The centuries-old ballroom of the iconic West Cork landmark, Castle Freke, warmed by candelabra and the enthusiasm of some 100 invited music lovers, provided the dramatic backdrop on April 7 for a launch event of the Blackwater Valley Opera Festival, formerly known as the Lismore Opera Festival.
The purpose of the evening, hosted by the castle’s namesake Stephen Evans-Freke, was to inspire local support for Ireland’s only summer opera festival, whose talent pool includes Co. Cork singers and musicians.
“There’s an amazing amount of young Irish musical talent coming up, but they need our support,” said Evans-Freke, standing by the piano amidst the soaring arches of the partially-restored ballroom in the family’s historic home. “They say music is food for the soul. But these young singers and musicians cannot survive on soul alone. We must support them. The Blackwater Valley Opera Festival has made this its mission.”
The Festival runs from May 29 to June 3, 2018 and is a uniquely Irish version of Europe’s famed country house operas. Sometimes called Ireland’s most beautiful opera experience, the Blackwater Valley Opera Festival features a centrepiece opera performed in a pop-up theatre in the romantic stable courtyard adjacent to Lismore Castle’s enchanting walled gardens. A series of recitals in the private drawing rooms of the historic great houses of the Blackwater Valley, as well as a feature talk by historian Peter Murray, are additional highlights of the five-day festival.
The preview event in Castle Freke featured the accomplished Irish piano star Maire Carroll, who received the RDS Collins Memorial Award last year, as well as internationally renowned harpist Jean Kelly. Irish Soprano Rachel Croash and Irish Baritone Rory Musgrave, both of whom will be singing in Rossini’s L’Italiana in Algeri at Lismore Castle, were joined by the young soprano Fiona Falvey from the Cork School of Music.
Croash, who won hearts in a brilliant indigo gown, sang a stunning programme of classic favourites including the duet Siamo Intesi from Donizetti’s Don Pasquale. The dashing, bearded Musgrave, whose character tutors her in the arts of seduction, gave a delightful performance as suitor to the coy Croash. Meanwhile, blond, blue-eyed Fiona Falvey’s angelic solo performance left many in the audience dewy eyed.
The performances were followed by a candlelit dinner of spit-roasted lamb, salads and puddings by Richy of Richy’s Restaurant in Clonakilty. A roaring fire in the cavernous 16th Century French fireplace at the head of the ballroom sent smoke up the castle’s chimneys for the first time in decades and cast a glow over the venue and the celebrants.
BVOF’s Chairman, Michael Alen-Buckley, thanked the Evans-Freke family for rallying support among residents in and around West Cork. “We are incredibly grateful to the Evans-Frekes for their support of the Blackwater Valley Opera Festival, and for bringing together so many wonderful people from County Cork in this most spectacular setting at Castle Freke,” said the Chairman. “This is our first Cork launch ever, and we’re delighted to see the festival growing in every way. This year we’re adding a Wednesday-night gala charity opera performance in support of Enable Ireland, three new recitals, and a new venue, providing more opportunity for the development of Ireland’s abundance of young musical talent.”
The Blackwater Valley Opera Festival, expanded from the Lismore Opera Festival, runs from May 29 to June 3 in Lismore Castle and venues throughout the Blackwater Valley, County Waterford. www.blackwatervalleyoperafestival.com
The 2018 opera will be Rossini’s L’Italiana in Algeri, a wild 200-year-old tale of intrigue, comedic mischance, and the triumph of love – and strong women. L’Italiani in Algeri premiered in Venice in 1813.
Performance dates for the 2018 Opera are:
Tuesday 29 May – L’Italiana in Algeri Schools’ Night
Wednesday 30 May – L’Italiana in Algeri Charity Gala Night, supporting Enable Ireland
Friday 2 June – L’Italiana in Algeri Night at the Opera
Saturday 2 June – L’Italiana in Algeri Finale
Ticket sales: 085 207 8944 / boxoffice@blackwatervalley