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Wexford Opera House, Wexford, Ireland

Monday 08 Sep 2008

Opera without the drama

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Wexford's new Opera House may be small but it is perfectly formed 

It’s not every day that an architect gets to design an opera house, so there was much excitement in the small town of Wexford, Ireland when the Office of Public Works Architects with London based Keith Williams Architects presided over the preview of the town's shiny new opera building this week. At only €33m, Wexford comes in at just 10% of the cost of Henning Larsens Tegnestue’s Copenhagen Opera House completed in 2004. Wexford is opera, but not as we know it. It is however full of surprises, the first is the entrance. Even when looking for it, many people walk right past the door. No pretentious columns or wide marble stairways, just a few letters over a humble doorway in a row of terraces. This is taking “understated” to new, previously unimaginable heights.

Once inside, the building unfolds like a Tardis. It must be pointed out at this juncture, that the opera house, other than from the other side of the river, is barely visible from within the town. Keith Williams explains, “Close up, the new building has retained the extraordinary element of surprise and secrecy so characteristic of the old Theatre Royal, by re-integrating itself into the historic fabric of Wexford’s medieval centre, behind reinstated terraced buildings.

The scale of the building and its contribution to Wexford’s silhouette only becomes truly apparent when the project is viewed from the banks of the River Slaney. From there the new flytower appears in the skyline alongside the spires of Wexford’s two Pugin churches and the Italianate tower of the Franciscan Friary, announcing the presence of an exceptional new cultural building in the historic townscape.

Internally the main auditorium, inspired both by the form of a cello and the curves of a traditional horseshoe-form operatic space, has been lined in black American walnut, whilst the seating has been finished in pale purple leather giving a rich sense of material quality to its contemporary design.”

The new, larger opera house’s two performing spaces have capacities of 780/175 and totally replaces a previous Theatre Royal structure.

Key facilities in the new 7,500sqm theatre include:
• A 780 seat state-of-the-art auditorium – The O’Reilly Theatre - specifically designed for opera
• A 175 seat second space – The Jerome Hynes Theatre - for drama, music, and rehearsal
• Main stage, orchestra pit, flytower and back stage
• Foyers/box office/cloaks/bars and café /wcs
• Hospitality Areas
• Backstage facilities for directors, conductors, designers and singers
• Dressing rooms
• Chorus Rehearsal Rooms
• Prop Making

The Wexford Festival Opera is internationally acclaimed and draws some 40% of its audience from overseas. Williams won the Wexford project shortly after the successful completion of his Unicorn Childrens’ theatre in Southwark, south London.

Designed by: Office of Public Works Architects and Keith Williams Architects

Michael Hammond

Key Facts

Status Completed
Value 0(m€)
Were you involved in this scheme?
Keith Williams Architects

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