New opera house in the town of Wexford
In a far reaching €33 million building programme to designs by the Office of Public Works Architects with Keith Williams Architects, a totally new opera house has been constructed in the town centre on the site of the old Theatre Royal, the former home of the world famous opera festival.
The new 7,235sqm purpose-designed opera house contains two theatres the principal auditorium 780 seats, and an
adaptable auditorium of 175 seats provides for performance in a variety of formats.
The complex problem for the architectural team was how best to insert a very large and highly complex spatial
programme into a steeply sloping backland site barely large enough to accommodate it. The orientation of the main
elements of stage and auditorium was self-determining in that large scale vehicular access could only be achieved from
one point within Wexford’s dense Medieval street pattern, thereby fixing the stage position, get-in, and hence the
In architectural terms, the new opera house may be seen as a series of formal set-pieces centred around the main
auditorium, fly-tower and the smaller second theatre forming a nucleus at the heart of the organisation. The nucleus was
then enveloped by an architectural collar containing the supporting spaces which locks it into the irregular edges of the
backland plots of urban block in which it is situated.
The O’Reilly Theatre, (the main auditorium), has been inspired both by the form of a cello and the curves of a traditional
horseshoe-form operatic space. Its surfaces are lined in black American walnut whilst the seating has been finished in
pale purple leather giving the room a rich sense of material quality. The curvaceous qualities of the room and its
balconies, and its unbroken timber materiality are intended to be analogous to a stringed instrument, perhaps the cello.
The technical elements of the theatre such as the lighting bridges are floated free and set against the timber lined ceiling,
comparable aesthetically to the cello’s technical elements, its finger board, bridge and strings. The walnut covering every
surface is imbues the room with a sense of consistency and rigour, resulting in a space of great visual weight.
Close up, the new complex 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
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, auditorium and the upper parts of the building,
appear as a captured pavilion in the skyline alongside the spires of Wexford’s two Pugin inspired churches and the
Italianate tower of the Franciscan Friary, announcing the presence of an exceptional new cultural building in the historic