About The Festival
The Blackwater Valley Opera Festival was established in 2010 by a small group of opera professionals and is Ireland’s only summer opera festival. The Festival attracts international visitors to the heritage town of Lismore and the scenic Blackwater Valley where audiences can discover emerging new talent performing alongside international stars of the classical music world.
The opera itself is held in the breathtakingly beautiful surroundings of Lismore Castle and Gardens on the shores of the Blackwater River. Lismore Castle, the privately-owned residence of the Duke of Devonshire and his family, plays host to intimate, close-up opera in the transformed upper stables in the grounds of the castle by kind permission of Lord and Lady Burlington.
The Festival believes in nurturing young talent, providing opportunities for up and coming artistes, and also in introducing the next generation to the beauty of classic music and opera. A key element of the Blackwater Valley is our engagement with schools and schoolchildren, helping to inspire the musicians and singers – and the audiences – of the future. In 2019 BVOF commenced an educational collaboration with Mobile Music Machine to run a series of classroom workshops reaching just under 2000 children during these enlightening sessions. For detailed information see our education page.
In addition to school workshops BVOF also offers schoolchildren the opportunity to attend the dress rehearsal of the Opera which for most of the children this is their first encounter of live opera. In 2019 over 400 children from schools in Blackwater Valley region attended Don Pasquale and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive from both students and accompanying teachers alike. We look forward to again welcoming schoolchildren to our opera double bill dress rehersal in 2020 as well as designated schools places at the Dromore Yard Double-Bill.
The Blackwater Valley Opera Festival converts the former stables into a beautiful setting for its productions, adding a roof, and tiered seating to maximise comfort for the festival’s patrons. A much-anticipated annual event on the European music festival calendar, the festival attracts local and international music lovers and visitors to the region. As a festival for lovers of music and the good things in life, it incorporates beautiful locations, unique historic venues, landscape, architecture, gardens, music, food and wine.
As well as opera, The Blackwater Valley Opera Festival features musical events and recitals. The day-time Recitals take place in the great private houses of the Blackwater Valley thanks to the generosity of their owners: Sir Charles and Lady Keane of Cappoquin House, Philip and Susie Wingfield of Salterbridge House and the three Jameson sisters, Kristin, Andrea and Tara of Tourin House. The 2019 Festival presented Recollections of Ireland, a series of recitals curated by Irish-international pianist, Una Hunt, exploring the rich musical heritage of Ireland and bringing it before new audiences.
Patrons of the festival can appreciate the grand interiors and gardens of these elegant historic homes while listening to beautiful music. The 2019 series of day-time Recitals continued at Villierstown Church thanks to Christy Morrissey and at Dromore Yard thanks to Mr and Mrs Michael Alen-Buckley. Two evening Concerts also took place at Dromore Yard, a mini hamlet of preserved 1800s agricultural buildings on the banks of the Blackwater River at Aglish. Nadege Rochat on her Stradivarius cello returned, having played the same venue in 2018, with two other highly accomplished musicians, Pablo Barragán and Maki Wiederkehr to form a cello – clarinette -piano trio. Perhaps one of the highlights of the Festival was the mesmerising performance of Italian Pianist Giovanni Bellucci who trilled his audience with a programme that included music by Liszt, inspired by famous operas – a truly memorable experience for those luck to have been there.
The 2018 winner of the RDS Collins Memorial Award, Killian White accompanied by Máire Carroll on piano, played in St Carthage’s Cathedral, Lismore hosted by Dean and Mrs Paul Draper. The Cathedral was also the venue for Balfe’s one act opera The Sleeping Queen. St Carthage’s Parish Church in Lismore opened its doors to the Festival for the first time for an organ recital accompanied by trumpet thanks to Fr Michael Cullinan with support from Donal Kennefick.
“To bring beautiful music to a stunning location and create the audience of the future for the most beautiful of all art forms – Opera!” In the words of his Excellency, President Michael D. Higgins,
“Music is such a powerful medium and the Lismore Opera Festival has been working tirelessly promoting the beauty and relevance of opera. It is wonderful to witness results of the drive and enthusiasm of such dedicated people making opera more accessible and connected to audiences in such an inclusive and authentic manner.”
The Blackwater Valley Opera Festival would not be possible without the gracious support of our wonderful Sponsors, Donors, Hosts, Friends, Patrons and Volunteers. We could not do it without you.
