The demise of Opera Ireland led to funding for opera on a project basis and the traditional lines of thinking were opened up
REHEARSALS are in full swing as the Wexford Festival gears up for its 65th opera extravaganza which follows the established format of three rare operas at the core of a 12-day schedule packed with attractive recitals and short works. Tickets are selling fast with many of the main house shows and recitals sold out.
The festival opener is Herculanum by 19th century French composer, Félicien David. The plot hinges on the tension between the divine and the infernal amid the ominous rumblings of Mount Vesuvius. The cast includes Irish baritone Rory Musgrave, who has made speedy progress through the ranks at the festival.
He first came to Wexford as a chorus member two years ago and returned last year to understudy one of the leading roles in Guglielmo Ratcliff. This year he appears as a principal. “I play Magnus, a prophet of doom who symbolises the threat that is the volcano. It is a terse but pivotal role, one that changes the entire course of the drama.”
Musgrave also appears in The Bear by William Walton, one of three smaller scale works where young singers get the opportunity to take main roles.
Musgrave has a genial personality and a hearty vocal timbre that marks him out as a theatre man. He hails from Connemara where he was brought up on a sheep farm on the coast. So how did he come to opera?
“I was surrounded by music from an early age. My grandmother was a doctor but piano was her passion. My father is a wonderful singer and played guitar in rock bands in his student days,” says Rory.
He is not the first member of his family to tread the boards. His mother appeared in the chorus of a production of Carmen at the Royal Albert Hall before pursuing another career. Musgrave attended Kings Hospital boarding school where his raw talent was nurtured in the excellent music department. When he left school he decided to flex his muscles in other directions which led him to a degree in Theatre Studies at UCD.
For most of his early twenties he had parallel freelance lives. A professional chorister working in Christchurch Cathedral and touring extensively with the Anúna, he also worked in theatre production. Like a GAA man playing twin codes, there came a point where he decided it was time to specialise. “I wanted to go back to singing and opera is a perfect fit as it combines both sides of my nature — the theatrical and musical”.
After two years at Royal Irish Academy of Music he launched himself on a rapidly changing opera scene and has enjoyed a remarkably swift trajectory from chorus to principal in a clutch of productions for NI Opera, Opera Theatre Company, and Irish Youth Opera.
“In some ways it was good timing to be a fledgling singer. The demise of Opera Ireland led to funding for opera on a project basis and the traditional lines of thinking were opened up. I was fortunate that many interesting opportunities came my way.”
One of the more unusual projects was a chamber opera based on Joyce’s story, The Dead, in which Musgrave played Gabriel Conroy — a role which he will return to when the production tours next year. No matter where he travels, the spirit of his native Connacht home goes with him: “It may sound like a cliché but it does call you back. A lot of my artistic drive comes from growing up in that that wonderful natural environment”.
Wexford Festival Opera, October 26 to November 6; wexfordopera.com
Irish baritone Rory Musgrave will be one of the stars of Wexford Festival Opera, writes Cathy Desmond