Thursday 17 January 2019

My cultural life: opera producer Fergus Sheil

Fergus Sheil
Fergus Sheil
Detail from Pieter Bruegel
The Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín

Fergus Sheil is a leading Irish opera producer who has steered the creation and setting up of Irish National Opera (INO). He was previously artistic director of Wide Open Opera and Opera Theatre Company. He has produced opera in 34 different Irish venues encompassing baroque repertoire, large scale operatic works and multiple world premieres. His productions have also been seen at the Edinburgh Festival and in London, New York and Luxembourg. He is also a leading Irish conductor and has worked extensively in Ireland and abroad. Irish National Opera unveiled its inaugural programme this week and features seven new productions and 38 performances in 2018 - employing artists, technical teams and other opera professionals for almost 12,000 days of work. It will have its own professional chorus, and its partners will include the Irish Chamber Orchestra, the RTE National Symphony Orchestra, the RTE Concert Orchestra, Irish Baroque Orchestra and Crash Ensemble.

Artist: Pieter Bruegel

Detail from Pieter Bruegel

Anything by Bruegel (above). There's something about Bruegel's paintings that feel operatic to me. I think it's the fact that there are so many people in his pictures, and not everybody is aware of what everybody else is doing. You can focus on one particular element and get absorbed in it, then later you can come back and have a totally different experience thinking about something completely different. They are always dramatic and dynamic. Each painting is a whole world of its own. I feel the same about operas. This is why I love them!

Music: Eugene Onegin

My job involves listening to and working with a lot of opera singers. At home, my two daughters play a variety of instruments, and at the weekends I do a lot of work with youth orchestras. Right now, if I had to go to a desert island with one piece of music it would be Tchaikovsky's opera Eugene Onegin. This piece has so many layers of emotion and secrets to yield, even if I've listened to it since I was a teenager.

Movie: Melancholia


Melancholia (2011) (above) by Lars von Trier. When I first saw this film, I was really swept away by the stunningly beautiful scenery and, of course, the richness of the integration of the filming with the music from Wagner's opera Tristan und Isolde. Von Trier really allows the music to lead the action in some places and creates an experience that looks and feels very different from a standard film with a sound track. And it is exquisitely shot. The plot is also unexpected and offers fascinating insights into each of the characters. But it's the visual and musical richness that stays with me.

Designer: Antony McDonald

One of the most amazing opera sets was for Verdi's opera A Masked Ball, designed by Antony McDonald for the Bregenz Opera Festival in Austria. Each year this festival performs one spectacular production on a stage built on a lake. The stage set for this production was simply astonishing.

Author: Colm Toibin

The Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín

I adore Colm Toibín's writing. His use of language is so well crafted, meticulous, yet sounds natural and easy. In The Testament Of Mary (above) I was knocked over at how he had managed to take something so familiar and yet make it seem completely new.

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