Blackwater Valley Opera Festival Directors
Michael Alen-Buckley (chairman)
Michael co-founded RAB Capital plc in 1999 and is Executive Chairman. He was a Director at ABN-AMRO Hoare Govett from 1996 to 1998 and prior to that held senior positions at Merrill Lynch, Smith New Court and James Capel. Michael is Chairman of the Blackwater Valley Opera Festival Board, a Founding Partner of the ARK Brunel Academy and a Patron of Irish Heritage which supports Irish musicians & Irish composers in Great Britain to a wide audience. He is also on the Board of the Irish Georgian Society. Michael is also a supporter of The Bush Theatre, Almeida Theatre, Donmar Warehouse plus Garsington and Glyndebourne operas. Michael has been a BVOF Board Member since 2017.
Gianni has worked as an independent documentary film maker for broadcast television in the UK (1980-1997). She is a Founding Partner of the ARK Brunel Academy School and has been a board member and fundraiser for KIDS, the UK-based charity providing services for children with disabilities and their families (1999-2006), and a board member and fundraiser for the Alternative Theatre Company, AKA The Bush Theatre, London, (2006-2018). With particular expertise in youth development, education and hospitality, she is also a Board Member of the RFHotels Group since 2014. has been a Lismore Music Festival, and now BVOF Board Member since 2017.
Brian Kingham is a London and Wicklow based businessman. He has founded more than a dozen businesses in support services, security, building engineering and electronic systems. He has interests in cyber security, data analytics and the digital economy. He is a global investor in early stage technologies. He is a supporter of various youth development initiatives in education and entrepreneurial endeavour. He has a long association with the University of Buckingham where he was Chairman of the new Medical School Development Board and provides an annual Scholarship for Entrepreneurs. He is a former member of the Court of Brunel University. He was an early promoter of private opera in London and country houses organising private performances for more than 30 years. Brian has been a Lismore Music Festival, and now BVOF Board Member since 2016.
Conor is Chairman of Doyle Shipping Group (DSG). DSG provides shipping services in the ports of Cork, Dublin, Foynes, Fenit, Geeenore and Belfast. Conor Doyle is Finnish Consul in Cork. He is a director of Corcadorca. Among his former offices he was Chairman of Cork Port Company 1989-91, President of Cork Chamber of Commerce 1997/9, Chairman of National Sculpture Factory 2008-2017, Commodore of Kinsale Yacht Club 1983-86. He was formerly a director of Eagle Star Insurance Company and Cork and Limerick Savings Bank. Conor has been a Lismore Music Festival, and now BVOF Board Member since 2017.
Tom holds a BA in Economics, an MBA and a DBA from University College Cork. Tom is the Managing Director of McCarthy Developments (Cork) Ltd. which is a property development company and is part of a wider business portfolio which includes McCarthy Properties (Property Management Entity), privately owned, successful commercial entities that are opportunity led. The group’s main focus in on the residential, commercial and leisure sectors. Tom takes an entrepreneurial approach to business, is opportunity led and results driven. He believes in integrating the highest quality standards across all aspects of the business. His core competencies are in risk management and strategic planning. He has a proven track record in dealing with the complexities of asset acquisition and management, managing multi-location projects, involving large multi-disciplinary teams while maintaining effective financial management and a strong customer focus. Tom has been a Lismore Music Festival, and now BVOF Board Member since 2017.
Patrick is a Chartered Accountant .He qualified with PWC where he worked in the Audit and the Tax Departments. He joined JLT as Finance Controller in 1984 and filled various roles before being appointed Chief Executive in 1995 a position he still fulfils. He served on the Irish Brokers Association of Ireland from 1992 to 1995 where he chaired the Strategy and Technology Committees. He has a keen interest in music having been a member of the Italian institute choir and Kilmacud Musical Society. Currently he is a member of the Celtic Choristers and the Rathfarnham Ukulele Group. Patrick has been a Lismore Music Festival, and now BVOF Board Member since 2018.
Susie Wingfield has been visiting the Blackwater Valley for almost half a century and has lived at Salterbridgefor 25 years. She is deeply involved in the local community and has been an active supporter of the Lismore Opera Festival, now BVOF, since its inception in 2009. For the past nine years she and her husband Philip have hosted a recital at Salterbridge during the Festival. Susie was co-founder of the Cystic Fibrosis Research Trust Ireland which funded ground breaking research into this disease from 1989-2008. The work continues under the umbrella of CF Ireland. Susie, having joined the BVOF board in 2019, brings a wealth of organisational abilities as well as strong & diversified networks across Ireland. One of Susie’s focuses for 2019 will be to build the Local Hero’s network.
Blackwater Valley Opera Festival Director
Eamonn is an experienced development professional with a significant track record in high-level sponsorship negotiation, implementation and activation. Prior to becoming Festival Director he was Membership Relationship Manager at the RDS. Before this he directed the sponsorship and Friends strategy for Wexford Festival Opera and Wexford Opera House and managed key relationships for the company with leading Irish and international philanthropists. He has represented the cultural sector on the Minister’s Working Group on Arts Funding & Philanthropy. Formerly, Eamonn was Assistant Chief Executive and Head of Fundraising with the leading Irish research charity Fighting Blindness and Vice-President of the Students’ Union at NUI Maynooth. Eamonn previously served as a BVOF Board Member from 2017 and became Festival Director in April 2019.
