Merger to create Ireland’s national opera company

Mary Plazas in Opera Theatre Company's Powder Her Face. Photo: Patrick Redmond Mary Plazas in Opera Theatre Company's Powder Her Face. Photo: Patrick Redmond
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Two of Ireland’s leading opera companies are to merge to form a new national company, in a move described as “a major step forward for opera” in the country.

In plans announced by the Arts Council of Ireland, Opera Theatre Company and Wide Open Opera will merge to become the “preferred provider of main-scale opera” in Dublin from 2018.

Both companies are currently led by conductor Fergus Sheil, who will also assume control of the as yet un-named new company.

The move is the result of a recent root-and-branch overhaul of opera policy and provision, which will lead to the closure of Opera Theatre Company in its 30th anniversary year and Wide Open Opera just five years after it was formed.

The new company is expected to present up to four productions annually in Dublin and on tour and will “champion contemporary operas, in particular by Irish composers and writers”.

Earlier plans to create an Irish National Opera Company after the closure of Opera Ireland in 2010 failed to progress beyond ministerial approval.

Sheil said: “This new opportunity from the Arts Council is a major step forward for opera in Ireland. Building on the previous successes of Wide Open Opera and Opera Theatre Company, it enables us to bring a new provision of year-round productions of operas to audiences in Ireland and internationally, in theatres large and small, on radio and television, online and through opera recordings.”

Arts Council chair Sheila Pratschke described the formation of the new company as “a key element of the Arts Council’s new opera policy and strategy”.

She added: “Along with the growth of smaller-scale touring opera and our ongoing support of independent and emerging opera artists and producers, it will improve significantly the opera offering for audiences, and open up greater opportunity for artists.”

State spending on opera is expected to increase by more than a quarter in 2018 to €4.85 million (£4.2 million).