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Opera at Wexford - Rare operas the speciality

A festival famed for world-class artistic standards together with a spirit of conviviality and local engagement.

Three rarely performed operas: Mascagni’s Le maschere, Stanford’s The Critic, Donizetti’s Le Convenienze ed Inconvenienze Teatrali.

Early-career professionals perform Pocket Operas: Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci and Puccini; Puccini: Man of the Theatre by William Niall Morris.

Meetings with festival managers and artists, daily talks on the music, good dinners.

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30 Oct - 03 Nov 2024 £2,520 Book this tour

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The idea of an opera festival aspiring to international standards in a tiny town in the remote south of Ireland was of course absolute madness. (Even today the population of Wexford, still a working port, is not much more than 20,000.) But some mad ideas work, and the Wexford Festival Opera succeeded beyond the wildest hopes of its founders 73 years ago. Despite struggles and challenges, it has continued to succeed, and is now ably and imaginatively steered by artistic director Rosetta Cucchi and executive director Randall Shannon.

Not the least daft aspect of the vision – the visionary being one Tom Walsh, the local anaesthetist – was the decision to focus exclusively on little-known or rarely-performed operas. Indeed, you may find that you have not heard of some or all of the three main operas. Don’t worry, due diligence precludes duffers, and they are very likely to be sung, played and staged with panache and verve and general all-round excellence.

The glory of Wexford Festival Opera is not only musical. To say of the town itself that it is an ordinary, workaday place is not intended to denigrate. It does possess patches of beauty and interest (the estuarial light helps), but its very unpretentiousness means that the habitual Irish warmth of welcome and easy going ways contribute to the conviviality and sense of common purpose. It may be amusingly incongruous to see a street of mariners’ cottages pullulating with gents in dinner jackets (standard, incidentally, but not compulsory) but locals don’t bat an eyelid. After all, it’s their festival too.

Since 1951 the festival has grown steadily in ambition, accomplishment and fame. One triumph has been the building of a new home, named The National Opera House and recipient of numerous national and international awards since its opening in 2008.

The programme for 2024 revolves around the theme of Theatre within Theatre. The three mainstage operas are Le maschere (1901) by Pietro Mascagni, The Critic (1916) by Charles Villiers Stanford and Le convenienze ed inconvenienze teatrali (1827) by Gaetano Donizetti. We have booked top tickets for all three and for I Pagliacci (1892) by Ruggero Leoncavallo, performed by the Opera Factory, a course for early-career artists. There is also a contemporary entertainment, Puccini: Man of the Theatre by William Niall Morris. 

Aside from a rather special morning’s exploration of the town’s history and architecture, we have not laid on excursions or visits. There are talks and discussions daily, and there is a range of events and art exhibitions to entertain you. Time to rest and recharge will also be necessary. In addition to the talks by our own lecturer – John Allison, editor of Opera and also of the Wexford programme book – there will be meetings with several people involved in running the festival. 


Image: courtesy of National Opera House.

Day 1

Fly at c. 1.45pm from London City Airport to Dublin. (Nearly every airport in the UK has flights to Dublin, so consider flying from one more convenient for you – there is a price reduction if you don’t take the group flights.) The drive to Wexford is around two hours. Time to settle into the hotel before dinner.

Day 2

Two distinguished Wexfordians, both prominent in cultural institutions in the town, lead a morning walk. The first set of daily talks and discussions takes place today. During the trip our own speaker is joined by people involved in running or performing in the festival. Free time until dinner is followed by the 8.00pm opera: Le maschere (Mascagni).

Day 3

The daily talk precedes the afternoon opera: the one-act I Pagliacci (Leoncavallo). The brainchild of Wexford artistic director Rosetta Cucchi, the Opera Factory is a masterclass for young artists that culminates in a performance. Dinner is followed by the 8.00pm opera, The Critic (Stanford).

Day 4

Morning opera, Puccini: Man of the Theatre (2024), a contemporary piece by William Niall Morris. Free time, dinner, 8.00pm opera: Le convenienze ed inconvenienze teatrali (Donizetti.)

Day 5

By coach to Dublin Airport for the flight which arrives at London City Airport c. 4.15pm.

Image of John Allison

Dr John Allison

Editor of Opera magazine and music critic. He was born in South Africa and completed his PhD degree while playing the piano and working as assistant organist at Cape Town cathedral. Since moving to London in 1989 he has written for publications around the world, authored two books and served on the juries of many international competitions. He co-founded the International Opera Awards in 2013. He reviews for the Daily Telegraph and has previously held positions as music critic on The Sunday Telegraph and The Times.

Price, per person

Two sharing: £2,520 or £2,340 without flights. Single occupancy: £2,740 or £2,560 without flights.


Flights (Euro Traveller) with British Airways City Flyer (Embraer E190SR); airport transfers by private coach; hotel accommodation as described below; breakfasts; all 4 dinners (with wine, water, coffee) in good restaurants; all tips; all taxes; Festival programme book; services of the lecturer, tour manager, guides and guest speakers.

Music tickets

Tickets (top category) for 5 operas are included costing c. £475.


Clayton Whites Hotel: a large, modern 4-star hotel in the centre of town, located a few minutes on foot from the opera house. Spacious common areas, capacious and comfortable bedrooms, good restaurant and bar, lovely helpful staff. Single rooms throughout are doubles for sole use.

How strenuous?

There are some late nights but morning starts are also late and there is quite a lot of free time. You should be able to cope with everyday walking and stair-climbing. Coach travel is only for transfers to and from Dublin Airport: 100 miles each way.

Are you fit enough to join the tour?

Group size

Between 10 and 22 participants.

Travel advice

Before booking, please refer to the FCDO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting.


Combine with


Castile & León, 14–23 October

Roman & Medieval Provence, 18–24 October

Opera in Sicily, 18–24 October

Modern Art on the Côte d'Azur, 22–28 October

Venetian Palaces, 5–9 November

The Romans in Britain, 6–8 November

The Making of Argentina, 8–19 November

Essential India, 9–22 November