The history of the Wexford Festival Opera, 1951–2021
In a place like no other
In 1951, the first ever Wexford Opera Festival (now known as ‘Wexford Festival Opera’) took place in a small town in the southeast corner of Ireland. What started out as an informal gathering of friends listening to gramophone music, developed into one of Europe’s leading classical music events. T.J. Walsh, a medical doctor by profession and an amateur musician, was the man whose novel idea it was to start an opera festival from such humble beginnings.
This book traces the history of the Festival, from its establishment up to the present day. The uneasy shift from amateur status to becoming a more professional body characterised much of the early life of the Festival. The book looks at the spectacular success of what T.J. Walsh had achieved and follows the story through the difficult period in the 1960s when Walsh felt that the Festival was taking a different direction than had been intended from its inception. He never fully reconciled with the new regime and bowed out to leave way for the growing professional outfit. This difficult transition continued throughout the seventies and into an even more difficult financial period in the 1980s. The core focus however remained on producing an impossibly high standard of opera. The next chapter in the Festival’s incredible journey saw the replacement of the original Theatre Royal with a purpose built, state-of-the-art opera house, now Ireland’s National Opera House.
Wexford Festival Opera remains a truly unique cultural event. That it has managed to survive so many significant challenges over 70 years and continued to flourish is a testament to the incredible efforts of those at the helm and the spirit of resilience that is synonymous with the Wexford community. The History of the Wexford Opera Festival, 1951-2021 has been written for those who have enjoyed Wexford Festival Opera over many years, travelling from all over the world because of their love of little-known operas, the standard of Wexford’s Festival repertoire and the unique welcome and atmosphere that is synonymous with Wexford at Festival time.
Karina Daly holds a Masters in Modern Cultural History (1998) and completed her PhD in Modern History at University College Dublin in 2001. She completed a Masters in Business Studies with the Smurfit School of Business in 2004. She published her first book in 2004 - Tom Walsh's Opera - The History of the Wexford Festival, 1951-2004 and is also a contributor to the Royal Irish Academy’s Dictionary of Irish Biography. Karina was appointed to the Board of Wexford Festival Trust in 2018.