Monday, 15 February 2010

Does Castleward Opera Still Exist?

What, on earth, is going on at the NI Arts Council? The Chairman and Board wish to "broaden" opera's appeal in the Province. Perhaps they consider Castleward Opera too "elitist" or "exclusive" for their egalitarian tastes? Does this mean that Castleward Opera has had its financial support stopped; and that a more populist company will prevail?

I do hope I am wrong. The Season at Castle Ward has always been a highlight of the year, with picnicking al fresco and black tie, in the true tradition of grand opera. Has the company been summarily wound up? How much consultation did the arts quango undertake?

What is the meaning of this article?


Anonymous said...

The Arts Council press release is a master-class in quango-gibberish, in that one is able to understand the meaning of invidual words, but can glean nothing from their assemblage into a sentence. It would be amusing to get the buffons who wrote this drivel to actually explain what they mean - perhaps someone could tell me how you "engage" with opera? I had hoped that NI had escaped the clutches of such non-elected bodies, but now I realise this is part and parcel of "the peace dividend"!

Anonymous said...

So far as I know, it's still taking place in the Summer - haven't heard anything to the contrary. I'll ask around. It was always a bit populist anyway!


Anonymous said...

I agree - complete nonsense. I suspect Castle Ward Opera will survive, though. They need to look like they are benefiting the wider world to justify public funding - and not to appear elitist. I'm sure they've the brains on board - and connections - to get the public money they need...

Timothy Belmont said...

They are still advertising the 2009 season on their website!

They must be starting preliminary rehearsals, have lead singers booked etc by now. If they are going ahead...

Alan in Belfast (Alan Meban) said...

Story seemed to be that Arts Council NI are putting extra money into the opera sector to merge together Castleward Opera and Opera Fringe into a more sustainable organisation and programme.

They want to have opera on stage at the Grand Opera House - which is a much bigger venue than Castleward (and hence more financially beneficial).

Not sure if they've closed the door on the Castleward venue entirely, but suspect it'll be would down over time if GOH works out.

Timothy Belmont said...

I think it's a shame that something along the lines of Glyndebourne - on a smaller scale - cannot be sustained, let alone profitable in the Province.

Such a pity that large companies and PLCs shan't save Castleward Opera without dependence on the likes of the NI arts council.

The GoH already has occasional opera and the occasion just wouldn't be comparable to that of Castle Ward: the formal dress, al fresco picnicking etc.

Unknown said...

The FitzGerald - himself( Charles of that ilk).
Well done that man from Erneside for opening-up this important artistic matter.....
Unsurprisingly, exactly what parts of the ACNI projection of Opera for the Province, are being accepted, and what not, remains the usual tightly-guarded secret.As one of Castleward staunchest supporters from its inception,I have long advocated that(following the unwarrented demise of ONI)Castleward should be re-orientated towards the Grand Opera House,(and it's enhanced facilities) while OTC (and others) should be incorporated with it into a touring structure for both specific small productions as well as touring the main productions- the smaller being geared to the now profilic excellent small throughout the Province, small as well as the handful of larger venues,admirably suited to touring production.The Castleward venue with its very special staging needs and unique, well- established amience, could very easily be fitted into touring schemes with no loss of its splendidly ingenous originality and standards.
The secretive Roy Baillie needs remember the huge appetite for pop opera(maximum number of performances=maximum seats)for the thousands of opera fans and the expense of specialist neo-classical and avant-garde production for the elitist few. Lest we forget, NI was well ahead of the world opera pack with Havelock Nelson's Studio staging brand-new Ben Britten operas in the 60's,but revival of forgotten but highly enjoyable opera's has proved the salvation of Wexford while constant repition of "bankers" like Tosca, Boheme, Traviata, Trovatore, has been the mainstay of survival for others!
With ROI similarly reorganising opera, there is every opportunity for benefical cross-border marketing, and enhancing touring opera on an all-Ireland basis, but the truth remains that there is a huge audience for the "pop" repertoirs: that mass audiences need a mass of available and affordable seats. Now that that major "stadium" venues are available in Belfastand Dublin, some productions need orientating that way to satisfy the ever-growing hunger for the Rigoletto-s and the Fledermaus-es!
If commercial opera can make a profit(all too often with poor standards-witness Ellen Kent's disasterously hyped-marketing of a sub-standard Aida) in "stadiums", how many more affordable would Irish opera be with such productions mounted by our own State funded companies? Ireland, north and south, should look to Czech where the National Opera supports 24 some 24 houses in Praha and outside and CZ is a long way from the richest country in the EC!
A last thought: why the lack of continuing iniative throughout Ireland in bringing the (huge audience)screen productions of both the Met and other operas -both in cinema and giant screen outdoor venues.
Many ,man y thopusands of old and new fans are losing out-badly and unwarrantably!Both Arts Councils are sadly lacking in vision on this opportunity to service and broaden both the potential and existing opera-base!
Many thanks for both the iniative and the (penetrating) space, m'Lord
being bases here in Praha et all it is occasionally trying to keep abreast of (too often secretive) opera matters in the Province.Yrs aye and may your Gods go with you-
The FitzGerald himself(Charles of that ilk)aka
Charles FitzGerald@utv

