The Blackwater Vallery Opera Festival is committed to providing access to local children to help to awaken appreciation of the art form and to build opera audiences of the future. In 2012, 200 local schoolchildren from Waterford, Tipperary and Cork were invited to attend the dress rehearsal, at which President Michael D. Higgins was guest of honour, thus inaugurating the Festival’s annual schools’ access programme. The opera was explained to the students beforehand, and they got a glimpse behind the scenes of one of the most exciting of all art forms. For most, it was their first experience of opera. President Higgins praised the vision and foresight of the organisers of what was then known as the Lismore Opera Festival;
“Lismore Opera Festival was founded by a group of people with a love for opera and music and an idea to bring it to this beautiful part of Ireland. The festival provides opportunities for Irish singers, and it creates seasonal employment, stimulating the local economy. I am reminded of my inaugural speech when I spoke about the importance of working in partnership and inclusion, and this festival epitomises partnership as professionals and volunteers work together drawing on the goodwill and support of the local community. It is growing in support and standing both nationally and internationally.”
Over the years the numbers of children attending has grown and in 2018 over 450 children from schools in Blackwater Valley region attended L’Italiana in Algeri and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive from both students and accompanying teachers alike (read 2018 school children’s memories here). Again in 2019 a similar student audience benefited from the introduction of surtitles to add to their enjoyment of Don Pasquale. For most of the children this is their first encounter of live opera; the richness of performance and powerful delivery of arias leaves a lasting impression on them which we hope will draw them to further exploration of opera. This all takes place in the Old Stable Yard of Lismore Castle courtesy of Lord and Lady Burlington which presents its own, unique heritage experience for the children.
2018 School Children's Memories
I arrived at school at 6:30pm, to see a very fancy bus parked outside. I found to my disbelief that it was ours. Inside the bus blue lights glared around making it look like a tour bus. It also had footrests, sockets, tables and cushions. It was a good turnout Leo, Anne, Lauren, Alex, Joseph, Claire, Susan, Brigid, Úna, Harry, Patricia and Andrew all came. Ms Keevers watched us. I’ m sure you could hear us chanting in the bus from a mile away. Even the singing made us more excited.
As we turned the corner nearing Lismore I got my first glimpse of the castle. I was spell bound it was so beautiful, painted up like a picture. Even the weather contributed to the image. As we journeyed up through the garden, even I could smell the scent of the flowers and herbs through a blocked nose. I could nearly taste them. The cool, breeze blew against my arms. I took my seat as the performance began
My eyes were immediately drawn to the scenery it was so beautiful. All of a sudden I heard the sound of singing, my eyes darted to the opposite side of the stage to see an elegantly dressed woman. She was extremely slim. Her long hair tied into an elegant knot and wrapped around her shoulders, reminded me of a Disney princess. Mustafa’s voice boomed around the stables very intimidatingly I watched the whole performance enthralled. It was called L’Italiana in Algeri. It was mainly about this Italian woman called Isabella who pretended to like this Algerian man and outwitted him in the end. Her previous boyfriend meets her at Mustafa’s home, his name is Lindor. Mustafa tries to hook his wife Elvira up with Lindor but he fails and Isabella and Lindor get away. In the end Mustafa softens up a bit.
My favourite part of the experience was the costumes, the soft looking fabrics and the way they sparkled in the moonlight.
I was tired after the performance. Alex and I played in the tent for a while. The moon looked stunning pouring down on your face. The rest was a daze because I was so tired. But it was so much fun.
Ardmore National School
At 6.30 I arrived at school after an all merciful rush to get ready. I met up with my friends. Everyone was chatting away and then my teacher called us and asked us to get on the bus. The bus was luxurious. It had very comfy leather seats and a tray with a cup holder. It also had blue lights and air conditioning. It was unreal.
The bus arrived in Lismore and we walked towards the castle. The stairs we went up looked very old and the walls of the passageway were super thick. The garden was gorgeous. It had many different types of flowers, the scents were lovely. The colour was class. There was purple on the left and yellow on the right. We waited in a queue for quite a while and finally the gates opened.
My friends and I sat together on the tiered seating. We could see the whole stage. We talked and talked until a guy came onto the stage and he began to talk...
The man left the stage and another man came out and he began to sing. Their singing was amazing and the orchestra was too. They kept in time with each other and made it look easy, when it’s obviously not. The opera was exciting and the acting was brilliant. I couldn’t understand how they could sing so loud without microphones and act while singing so loud. It was very interesting even though they sang in Italian. The opera was called L’Italiana in Algeri. They modernized the act to make it more interesting .The actor who played Isabella did a really good job. She made the acting look real. The actor who played Mustafa was perfect for the job. He was very mysterious and that’s why I really liked him. Lindoro was very funny and he was very clever. Elvira’s actor really gave life to the act she was extraordinary and she and her friend were amazing at being suspicious and jealous. During the break we chatted about the opera and ate our snacks. The second half was really lively. It was also very intense you could tell by the speed of the singing and playing. My ears rang because of the sound. At the end everyone came onto the stage and bowed. It was amazing. A man came back and told us it was over.
