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Funded by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, it began its first season with a budget of £450,000 to launch the company's activities with a remit for performing high-quality opera throughout Northern Ireland, while promoting young talent from the region and forming partnerships with arts organizations from Northern Ireland, Great Britain and further afield. The company is based in the Grand Opera House, Belfast. Its Artistic Director is Oliver Mears.
In his review of the company's first production, Tosca in March 2011, where he notes the enthusiastic response of the first night audience Terry Blain continues by stating that:
- [i]n a part of the United Kingdom where opera has suffered constantly over the years from chronic inattention and lack of proper funding, and for long periods has seemed simply an irrelevance, Mears and his team have shown at a stroke that there is hunger for the art-form in an area where historically there has been no coherent or continuous operatic tradition.
Early performance history
After launching in October 2010, in December 2010 NI Opera collaborated with Barry Douglas and his Camerata Ireland orchestra in a Christmas concert at the Ulster Hall. In February 2011 it co-produced its first NI-wide tour, with Second Movement Opera, a production of The Medium by Gian Carlo Menotti which travelled to venues in Armagh, Downpatrick, Newtonabbey and Omagh, with Derry-born singer Doreen Curran in the title role.
While productions of many of the operas in the standard repertoire have been given, some of the more unusual or rarely-performed ones have been included in seasons after early 2011.
2011 - 2012 season
The company's first major production was Giacomo Puccini's Tosca, in three different historic spaces in Derry in March 2011, featuring Giselle Allen in the title role, with Jesús León as Cavaradossi and Paul Carey Jones as Scarpia. The production won the Irish Times Theatre Award for best opera in February 2012.
The season also included a concert featuring Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and the winner of the company's inaugural Glenarm vocal competition at the Belfast Festival at Queens, and a touring production of Orpheus in the Underworld, in a new translation by Rory Bremner, and with Nicholas Sharratt in the title role. A co-production with Scottish Opera, it toured Scotland and Northern Ireland in Autumn 2011 before travelling to the Young Vic Theatre in London in December 2011.
In March 2012 NI Opera toured a new production of The Turn of the Screw by Benjamin Britten which travelled to the Buxton Festival in July 2012. The cast included Fiona Murphy, Andrew Tortise, Giselle Allen and Yvonne Howard. The production was designed by Omagh-born Annemarie Woods, winner of the Ring Award 2011.
2012 - 2013 season
The 2012-13 season was alunched in June 2012 and it included five world premieres of works by Northern Irish composers: Brian Irvine, Deirdre McKay, Conor Mitchell, Ed Bennett and Christopher Norby, together with new libretti by writers including Mark Ravenhill and Frank McGuinness at the new MAC theatre in Belfast, in the company's latest collaboration with the Ulster Orchestra. These new works travelled to the Southbank Centre in London in July 2012.
In July the company produced another opera by Benjamin Britten, Noye's Fludde. This site-specific production was performed in Belfast Zoo in August 2012, before travelling to Beijing in October 2012, the first time a production of one of Britten's operas has been to that country.
2013 - 2014 season
The season featured three co-productions with companies from Ireland and the UK. In October 2014, it became the first Irish company to premiere Gerald Barry's new opera version of The Importance of Being Earnest, which had premiered in concert in 2012 before receiving other 2013 productions in Nancy and London. This co-production with Wide Open Opera, directed and designed by Antony McDonald and conducted by Pierre-André Valade, toured to Belfast, Dublin, Cork, and Derry.
2014 - 2015 season
In July 2014, the company's production of The Turn of the Screw travelled to Nevill Holt in Leicestershire, before being presented at Novaya Opera Theatre in Moscow in performances conducted by Jan Latham Koenig.
- Northern Ireland Executive online at northernireland.gov.uk
- Brogan, p. 86
- Blain, "A Northern Irish Tosca"
- Christiansen, Telegraph
- Blain, Terry, "Review: A Northern Irish Tosca", BBC Music Magazine, 4 April 2011
- Brogan, Grace, "Company Profile: Northern Ireland Opera", Opera Now (London), September 2013, pp. 86 - 87.
- Christiansen, Rupert, "Challenge of the greatest Brontë novel: Opera on a romp through the Highlands" (review of NI production given in Scotland), The Telegraph (London), 3 October 2011
- Molleson, Kate, "Orpheus in the Underworld – review", The Guardian (London), 9 September 2011
- Northern Ireland Executive, "New Opera Company Takes Centre Stage" (news release from Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure), 11 October 2010
- Picard, Anna, "Review: Out of the Shadow of the Troubles Steps a Sparkling New National Opera Company", The Independent on Sunday, 10 April 2011
- Quinn, Michael, "Northern Ireland to Launch New Opera Company", The Stage, 28 January 2010