If, as Andrew Clark wrote in The Financial Times in 2013, the Wexford Festival was ‘a cradle of surprises in an age bringing metropolitan operatic companies into an ever closer hug of generic co-productions’, how prescient of Wexford a decade earlier to have chosen for the first time an Artistic Director from the ranks of musicians and conductors to spearhead a new reign for a new opera house in a new millennium.

From Vancouver, David Agler was not an unknown quantity to the Festival Board when he was appointed its seventh Artistic Director. His predecessor, Luigi Ferrari, had invited David to conduct Zdeněk Fibich’s Šárka (whose répétiteur was Rosetta Cucchi) in the Theatre Royal in 1996, the same season as conductors Maurizio Benini and a very young Vladimir Jurowski. David was by then a formidable champion of 20th century opera – Leoš Janáček’s Jenufa, Alban Berg’s Wozzeck, Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélite – and had conducted the American premiere of Sir Michael Tippett’s The Midsummer Marriage.

The Wexford Festival which David joined as Artistic Director in 2005 was on the cusp of wholescale change: a gaping void left by the untimely death of its CEO, Jerome Hynes, on David’s first official day in the role; the departure after a decade of Luigi Ferrari and the demolition of the much loved but no longer fit for purpose Theatre Royal, the Festival’s home since 1951, whose stage was unerringly described by Joyce Kennedy as ‘the size of a pocket handkerchief.’ The new Artistic Director was faced with the daunting challenge of programming four seasons of opera from 2005 to 2008 in multiple venues – two of which did not yet exist – while embracing the widening artistic goals and aspirations of the Board: in the words of Chairman Paul Hennessy, ‘a time to redefine Wexford Festival Opera in terms of its artistic ambitions.’ And finding this different perspective, while adhering to the Festival’s raison d’être, searching for seams that struggle to produce gold, is what David sought. But change did not drag its heels. No sooner had the lights dimmed on the last opera at the Theatre Royal, Susannah, than the diggers and the wrecking ball arrived at the High Street site.

As the last Artistic Director of the Theatre Royal and the first at Wexford Opera House, David’s programming was instrumental in seguing the old and the new, the past and the future. He achieved this by choosing a relatively contemporary opera, Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah, to bring the curtain down on the Theatre Royal. Susannah was a quantum leap, being only the third opera by a living composer performed at Wexford (Albert Herring in 1970 and The Turn of the Shrew in 1976 by Benjamin Britten and Of Mice and Men, also by Floyd, in 1980). Susannah railed against bigotry, intolerance and religious fundamentalism, light years in theme from the Ottocento fare of the common Wexford repertoire. For a Festival without a roof over its head, the choice of a 20th century opera was an apobaterion: a valedictory tipping of the hat to an era past and a votive for a safe landing.

The long running Opera Scenes – condensed versions of masterworks with piano accompaniment – became ShortWorks and the repertoire was expanded. Opera derives its life force from disparate elements, but the ShortWorks, such as Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Medium in 2005, reminded us that opera essentially is a sung stage drama set to continuous music and not a play with the appendage of music or a concert with the appendage of a play. David’s sundering of the Festival from its comfort zone of predominantly nineteenth century European opera was unflagging in 2006 with his repertoire for the substitute venue of the Dun Mhuire, the old parish hall. Joe Vaněk, who designed a quartet of operas at Wexford from 1987 to 1989, was tasked with creating a pit and a stage to accommodate a nine piece orchestra and an eight strong cast for Conrad Susa’s chamber opera, Transformations. It was by far the youngest work ever shown at the Festival, having premiered at the Cedar Village Theater in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1973, but regarded by Susa as more entertainment in two acts and less pure opera. Wexford had never seen anything quite like Transformations, a modern opera by a living composer not overly concerned with finding common ground with its audience. But itwas never less than scintillating, assisted brilliantly by Fiona McAndrew in the role of the poet Anne Sexton, and the playing of the new Orchestra of the Wexford Festival Opera, an innovation by David.

For David’s next herculean task, concocting a theatre out of thin air for the 2007 Festival, time was in short supply. Two years earlier, Jerome Hynes and Vaněk had reconnoitered the pastoral elegance of Johnstown Castle in the ancient barony of Forth as a host for the 56th Festival, which was then brought forward from the written-in-stone autumnal berth to June. With an impossibly short lead in, promotion of the summer Festival was in full swing even before the 2006 event had started.

It was, as Paul Hennessy noted in the programme, a strange feeling to have the light of early summer pouring through his window for the start of the 2007 season. David planned his second festival outside normal facilities for the custom built (and temporary) Johnstown Theatre, on the front lawn of Johnstown Castle, transmogrified wondrously by Vaněk and Paraic Boran to accommodate a full seventeen day programme of opera. Once again, David was breaking new ground. Rusalka, conducted by Dmitri Jurowski, was no Wexford rarity, but a production of a mainstream opera at a scale unheard of in Ireland. If you build it, they will come, a voice tells the character Ray Kinsella in the film Field of Dreams, and 20,000 would come to Wexford from near and far.

