Lean In To The Excitement of The Blackwater Valley Opera Festival - The Gloss Magazine

Lean In To The Excitement of The Blackwater Valley Opera Festival

A unique opera festival – inspired by more than just the music – is also a chance to dress up and have fun …

Main Image; Photography Patrick Browne

Lismore Castle is the Blackwater Valley Opera Festival’s (BVOF) home, and gives it its utterly unique vibe. During BVOF’s brief summer season, visitors to the town of Lismore in Co Waterford are amazed by the Blackwater Valley’s natural beauty, and revel in the atmosphere of what feels like a fun summer country house party. The Castle’s picturesque Stable Yard, the principal venue, provides a magical setting for bespoke – and innovative – opera productions while a related profusion of top-notch concerts, recitals and performances make use of the Valley’s appealing historical venues. This is the place to explore opera in an environment where music is centre stage, yet there’s so much else to do, from goings on in the local pubs to art exhibitions and garden tours. 

Guests arrive at Lismore Castle for the Blackwater Opera Festival.

Formal dining at the Castle.

The best way to savour the Festival’s charms is to stroll the cobbled pathways to the Castle, pashmina in hand, and join the throng of elegant and convivial opera-goers as they traverse the town on the way to the performance. Those lucky enough to have tickets have pre-booked al fresco suppers in the lovely grounds and gardens, choosing the formal menu, catered by Eunice Power (served under a smart stretch tent) or opting for a gourmet table picnic by Eamo & Ró. Attendees will be staying somewhere very civilised – perhaps as an invited guest in one of the Blackwater Valley’s gracious private homes, like the Alen- Buckley’s Strancally Castle, or at Cliff at Ardmore or Castlemartyr (with its new Michelin star), at Hugo Merry’s place at Kilshane, or even Ballymaloe, not a huge distance away. The BVOF draws operatic and classical music royalty. Lismore Castle itself is always privately booked for the week, often by international opera buffs. This year, a party of American visitors will take it over, and be spoiled by the staff, served legendary Lismore breakfasts, with produce from gardens tended by former Airfield head gardener Colm O’Driscoll.

A dramatic scene from Gianni Schicchi, 2021.

Soprano Abigail LaDuke, at the launch of this year’s festival, at Waterford Whiskey Distillery.

It is said that RAB Capital co-founder Michael Alen-Buckley, Chairman of the Blackwater Valley Festival Board, and his wife the Hon Giancarla Alen- Buckley, a director on the board, have taken BVOF to a whole new level. They lead a dedicated and influential group of like-minded donors and supporters with very good taste. Their determination to create a pre-eminent Irish event of social and cultural significance has proved successful. “The key thing is that they knew who to get involved,” says Robert O’Byrne, founder of The Irish Aesthete, and a member of the BVOF advisory board, which was formed in 2019. Giancarla, née Forte, (a member of the Forte Hotels family), has put her stamp on every detail. Most audience members travel from Dublin, Cork and other parts wearing not quite full evening dress, but definitely dressed up. “While it’s not black tie,” says Robert O’Byrne, “most attendees err on the side of formality.” Like anyone used to unpredictable Irish weather, he packs a raincoat and a quilted puffer waistcoat.

Soprano Kelli- Ann Masterson in a scene from Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, 2022.

This summer, the Festival returns from 29 May–5 June 2023. Festival Director Eamonn Carroll and Artistic Director Dieter Kaegi will preside over 21 events at twelve venues over eight days. The highlight will be four evening performances of Verdi’s Macbeth, conducted by Killian Farrell, directed by Sarah Baxter, in collaboration with the Irish Chamber Orchestra. The BVOF Concert Series is set at the quirky Dromore Yard, where Irish mezzo-soprano Paula Murrihy will debut at BVOF with the Irish Baroque Orchestra & Peter Whelan for Where Shall I Fly? A Handel Celebration; Nadège Rochat and Judith Jáuregui will perform a programme for cello and piano A Poet’s Garden; and acclaimed English tenor, Ian Bostridge will present Shakespeare Songs. Early booking is advisable. www.blackwatervalleyoperafestival.ie.

Dromore Yard, a romantic, semi-restored 19th-century barn on the banks of the River Blackwater, is the setting for some of the events during the Festival. Pictured is Ukrainian soprano Rusland Koval during the BVOF Voices of Ukraine.

Soprano Kelli-Ann Masterson and CoisCéim dancers at the launch of Blackwater Valley Opera Festival, 2022.

Guests arrive at the opening night of the Festival at Lismore Castle in June 2022

Laurent Vinay and Joanna Onland.

Jess and John Curnow and Gemma Tipton.

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