Timothy Belmont said...

Wonderful to hear from you. I don't suppose you recall '94 on L Erne at Lusty More and Lusty Beg? I was with my late father and we all spent the night at the jetty. We had a snifter or two with you and your partner on your yacht and you had a slight squabble with some young whippersnapper sailing hir motor-yacht into the bay too quickly.


Laura said...

Tim - As far as I am aware there is to be no Castleward opera this year. Unfortunately I am not at liberty to disclose much moe information.

Timothy Belmont said...

Many thanks for that, Laura. Those chiefs in the Arts Council etc need to ensure that they do not alienate former patrons of C Ward opera, with more casual, non-country house formats. If I do not approve of whatever they come up with, I simply shan't buy tickets! I noted one comment from a certain chief, which claimed that opera was too "exclusive". Do you know precisely what was meant by that?

Anonymous said...

As a member of the now defunct Castleward Opera I can sadly confirm the news. The Arts Council have removed funding and forced an unhappy coalition between Castleward and the Opera Fringe Festival. A new Artistic Director has been appointed for the uninspired 'opera company northern Ireland, after much half hearted and disorganised faffing by the Arts Council. No programme has been put in place but it seems likely that the Opera House will be venue. Castleward will no longer be used. A very sad piece of news indeed. Given that the management at opera house rent the space at an exorbitant rate, we can look forward to endless productions of Carmen and Aida to cater for an audience who think nothing of shelling out £100 to see Lady GaGa at the Odyssey but suddenly start crying 'elitist' when asked to pay roughly half that for a night at the opera.
We are definitely having 2 gala nights first weekend in September, full orchestra, soloists from over the years, extended interval to say a big final thankyou to all out supporters over the years. Should be an amazing and emotional couple of evenings. Hope to see you all there.

Timothy Belmont said...

Many thanks indeed for that. I lament the sudden demise of Castle Ward Opera, apparently due to lack of support by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and other sponsors.

Perhaps an other private country house in the Province might consider lifting the gauntlet and carrying on where Castle Ward left off? Presumably corporate sponsorship would be a key element?

Anonymous said...

As a visitor - a tourist - from over the water - we absolutely loved, were enchanted by Castleward and Strangford and took the chance to see die Fledermaus in 2009. We wanted to go back again but were so disappointed last year to hear it will not be a venue again.2 Tourists down again this year then. We have enjoyed operas at Clonter, Longborough, Buxton, Glasgow etc etc but the atmosphere of Castleward was the best. We thought the direction of David Angus and the singing and acting of Lee Bisset were superb and certainly in quality matched anything we have seen anywhere else. I'll keep my eye on the web to see if the new NIO comes to it senses! I hope so.

Timothy Belmont said...

Not a chance. Most of them on the NI Arts Council are doubtless socialists and too left-wing to approve of country house opera - too "elitist" for their tastes, you see.

Read my latest article today, Thursday 27th January, 2011, for a snipe at them.