The third decade in the festival's history opened on October 23rd 1970 with the performance of a double bill of Italian operas, which were L'inganno felice by Rossini and Donizetti's Il giovedi grasso. This was the first ever double bill at Wexford, and the choice of composers was staying very much in line with the Italian leaning that the festival had shown in the the previous twenty years. Ugo Benelli, Jill Gomes, Federico Davia and Elfego Esparza, were making return visits to the festival and appeared in both works. David Atherton was the conductor, while Patrick Libby directed with designs by John Fraser.1970 also saw the first presentation at the festival of what was then referred to as modern opera, Albert Herring by Benjamin Britten. David Atherton also conducted this work. Michael Geliot was the director, and Jane Bond provided the designs. A fine cast was assembled for the piece, and included Milla Andrew as Lady Billows, Johanna Peters as Florence, Delia Wallis as Nancy, Alan Opie as Sid and Alexander Oliver in the title role.
In keeping with the plan to include more works from the French repertoire, Lakme by Delibes was also presented in 1970, and was considered the hit of the season. The title role was taken by the French soprano, Christiane Eda-Pierre. Born in Martinique, she studied in Paris and was a regular artist at the main French opera houses, as well as appearing in the USA and in Moscow. She is still considered one of the finest voices ever heard at Wexford.
Also featured in the cast of Lakme were tenor John Stewart as Gerald and Jacques Mars as Nililkantha. Lakme was to be the first of three successive seasons at Wexford for Ms Eda-Pierre. In 1971 she was reunited with John Stewart in another French piece, Les pêcheurs de perles by Bizet, where Marco Bakker and Juan Soumagnas completed the cast. The season also featured La Rondine by Puccini and Il re pastore by Mozart, whose casts included Anne Pashley, Norma Burrows, June Card and Beniamino Prior. Bellini's first major success, Il Pirata, was to be the opera in which Ms Eda-Pierre made her final Wexford appearance in 1972. The festival had opened with Oberon by Weber, given in an English translation, and featured John Fryatt in the title role, Louise Mansfied as Titania, and Finnish tenor Heikki Siukola as Huon. While Oberon was not considered one of Wexford's successes, Il Pirata was considered a typical Wexford opera and was very well received. However it was the thirds opera of the season that got everybody talking, and that was Katya Kabanova by Janacek. Conducted by Albert Rosen, directed by David Pountney and designed by Sue Blane and Maria Bjornsen, the cast was made up of Czech, Irish, English, South African and American singers. One of the South Africans, was a young soprano making her operatic debut; Elizabeth Connell.
|Matti Salminen in Ivan Susanin|
For the first of his five seasons at Wexford Mr Smillie chose a program that featured an Italian, a French and a German work. These were Medea in Corinto by Mayr, Thais by Massenet and Der Barbier von Bagdad by Cornelius, a program that was very much in keeping with Wexford's traditions. Despite having no previous experience in artistic direction, his first season was quite a success. Medea in Corinto was considered the weakest of the three featured works, despite a strong cast led by Margreta Elkins in the title role. Other principal roles were taken by Eiddwen Harrhy, Arley Reece and Lieuwe Visser. Roderick Brydon conducted. Adrian Slack was the director and David Fielding created the designs.
Der Barbier von Bagdad was the most popular work of the German composer Peter Cornelius. The first performance at Wexford took place on October 26th 1974, which marked the exact centenary of Cornelius' death. The work is a comedy, and it was remarked that much was lost to the audience as it was sung in German. American bass-baritone Richard McKee sang the title role. Turkish tenor Kevork Boyaciyan was heralded as another Wexford find. The opera was conducted by Albert Rosen, who was becoming a regular visitor to Wexford. The direct was Wolf Siegfried Wagner, great-grandson of the composer !
For the 1975 festival the works Mr Smillie chose were Le roi d'Ys by Lalo, Eritrea by Cavalli and La pietra del paragone by Rossini. The performances of Eritrea were the first modern performances of the piece which had premiered in Venice in 1652. Further interest was generated by the fact that the work was going to be conducted by Jane Glover, the first woman to conduct at Wexford. The Wexford Festival Baroque Ensemble was created to play for the opera, using the period instruments that the work required. The cast included tenor Philip Langridge and mezzo Anne Murray, as well as Ian Caddy and Anne Pashley, and counter-tenors John York Skinner and Paul Esswood. The work divided opinion. Many hailed it as yet another example of how Wexford Festival was playing its part in operatic history by reviving such pieces, but many others did not consider it to be a success. In fact, Bernard Levin in his book Conducted Tour, said that the piece "proved to be one of the very few unmitigated musical disasters in the history of Wexford".
|A scene from Eritea by Cavalli|
The other operas that were thankfully considered more successful. The plot of Le roi d'Ys requires the city of Ys to be the engulfed in waves before St Corentin appears and calms the sea. The director was Jean Claude Auvray and designs were by Bernard Arnould, and together they created what many people still recall as the most frightening and realistic finale to any opera seen at Wexford. The cast featured Gillian Knight, Annonio Barasorda, Juan Soumagnas and the conductor was Jean Perisson. For the Rossini, Roderick Brydon conducted a cast that included Ian Caddy, Joan Davies, Sandra Browne, Eric Garret, John Sandor and Iris Dell'acqa. Adrian Slack returned to direct.
|Dr.T.J.Walsh receiving the Freedom of the Borough|
|Emiko Mariyuma and Curtis Rayam|
Verdi's Giovanna d'Arco opened the festival and featured a very strong cast. Japanese soprano Emiko Mariyuma sang the title role. Carlo, the King of France was sung by the American tenor Curtis Rayam, in what was to he his first of 4 visits to Wexford. Hungarian baritone Lajos Miller sang the role of Giacomo. The opera was directed by Jeremy Sutcliffe, and designed by David Fielding. The RTESO and Wexford Festival Chorus were conducted by James Judd, in spirited style and overall the performances were considerd very successful.
