Having successfully dipped into the fringe events earlier this week I returned to Wexford Opera House for one of the main events and attended the last night of Maria by Polish composer Statkowski. Some very useful context for the opera was delivered by assistant director Jack Furness at the excellent pre show talk. We learned that Maria was based on an epic poem of 'dire pessimism' the only known work of the poet. Statkowski wrote only two operas and this was the first time the work was heard outside Poland where it was infrequently performed. So, altogether, perfect programming by artistic director David Agler in the 'overlooked rare gem' category cultivated in Wexford programming.
|Opera set in Walesa's Poland|
The production uses superb black and white stills featuring austere images of 1980's Poland to great effect. (Apparently the Polish ambassador recognised his own face in one of the stills). The second act violence was very imaginatively conveyed with a video inset but went on a tad longer than necessary. The singing was of a high standard as you would expect but two performances stay in the mind. The Polish tenor Rafal Bartminski was very impressive as Maria's lover and the ghostly Waif played by Eleanor Jean Greenwood in concentration camp garb, striped pyjamas and head shaven, appears in two haunting scenes. It is the waif that tells Vaclav the awful truth about Maria's death followed swiftly by his suicide in order to be reunited with his beloved a la Tristan and Isolde or Romeo and Juliet. I was slightly disappointed not to see a ghostly image of Maria galloping by on a white horse at this point but the only large white animal making an appearance was a bear costume concealing a bunny girl in the party scene.
The orchestration is rich and played against the black and white images gives an early Hollywood film score vibe. One of the highlights is a hymn sungs acapella in unison by the male chorus before they go off to battle .
I am fortunate to have attended a number of opera events over the past year around Europe and Wexford was the most formal. Dress suits appear de rigeur (even in the cheap seats) and there were lots of really nice frocks. (My brother some years ago arrived in Wexford and thought he would take in a show. Being without the appropriate attire, he visited the local Oxfam shop where he was kitted out in fine style. Wexford is that kind of town.) Several former government ministers, were among the attendees and well they might enjoy the fruits of the large state funding for the project. Despite the promotional rates we saw very few under 35's and the audience seemed to be mostly retired senior folk. The challenge for the Wexford Opera, now more than ever is surely to to broaden the demographic of its audience. Tickets are relatively pricey* but the production values are unquestionably top class.
I do feel incidental expenses were excessive; the festival programme pricing was high (€20) and if you fancy something sparkling, a glass of champagne was rather too expensive at €16 for a glass and the more reasonably cava referred to in my blog post for 2010 seemed not to be on offer either in the Opera House or White's Hotel.
I brought along my tape recorder and recorded the thoughts of the people I met - see below.
We enjoyed our trip to this prestigious musical offering and we look forward to returning next season.
*See also Michael Dervan's review in the Irish Times
*Jessica Duchen's blog 'haunted by Maria'