When we came out of the marquee, there was a big red moon glimmering in the night sky. It was stunning. It lit up the whole garden. On the way back we sang a load of songs. I was very tired as it was 10.30. My friend and I talked about the opera and told each other our favourite characters. It was amazing. I would recommend it to anyone.
Ardmore National School
My friend Violet had come over to my house on the day of the opera, so we drove her to the school. The sky was a beautiful variety of colours such as orange, pink and purple. Belle, Nile and Lucy were already there so we chatted excitedly to them. The bus looked quite nice on the outside. I didn’t think it was one of our regular buses. I couldn’t see the inside yet. When everyone else had arrived, my teacher did a roll call, and we hurried to the bus. It was Amazing! Leather seats! Air conditioning! It even had cup holders!!! I sat next to Charlotte and we ate some delicious mentos. We all sang beautifully on the way to Lismore castle. We sang all of our favourite songs from school and a few by Ed Sheeran. I did a solo on one of the songs I wrote myself.
Lismore castle looked very majestic. I felt like royalty. It`s quite large but the happy buzz of the children talking made it feel cosy and welcoming. We were queuing for a while but I didn’t mind. That just showed that it was really popular. The gardens were gorgeous and it was hard not to admire them. I especially loved the lavenders. We sat outside under a tent with just a glimpse of the beautiful starry night overhead. The orchestra was to our left. They looked really professional. Soon after we had all settled down the show began. The dancing was too good for words! The costumes looked fabulous and the music was on fleek. The singing was enchanting, almost as good as ours!
The opera itself was quite hard to follow but I managed fine. It`s called L`Italiana in Algeri. It was about a man called Mustafa and he did not appreciate his wife. A man called Lindoro is in love with Italian women. Mustafa decides he wants an Italian girlfriend and tries to give his wife Elvira to Lindoro. It was really funny. During intermission I needed to go to the bathroom but there was a really long queue so I didn’t bother. When the show was over Isabelle and I danced under the tent.
I sat with Isabelle on the way back. It was super fun. I took a blanket out of my bag. It was pretty cold. Everyone was bright blue because of the lighting in the bus. Once again we sang our favourite songs. When we got back I saw my mum waiting for me. I was pretty tired so when I got home I fell asleep. The End.
Ardmore National School
The evening of the 29th May 2018 is an evening that will live in our memories for many years to come. From the moment we arrived we felt welcome to the beautiful setting of Lismore Castle. First we got to explore the wonderful gardens and enjoyed treats from the tuck shop! Then we were asked to take our seats in the marquee. There was an exciting atmosphere as we waited for the show to start. We loved the set which consisted of the castle stables.
When the show started we were blown away by the powerful voices and the music from the orchestra. We were fascinated by how the conductor communicated with his musicians. As for the singers, even though they were singing in a different language their facial expressions and actions helped us to follow the story. The opera L’Italiana in Algeri by Rossini is a love story.
Our favourite performer was Rachel Kelly who played the part of Isabella. Our favourite part was when Lindoro and Isabella escaped from Mustafa and returned to Italy. The characters of Elvira and Zulma were very funny, comical and entertaining. They reminded us of the characters in the TV show Absolutely Fabulous. The costumes in general were colourful and bright and appropriate for the plot.
Thank you very much for inviting us to share this wonderful experience with you. This was our first opera but we would be enthusiastic to attend an opera again.
Sixth Class Whitechurch National School
On the 1st June we were also invited to a daytime recital at Dromore Yard. We enjoyed the pizzas by Volcano Pizza and the ice cream by Yum Gelato which was absolutely delicious. We then listened to musical stories accompanied by a piano. We were absolutely thrilled when they played and sang Down by the Sally Gardens. We had used Down by the Sally Gardens as a poetry piece for our exam by the Irish Board of Speech and Drama and had played it on our recorders. We really enjoyed the whole experience.
Sixth Class Whitechurch NS
In 2018 BVOF also extended its schools attendance initiative to the Dromore Yard Double Bill recital on Friday at Dromore Yard. Here, on the river banks of the Blackwater, School children were treated to the best of young musical talents while enjoying pizza & ice cream for their picnic lunch on the grounds of the converted early 19th century farmyard.
We look forward in 2020 to continuing the tradition with the Blackwater Valley Opera Festival’s dress rehearsal reserved for local schools as well as limited places for the Dromore Yard Double Bill recital. Both these performances are presented thanks to the generous support of the David Ross Foundation.
“My Foundation is committed to broadening the horizons of all young people, and our experience shows the inspirational power of top quality classical music. We are delighted to be working with the Blackwater Valley Opera Festival for the second year and continuing our partnership to educate and give children a foundation in the beauty of music for life.”
David Ross, Founder David Ross Foundation
Educational materials will be circulated to participating schools in advance of the Opera which will give them a broader appreciation of what they will encounter. A partnership with Local Link, kindly facilitated by the Arts Office of Waterford City & County Council, allows us to provide coach transport to bring groups to this enlightening event.
Please complete & submit the form below to register your groups’ interest.