Wild geese, wild priests and wild goings on in Ballybruff

Mezzo-soprano Leanne Fitzgerald in the role of Maeve in The Ballybruff Trilogy.

PRESENTED by Opera Workshop, The Ballybruff Trilogy is riotous, dark veined work by composer Luke Byrne, with a libretto by Opera Workshop Artistic Director Shirley Keane.

Belltable will host The Ballybruff Trilogy next week, the venue is particularly apt as it was opened as an opera house in the late 1800’s. Originally constructed in 1825 as a privately-owned Georgian townhouse, the building underwent a significant transformation in 1890. The owner, recognizing his daughter’s talent for singing and the lack of a proper venue for her performances, decided to create a theatre for her. He converted the courtyard stables behind the house, extending the walls upward and adding a roof over the stage area to complete the new performance space.

For The Ballybruff Trilogy, wild geese, wild priests and wild goings-on in rural 1970’s Ireland make up this Irish Opera Triptych.

Limerick Post chatted with Artistic Director Shirley Keane.

So, who is Opera Workshop?

Sign up for the weekly Limerick Post newsletter

“We are the only opera production company in the MidWest. We make and create new operas as much as we can and we love to perform in more unusual places.

“Our aim is always to be accessible and immediate.”

The Ballybruff Trilogy in rehearsals with composer Luke Byrne (centre). Photo: Shane Vaughan

The company have used The Sailors Home and No. 2 Pery Square to host their work

The group has grown with each project and the Australian composer Luke Byrne who has ancestors from Ireland, visited here and went on a road trip with Shirley to explore the county and its stories.

“We came up with the idea of an opera set in Ireland.”

“With Opera Workshop, we love the stories that come from Limerick, Cork and around the county. Luke was very happy to get involved in an Irish inspired story.”

From this collaboration, the short 30 minute opera ‘Bloody Murder’ was born. 

“It’s the age old tale of fighting over land, which still goes on. The opera was a big success in London and everyone kept saying, “Oh, are you going to make a bigger opera?”

So with some funding from Limerick Arts Office, they created Halloween Tales at The Coach House in No. 2 Pery Square

“The Limerick audience loved it and everyone wanted to know more about these characters and we talked about making a longer opera. We picked up some of the characters that were referenced and we created a trilogy.

“Each of the three operas stands on its own but the characters reference each other and pop in and out of each other’s stories.”

The Ballybruff Trilogy is three short operas in one featuring The Proposal, Parochial House, and the original short opera which started it all, Bloody Murder. 

A cast of six exceptional singers will be joined by a live five-piece ensemble, conducted by composer Luke Byrne.

The operas lay bare the heart ache, the bitterness and frustrations of life in the rural parish of Ballybruff. 

Each short opera is a self-contained story,  but tales intertwine, passion turns to revenge and hate simmers with the ever present strong, black tea.

Taking these operas to the stage at Belltable, entails a bigger production and set design and Opera Workshop are grabbing the opportunity with two hands.

Working with Limerick based production partners Honest Arts, the cast brings together some of the best of Irish opera talent including Limerick’s Owen Gilhooly Miles (baritone); Catherine Donnelly (soprano) from Northern Ireland; Kerry native Leanne Fitzgerald (mezzo-soprano); Dublin based Rory Dunne (baritone), and Christopher Bowen (tenor); in addition are English singers, James Beddoe (tenor) and Grace Maria Wain (mezzo-soprano).

“It’s so exciting to see the company growing. It’s so exciting to see this kind of work happening in Limerick there seems to be a little bit of a renaissance in Limerick for new work. So we’re really, really proud to be part of that at the moment.”

These stories set in Limerick are also making the art of opera music more accessible to those of us who are new to the art form.

“Absolutely, the work we did in No.2 Pery Square lately was about a house in Limerick and characters in Limerick. People were just laughing. They didn’t know that you could go to an opera, understand it, get the story and laugh at the rather dark humour that we presented. The setting is in the 1970s so everyone gets an awful lot of the references. 

“The music is really immediate. It’s a contemporary opera with beautiful original music.”

“I would love to tour The Ballybruff Trilogy, as soon as we can, we really do think it has legs and we have something very special going on here.”

The Ballybruff Trilogy plays at Belltable (7.30pm) on Wednesday May 29, Friday May 31 and Saturday June 1.