Blackwater Valley Opera Artistic Director
Dieter Kaegi - Artistic Director
For 10 years Dieter Kaegi was director of productions at the renowned Music Festival in Aix-en-Provence. He became assistant to the general director of Monte Carlo Opera followed by for twelve years as Artistic Director of Opera Ireland in Dublin. Since 2013 Mr Kaegi has been General Director of TOBS, theatre, opera and orchestra of Biel and Solothurn in Switzerland.
In 2009, together with Jennifer O’Connell he co-founded the Lismore Opera Festival (which changed its name in 2018 to Blackwater Valley Opera Festival) and he continues to act as its Artistic Director.
Dieter has directed over 100 opera productions in important opera houses and festivals in Europe, US and Asia, such as: Grand Théâtre de Genève, Opernhaus Zürich, Maggio Musicale di Firenze, Rossini Festival Pesaro, Teatro Regio Torino, Teatro Real Madrid, Teatro Liceu Barcelona, Royal Opera Copenhagen, Opéra du Rhin Strasbourg, Chorégis d’Orange, Opéra de Nice, Opèra de Monte Carlo, Opéra Royale de la Wallonie Liège , Seattle Opera , Washington Opera, Macau Arts Festival, Hong Kong Arts Festival, Korean National Opera Seoul, Jekaterinburg Opera, Perm Opera, Opera Posznan, Latvian National Opera Riga and many others.
Blackwater Valley Opera Festival Key Staff
Breda O'Brien - Chief Executive
Breda O’Brien, having acted as Financial Controller for the 2018 Festival, now takes up the role of Chief Executive for the upcoming Festival. Founder and principal of Lismore Accountants since 2015, Breda is a Chartered Accountant with over 20 years’ experience. Qualifying in 1999 while working with Deloitte in Cork, she has extensive experience dealing with businesses in this increasingly competitive and changing world and has a wide range of business experience. As Chief Executive Breda’s focus will be to oversee the implementation of plans to meet the financial, commercial and operational objectives of the 2019 Festival in line with BVOF’s ambitious 5 year growth plan.
Bryan Murphy – General Manager
Graduating from UCC with a business degree Bryan’s early career was in Supply Chain Management in Business Development roles. Joining Munster Rugby in 2004 his role as Operations Manager coincided with a hugely successful period for the province including 2 European Cups. Since his departure in 2014 Bryan has concentrated on Event Management including the staging of the Pendulum Summit – Ireland’s premier business forum. Bryan joined the team of BVOF in 2018 focusing on Sales and Marketing and continues into 2019 with broader commercial and operational responsibilities. As well as his UCC Business degree Bryan holds both a Master of Business (MBS) & Project Management qualifications (PMI).
Other Team Members
Lucy Ryan (Producer)
Lucy has a background in the theatre, film and TV industries in both Ireland and the UK. Work in theatre includes several years at The Donmar Warehouse Theatre and then as a freelance producer for a number of UK organisations including Artichoke and with LIFT on a large-scale outdoor spectacular as part of the London 2012 festival.
Projects in Dublin include 5 years at Corn Exchange Theatre Company producing Dublin by Lamplight on The Abbey Stage (2017) The Seagull (DTF 2016) at The Gaiety and the multi-award winning and critically acclaimed A Girl is a Half-formed Thing which has toured Ireland, the UK and internationally. Lucy joined the BVOF team in 2018 and oversees the production of all artistic content in the festival’s diverse range of venues.
Emma Penruddock (Box Office & Friends Programme)
Emma founded and curates the unique on-line artisan collection ‘I am of Ireland’ (www.iamofireland.ie / +353 87 7997317) specialising in high quality Irish Art and Craft. I am of Ireland’s collection is also available to view from her family home gallery just outside Youghal. During this year’s festival ‘I am of Ireland’ will exhibit at Salterbridge House between 28th May – 3rd June.
Emma is the BVOF Friends’ Co-Ordinator and Assistant Box Office Manager.
Fiona Howard (Education)
Fiona lived in London for 20 years, working as a Trade Floor Technical Analyst for Deutsche Bank and CIBC World Markets. Returning to Ireland in 2011, she became involved with Blackwater Valley Opera Festival in 2015 (formerly Lismore Opera Festival). Fiona manages an office for a local engineering company. She is co-ordinator of the Opera Dress Rehearsal (Schools’ Night) filling the auditorium with over 400 excited and enthusiastic school children.