The opening scene in Rusalka of water nymphs frolicking in the moonlight was in synch with the Arcadia of Johnstown Castle, offering its own reflecting pool and crenellated moonlight as Helena Kaupová confessed her guilty secret in the famous aria in the first act. The Festival was a feast of the imagination, comprising a ballet with song in one act (Pulcinella), a theatrical caprice in another (Arlecchino, often staged with the lesser known Turandot by Busoni, which was part of the Wexford repertoire in 1988) and a play with music in three acts (Der Silbersee).

The surprise critical tour de force that summer, however, and later nominated for Best Opera Production in the Irish Times Theatre Awards, was to be found in Wexford town: the not so short (an hour and a half) apogee of the three ShortWorks, Peter Brook’s La Tragedie de Carmen at the Dun Mhuire. Pared further by the 24-year-old directing wunderkind, Andrew Steggall, this was a Carmen of creative ingenuity. Incidentally, Wexford’s previous shot at Carmen was in the cavernous White’s Barn in 1998, with an unknown 20-year-old Maltese tenor, Joseph Calleja, as Don Jose, already capable of vocally beating an egg white into a cube of froth.

Simultaneously, a new opera house was rising upon the footprint of the old, and would dominate the skyline of Wexford in a way the Victorian theatre never did. And so, on October 16, 2008, when the curtain rose on Rimsky-Korsakov’s Snegurochka, Ireland’s first acoustically purpose-built Opera House, delivered on budget and on time – €33m, modest in comparison with the new opera house in Copenhagen (€239m) – was the undoubted star of the 57th Wexford Festival. Its achievement of scale was rooted in an architectural contradiction: though three and a half times the capacity of the Theatre Royal (769 seats, increasing to 853 if the orchestra pit is not in use and 40 fly bars for scenery changes for six cycles of three operas) and topped externally by a fly tower clad in copper, the new opera house remained, ingeniously, a hidden gem on High Street. From that moment on, David would take full advantage of the new venue’s capacious stage to bring ambitious works – John Corigliano’s The Ghost of Versailles, Roman Statkowski’s Maria, Frederick Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet and Koanga – to Wexford. Nor would he hold the 21st century at arm’s length: hot off the press came Peter Ash’s The Golden Ticket, one of many co-productions: Dinner At Eight with Minnesota Opera; Le pré aux clercs with Opéra Comique and Palazzetto Bru Zane and Medea with Opera Omaha. Six years after it opened, Wexford Opera House was officially renamed Ireland’s National Opera House.

Though fluctuating economic realities would affect Wexford – with rigorous cost cutting and a shortened season in 2009 – David did his best to ensure, as the Festival turned sixty, that it would evolve through exciting and challenging repertoires. The discovery too of new voices, for which Wexford is celebrated (Juan Diego Flórez – a student of David’s at the Curtis Institute – in Giacomo Meyerbeer‘s L’étoile du nord and Joseph Calleja in I Cavalieri de Ekebu), continued unabated. Twenty years after Karen Notare in Zaza and ten years after Lada Biriucov and Ermonela Jaho in Orleanskaya deva, the dynamic Angela Meade made her European debut as the eponymous heroine in Saverio Mercadante’s Virginia, a production which won the Irish Times Theatre Award for Best Opera. Meade exemplified what David believes to be the cornerstone of opera – the sound and purity of the voice.

The irrepressible Australian soprano Helena Dix was the star turn when Wexford struck gold in 2013 with a polished gem from outside the mainstream, Cristina, regina de Svezia, by Jacopo Foroni. 2013 was a stellar Festival, featuring as it did an imaginatively fertile Massenet double bill, Thérèse and La Navarraise, with the made to measure Nora Sourouzian, playing the part of the heroine in both. Wexford was nominated in several categories at that year’s International Opera Awards, including Best Festival, Best Chorus and Best Young Singer (Dix). It won Best Re-discovered Work for Cristina, regina de Svezi.

In the twilight of David’s years as Artistic Director, Wexford Festival Opera won in the 2017 Best Festival category at the International Opera awards on the back of a season which included a sumptuous Vanessa. A Samuel Barber-Menotti masterpiece, it had drifted into the musical wilderness and was rescued by Wexford. David’s continual forays into the Irish literary canon in the ShortWorks has brought us memorable productions: Winners and Losers, adapted by composer Richard Wargo from Brian Friel’s Lovers; The Sleeping Queen, composed by Wexford’s Michael William Balfe and Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Riders to the Sea, inspired by the J.M. Synge play. In 2017, the Festival presented the world premiere of Dubliners by Andrew Synnott, two short operas based on the stories Counterparts and The Boarding House from Dubliners by James Joyce – a season in which the recitals also featured the Thomas Moore Songbook with Una Hunt.

