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Tell me about ... the Blackwater Valley Opera Festival

May 29th, 2024 7:09 PM

Tell me about ... the Blackwater Valley Opera Festival Image

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Aedín Cosgrove is a set and lighting designer at the festival

Where are you from?

I grew up just outside Old Chapel in Bandon. I went to Crossmahon National School at a time when there were three classes in one room! Every summer, we went to Cape Clear as my dad taught at the Irish college, and we ran a café called Tír na nóg. I lived in Dublin for a long time, but in 2020 I moved back to Cape Clear Island. I moved initially for six months while the theatres were closed because of the pandemic, but it became clear quite quickly that I was not going to leave and go back to the city. I love living in Cape Clear because I travel a lot for work; it’s wonderful to return home to such a beautiful place.

How did you get involved in set and lighting design?

I studied Drama and History of Art at Trinity College Dublin, and shortly after graduating, I set up Pan Pan theatre company with Gavin Quinn. In the early days, we never had much money for our productions, but the theatres always had a lighting rig. I have always been fascinated by the impact lighting can have in the theatre, how much it can contribute to the atmosphere and dynamic of the production. It’s like an invisible other actor on stage affecting everything.

Do you think opera music can appeal to everyone?

Absolutely, I believe opera music is for everybody. There is something very special about the emotional impact of opera music. It evokes an almost primal response in people; that’s why it is used so often in films and TV shows. I’m thinking, for example, of the scene in Pretty Woman where Julia Roberts is weeping at La Traviata. Operas are also concerned with very relatable themes such as love, sorrow, anger, revenge, and death. The experience of hearing opera music sung by incredibly talented singers is really intense and inspiring. So yes, I do think that opera music is a life-enriching experience for everybody.

Is food a big part of Blackwater Valley Opera festival?

Without a doubt, food is a key feature. Alongside the remarkable music, there are wonderful pop-up dining experiences that highlight local produce. For example, you can explore the Giulio Cesare opera menu by Eunice Power or grab a gourmet picnic from Eamo & Ró at Lismore Castle and Dromore Yard. There are lunchtime recital packages combining meals at local restaurants, with recitals at stunning venues like St Carthage’s Cathedral or Salterbridge House. If you’re bringing your own picnic, you can pre-book a spot in one of the rustic outhouses at Dromore Yard. So, food definitely enhances the festival experience, offering another dimension to enjoy.

What are you most looking forward to in the festival?

The singing! I don’t know if people realise how dedicated opera singers are to their craft and the amount of work and training it takes to be capable of singing at this level. I can’t wait to hear all these brilliant singers together bringing life to this wonderful opera.
I’m also looking forward to putting the project together in the stunning setting of Lismore. The castle and estate create an atmosphere that perfectly complements the drama and intensity of opera. The natural beauty of the area adds a timeless quality and experience for performers and audiences. Working with the festival team and seeing everything come to life in such a majestic location is inspiring. The combination of remarkable music and breathtaking scenery promise to make this festival a unique and memorable celebration of the arts.

What’s next for you after this year’s festival?

Pan Pan is producing Exit Pursued by a Bear for Dublin Theatre Festival 2024. The title is from the famous stage direction in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. It’s always great to be working with a Shakespeare text. The Winter’s Tale is Shakespeare’s greatest ‘problem play’, an intense psychological drama dramatising the divide between the younger and older generations, gender hierarchies, art versus nature and our perception of time. So that gives us a lot to work with! Besides that, I’m looking forward to having some time off and welcoming friends to Cape Clear. It can be a very lively spot in the summertime but also very peaceful - a great spot to recharge the batteries!

• Blackwater Valley Opera Festival takes place from May 27th to June 3rd, with G.F. Handel Giulio Cesare as its flagship opera in Lismore, featuring conductor Nicholas McGegan, the Irish Baroque Orchestra, and a stellar cast under the direction of Tom Creed. The festival features 100 international and Irish performers across 22 events and 11 venues, providing more than 75 hours of live music to 5,000 visitors. See

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