The Long Read - Wexford Festival Opera

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The Long Read - Wexford Festival Opera

In the second of our long reads, we take an in-depth look at the history and success of Wexford Festival Opera in Ireland.

In a country steeped in ancient stories, the Irish city of Wexford is no exception. This medieval town on the banks of the River Slaney in the country’s historic south east was founded in the early 900s by the Vikings, and their legacy includes the town’s many narrow winding streets and its name, derived from the Norse, Weissfiord - meaning ‘inlet of the mudflats’.

After nearly 300 hundred years of largely independent Viking rule, Wexford was besieged in 1169 by Dermot MacMurrough, King of Leinster and his Norman ally, Robert Fitz-Stephen. The Norse inhabitants resisted fiercely, until eventually accepting a settlement. In the Middle Ages Wexford experienced relative stability as an English settlement, and it was also home to the Knights Templar in the 12-century following the Crusades.

In the 1640s the town produced strong Confederate support along with nearby Waterford in the Eleven Years’ War, the most destructive conflict in Irish history. In 1798 Wexford was once again the centre of the Rebellion against British rule, and was the scene of a notorious massacre of local loyalists by the United Irishmen, who executed them with pikes on Wexford Bridge.

The town’s grisly and colourful history lives on in its many historical monuments, including: the gated entrance to the walled town dating from c.1300 complete with cells for those travellers not willing, or able, to pay their entrance tolls; Selskar Abbey, one of the oldest sights of worship in Wexford dating from the 12th-century, built by Alexander Roche upon returning from the Crusades; the Bullring, home to bull-baiting from 1621 until 1770, introduced to the town by the Butcher’s Guild; and many other churches, monuments and historic buildings.

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Stephen Cleobury CBE and the Choir of King's College, Cambridge

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Stephen Cleobury CBE and the Choir of King's College, Cambridge

In the first of our Extended Reads, we take an in-depth look at the Choir of King's College, Cambridge.

It was announced last week that the Director of Music for the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, Stephen Cleobury CBE will be retiring from his post in 2019. Since 1982, Stephen has been at the helm of one of the most accomplished and versatile choirs in the world, and one with a distinguished and colourful history.

For the last three years, Hayllar Music Tours has included a stay in Cambridge on its Opera & Theatre in London & the English Countryside tour. We have had the privilege of enjoying lunch with Stephen in the beautiful Saltmarsh Rooms overlooking the College courtyard. There we have been able to hear firsthand the history of the Choir and its role in College life in the 21st Century.

We have also attended private rehearsals of the Choir to find out more about how they achieve their heavenly sound. The whole experience has been enhanced with our attendance at Evensong in the stunning 15th Century Chapel, with the sun sending shafts of coloured light through the exquisite stained glass across the Adoration of the Magi (by Rubens) which hangs as the Chapel’s altarpiece.

Evensong services have been sung almost without exception by the Choir for over 500 years now. So how did the Choir get to this point, and where did it all begin?

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