There is too a distinctly Irish flavour to this year’s programme on the stage of the National Opera House with the premiere of Andrew’s La cucina, and a concert version of The Veiled Prophet by the Irish composer Charles Villers Stanford, based on a popular romance by the aforementioned Moore, whose mother was born in Wexford. David has stayed loyal to the central tenet of each Artistic Director’s brief: to bring rare operatic gems back to life. He has continued Wexford’s love affair with bel canto and with Donizetti – five operas in as many years – along with Massenet and Mercadante. He has, however, cast his net wide since he opened his account in 2005 with Donizetti’s Maria de Rohan: works by over thirty composers have graced the stage of the National Opera House in twelve seasons. Never afraid to speak his mind or lay an opinion on the line, David’s acuity for what is or isn’t a right fit for Wexford is fortified by a razor sharp acumen. A key to his longevity – he has conducted over a hundred operas – is that he enjoys working within a creative community and, through a combination of unity of purpose and visionary leadership, getting the best from his artists. Aside from his intuitive detection of raw talent – he gave Lise Davidsen the principal role in Medea after hearing her at the Belvedere Singing Competition in Amsterdam in 2015 – he could foresee the zeitgeist before we, his audience, knew it was upon us.

As a national and international cultural institution, David felt the Festival had a role to play in the centenary commemorations of the Great War, a conflict which claimed the lives of close to a thousand Wexford men, including the forty or so who died in a single day on October 19, 1914. A century later, on October 24, 2014, Wexford staged the European premiere of Silent Night, by composer Kevin Puts and librettist Mark Campbell, the first opera in the history of the festival in which one could have heard a pin drop at the ebbing of the final scene. But as the poppies snowed sepulchral upon an elderly veteran standing before a war memorial, this most poignant of tableaux gave way to sustained applause. The Irish collective memory had discarded the war, and David knew this. Taking the road less travelled and earmarking Silent Night for the 2014 repertoire was a singular act of bravery by the Wexford Festival, and it would chime perfectly with the spirit of commemorations in Ireland and further afield, then and in the years to follow.  The production of Silent Night epitomised the universality of Wexford: an opera in English translated by Americans from a French screenplay, directed by an Israeli and including a strong Irish contingent in the cast. Finally, the Wexford Festival, which by a photosynthesis of its locus, its history and performing talent, always coinciding with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, is one of international opera’s great cultural powerhouses: David has played no small part in helping to make it so. Si monumentum requiris, circumspice.

Olivia O’Dwyer/Creative Hub Wexford

Olivia O’Dwyer’s engagement with light remains an epic struggle on a par with Hercules subduing Antaeus. We are accustomed to her swaths of chromium sun, the ravishing cochineal blossoming, or indeed a landscape of woad-layering hinting at a subcutaneous pulse. The eponymous Recurrence (number 8) is suffused with an amplification of colour which engages the physical parameters of the canvas, but what might be a simple expression of a complex thought is not negated or affected by the black delineation. It is not difficult to imagine the artist juggling the bifurcation of colour and, yes, light. Light for O’Dwyer is an eternal unmasking, a profound spur in the overwhelming grounding of paint and its application. O’Dwyer doesn’t dilly dally with the materials at her disposal, and whether it is Recurrence or the more modest Ravine (number 10) or Making Molehills Out of Mountains (number 3), the application of oil is never less than painstaking. Addition. Erasure. Addition. Erasure. The smaller works, which focus on the rhythm, pattern and repetition of compositional motifs in painting, are geometric volumes of monochrome that are not interrupted by colour, though colour, very subtly, can find its way. The light is as shy as filigree. ‘The primary objective is to allow the painting to develop through a process of accident and discovery,’ suggests O’Dwyer. The temptation may be to focus too much on O’Dwyer’s raison d’etre at the expense of how she impressively builds a bridge between the accumulated impressions and sensations, with her precise and deliberate evocations.
This exhibition, small in scale, is a stepping stone, but it derives its power from the artist’s concentrated act of searching, concentrated act of probing and concentrated act of painting, what Ilse D’Hollander described as ‘a convergence of thoughts, and the act of painting itself.’ Intense observations always lead somewhere, but the most obvious reward of O’Dwyer’s work is the engagement with the self, the fruit of prolonged consideration and questioning. To stand before each painting in Recurrence is to wade in O’Dwyer’s subtle resonances, where the gravitational force is so strong that each has a commanding presence; it is to embrace the visceral attraction of the relationship between the symbiotic materials, paint and canvas, segued by an artist of intense thought.