The Merry Wives of Windsor by German composer Otto Nicolai was the second work of the Silver Jubilee season. It was performed in a new English translation, by Leonard Hancock, who also conducted the opera, Heading the cast was bass Michael Langdon, who had sung every season at Covent Garden since 1950. Anne Collins, Catherine Wilson, Alan Opie, Ian Comboy and Maurice Arthur also sang. Two Wexfordmen also featured in the cast, bass Sean Mitten and tenor Peter O'Leary. The local connection continued with the third opera of the season, Britten's The Turn of the Screw, as the role of Miles was taken by local boy, 14 year old James Maguire. Mr Smillie was delighted to announce that after a nationwide search, he was able to find a 'Miles' in Wexford. The other child role was taken by Victoria Klasicki from Scotland. Margaret Kingsley, Maurice Arthur, Jane Manning, Anne Cant, Jane Manning and Lee Winston completed the cast. Albert Rosen conducted the Wexford Festival Ensemble, while Adrian Slack and David Fielding returned to direct and design. While it was most unusual to have two of the three operas sung in English, the Silver Jubilee season was considered a triumph, while the vast majority of the international critics who attended were full of praise.
For his fourth festival in 1977, Mr Smillie presented 5 operas ! These were Herodiade by Massenet, Orfeo ed Euridice by Gluck, and a triple-bill of Il maestro di cappella by Cimarosa, La serva e l'ussero by Luigi Ricci, and La serva padrone by Pergolesi.
|Malcolm Donnelly and Bernadette Greevy|
The triple-bill was directed by the great Italian baritone Sesto Bruscantini, who also starred in all three. Il maestro di cappella was a solo peformance, while in La serva e l'ussero, he was joined by Carmen Lavani, Ruth Maher, Bonaventura Bottone and Michael Lewis. Ms Lavani was also his co-star in La serva padrone. James Judd conducted all three pieces, and Tim Reed designed.
The festival in 1978 was to be Thomson Smillie's last as Artistic Director, and for the season he chose Tiefland by d'Albert, Il mondo della luna by Haydn, and The Two Widows by Smetana. The festival opened with Tiefland, by the Scottish-born German pianist and composer Eugene d'Albert. The cast was headed by Israeli soprano, Mani Mekler who was at that time principal soprano with the Royal Swedish Opera. Malcolm Donnelly and Bonaventure Bottone returned from previous years, while Alvaro Malta made his Wexford stage debut having sung in recital the previous season. Henri Gallois, Julian Hope and Roger Butlin conducted, directed and designed respectively.
After a gap of eight years, Ugo Benelli returned to sing the role of the astronomer, Ecclitico, in Il mondo della luna by Haydn. Benelli's performance was regarded as one of the high points of the festival, and he was joined on stage by fellow Italian basso-buffo Gianni Socci, in the first of his four visits to Wexford. James Judd conducted this delightful piece, and Adrian Slack directed, while Tim Reed designed.
For his first season as Artistic Director, Mr Slack explained that the pieces had been chosen before his appointment, and that while he would have the full responsibility of producing the season, the operas were not selected by him. The 1979 festival saw L'amore dei tre Re by Montemezzi, La Vestale by Spotini, and Crispino e la comare by Luigi and Federico Ricci.
L'amore dei tre Re by Montemezzi premiered at La Scala in Milan on April 10, 1913. It received mixed reviews, but quickly became an international success, especially in the United States, where it became a staple of the repertory for several decades. After the Second World War, the frequency of performances declined dramatically. Sadly it is still performed only rarely. For the Wexford performances a number of singers made return visits. Alvaro Malta played the role of the blind king Archibaldo, while Lajos Miller was his son Manfredo. The curse of the cancelling soprano seemed to be returning to Wexford, as two weeks before the opening performance the singer engaged for the role of Fiore cancelled. At short notice the Romanian soprano Magdelena Cononovici stepped in and gave a thrilling reading of the role. Her lover in the opera, was sung by the Scottish tenor Neil McKinnon who also gave a splendid performance. Irish singers Colette McGahon and Marie-Claire O'Reirdan also featured, as did the Wexford Children's Choir. Pinchas Steinberg was the conductor.
The second of the season's operas was La Vestale by Spontini premiered in Paris in 1807, and was huge success for many years before falling out of fashion. It was revived in the 1950's for Callas, and even still it only has the slightest grip on the repertoire of the major houses. At Wexford the lead soprano role was taken by Mani Mekler returning from last season. Italian tenor Ennio Buoso played the consul Licinius with who she has an illicit affair. Terence Sharpe also payed a return visit singing the role of Cinna, and Roderick Kennedy, Clair Livingstone and Pat Sheriden completed the cast. Mathis Bamert conducted the performances which were directed by Julian Hope and designed by Roger Butlin and Sue Blane. The final performance of La Vestale has gone down in operatic history as one of opera's greatest funny moments, which is not what you would expect from this very serious and dramatic piece. Bernard Levin recalls the events of that final performance in his book Conducted Tour. And yes...it DID actually happen !
|A scene from La Vestale|
|Sesto Bruscantini and Lucia Aliberti|
In November 1979 shortly after the festival had finished, it was announced that Mr James Golden had been elected as the new Chairman of the festival board. Also this year, David Collopy, a local accountant who had worked as a voluntary worker, was appointed to the position of Festival Administrator. Together with Mr Slack, the new Artistic Director, these three gentlemen boldly led the festival towards the 1980's.