WORKING remotely in Kerry in her parents’ home because of the pandemic, the CEO of Cork Opera House, Eibhlin Gleeson, misses the building and the people.
But not being able to work in the Emmet Place venue hasn’t lessened her and her colleagues’ ambition for the programme up to Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
Admittedly, the cancellation of the annual pantomime “is an enormous loss for,” says Eibhlin.
“It’s beyond devastating. The pantomime is very significant for the organisation, and us coming out of this pandemic without having had the panto in the bank, so to speak, is going to be very difficult.
“The panto covers a lot of the shortfall that we would experience outside of our grants. The shortfall is from our non-commercial programme. The panto is a base line for us that makes the Opera House affordable all year round.
“It runs for 67 performances. We start working on the panto every year in January.
“It’s not lost. Hopefully, this time next year, we’ll be in rehearsals and gearing up for a big sell out.
“There will be life after the pandemic. It mightn’t be the same life as before the pandemic. We’ll have to adjust. But there’s no question about it. People fundamentally want to be entertained and want to be together for collective experiences.”
Adjusting to live-streaming from the venue for the moment, Eibhlin says that coming up with a suitable programme was a challenge.
“We really had to think about what is going to work from an online point of view. Adapting the work we do is so completely about the relationship you have with performers and audiences,” says Eibhlin.
“Yes, for the performers, there will be people in the audience but there’s a screen between you and them. We have chosen work with artists who we know will be able to create the kind of atmosphere that will translate from our stage.”
One of the highlights of the programme is ‘New Year’s Eve with Mick Flannery’, who will ring in the new year, no doubt hoping it can only improve on 2020. Eibhlin says the singer/songwriter from Blarney “is a really important Cork artist and is someone we love working with. We’re delighted and privileged that he is going to come back to us.”
The other big event is the venue’s Christmas concert on December 19. Eibhlin says this is a concert that can be enjoyed online from anywhere in the world, for the first time.
“People can tune in from the States and from Australia. The pandemic is giving us this opportunity. The acts have yet to be confirmed. They will be well-celebrated Cork entertainers and artists.”
For fans of traditional and folk music,’The Opera House Sessions’ will showcase some of Cork’s best home-grown talent on November 20.
“We have invited a number of curators to present the best of their music. Cormac McCarthy is one of those artists. He’s a teacher at the CIT Cork School of Music, a prolific arranger and an exceptional talent. He has invited a number of his friends and collaborators to perform.”
Cormac will be joined by musicians, including Darren McCarthy on bass, Fionn Ó Ceallachain on percussion, Marie Ryan on fiddle and vocalist Nicki Griffin.
While fans of the annual Cork Opera House summer musical felt the absence of such a production this year, there’s the exciting prospect of Cork-born star of the West End, Molly Lynch, who will present a solo show live from London on November 21. Molly will be taking a break from her West End show, ‘The Last Five Years’ to entertain a Cork audience.
“It’s kind of ground-breaking for us that we’re able to present an artist from another stage to our programme. Molly is a fabulous Cork success story and we’re delighted she’s going to perform for us,” says Eibhlin.
Cork Opera House is delighted to work with Coughlan’s Live, bringing to the stage some of the city’s and the country’s emerging folk music artists, on November 29. Cork’s 96fm presenter, Michael Carr, will play host to Lorraine Nash, Niamh Regan, Ailbhe Reddy and Paddy Dennehy.
“Coughlans are really important as promoters of live music and they do exceptional things for up and coming musicians, giving them a platform,” the CEO says.
“We would be too big a stage for these acts. We like to collaborate with Coughlans. I think the collaboration is a really great meeting point. It supports the artists and elevates them from a profile point of view. I want to keep that spirit going.”
Quiet Lights on December 6 is a festival that aims to shine a light on the new wave of Irish and international folk, traditional and experimental talent, that are forging new paths. It showcases some leading lights of the Irish music scene.
It will feature the unique partnership of Iarla Ó Lionárd and Steve Cooney. Their interpretations of songs from the sean nós tradition have set a new standard of artistic integrity and creative innovation. Completing this stellar line-up are Cork singer/songwriter, Marlene Enright and Cork-based harpist, singer and fiddle player, Aoife Blake.
Three Cork sopranos, Majella Cullagh, Emma Nash and Kelly Lonergan, will present A Diva’s Christmas on December 4.
“There is such a great relationship between these performers. Majella is electric. I don’t think it would matter to her whether the audience views her through a camera (or from the auditorium). She will still find a way to connect. That concert will be a lot of fun.”
It will appeal to opera fans as well as audiences that love Christmas fare such as White Christmas and other seasonal favourites.
The following night, on December 5, Claire O’Leary, who wowed Cork audiences with her performance at the Cork Proms Broadway concert last summer and who starred in Les Miserables on the West End, will sing the Great American Songbook at Christmas.
“Claire is another success story from Cork and someone who has worked in the Opera House many times. She is still very young and has a huge career in front of her. She would have been in pantos over the years.”
The Opera House didn’t benefit from recently announced funding worth €5m for the live performance support scheme. Benefitting commercial venues, the Cork venue didn’t apply for it as it already receives state aid and didn’t match the criteria for this scheme.
How long can the Cork venue survive, given the massive restrictions because of Covid-19?
“The subvention from the government is really important. There has been a significant increase in arts funding nationally that is testament to its commitment to making sure the arts survive.
“So, as long as the Government is committed to the survival of the arts, the Opera House will survive.”
Eibhlin says that the venue will continue to play a huge part in the culture of our city.
“The Opera House has gone through and come back from really serious and significant moments in the past (including the fire in 1955). It has had many periods of financial instability in the past. But it has risen and excelled. Recovering from the pandemic will be no different. We have the commitment of the people of Cork to the success of the Opera House. I know of no other city where its people are so committed to live music and its opera house.”