‘Unforgettable’ scenes as opera fills Derry air

Conductor Nic Chalmers, with pupils from St.Mary's College, St.Cecilia's College and St.Brigid's College, at the NI Opera workshop in St.Mary's College.
Conductor Nic Chalmers, with pupils from St.Mary's College, St.Cecilia's College and St.Brigid's College, at the NI Opera workshop in St.Mary's College.

The beauty and opulence of Puccini’s classic opera Tosca fills the Derry air this weekend as NI Opera’s long awaited production began last night. With tomorrow’s (Saturday) performance already sold out, fans are urged to book their tickets for today’s matinee show fast.

Ahead of the stunning operatic performances, Director Oliver Mears spoke of the immense wealth of talent involved in making the magic happen.

“We’re really looking forward to this weekend’s performances,” Mr Mears told the ‘Journal’ earlier this week. “There’s a real enthusiasm for the whole project and I honestly believe that this will become an unforgettable event for Derry.”

Mr Mears first began scouring the city for suitable venues last August, settling eventually on three historic venues, St Columb’s Cathedral, the Guildhall and St Columb’s Hall.

“We have a wonderful cast from all over Ireland, including lead roles for John Malloy and Brendan Collins, who have done a lot of work in the Republic, and a couple of very good Welsh singers too, Carey Jones and Andy Rees.

“We also have Northern Irish singer Giselle Allen in the lead role of Tosca - she is a tremendous artist. We have a fantastic Mexican tenor called Jesus Leon. He is a real rising star in the opera world, so it’s a real coup getting him for our production before he becomes an international star.”

“A number of young people from Derry are in the production, both performing in the chorus and as understudy for some of the main roles too. Some are hoping for a career in opera, so this has been incredible experience for them. We also have Derry choir Codetta singing in the production and 16 boys who all perform too.”

Mr Mears revealed the extent of goodwill towards NI Opera for this inaugural production, particularly from the Dean of St. Columb’s Cathedral.

“In its original writing, Tosca was set in Rome in a Roman Catholic church and as we are using St. Columb’s Cathedral, we had to deck it out to look like a Catholic church, with a statue of the Virgin Mary, incense and an altar screen with a triptych.

“We are really grateful to Dean Morton for showing that level of ecumenical spirit and allowing us to do so.”

So what can Derry audiences expect from their first taste of opera?

“As I always say, you can expect an eyeful and an earful! This will be a tremendous spectacle, particularly as it takes place in three historic and extraordinarily atmospheric buildings in Derry, all of which played big parts in the history of the city.

“Add to this, of course, the glorious music of Puccini as well as the full orchestra and chorus, and I feel sure that this will be an event that people will always remember.”

Tickets are still available from the Forum box office at: www.millenniumforum.co.uk or tel: 71. 264455. www.niopera.com.