Interview : Fergus Sheil, Artistic Director of Irish National Opera

Fergus Sheil, Artistic Director of The Irish National Opera,  talks about his love of conducting music and the thirty eight nights of opera in thirteen Irish venues and the Barbican in London, which is part of the Irish National Opera's Inaugural Programme.

Q. What inspired you to get into conducting? 

Fergus : As a teenager I played viola in a number of youth orchestras and loved the huge array of sonic possibilities. The idea of getting to control this was like a kid dreaming of flying a plane. So many things you can do, so many possibilities, unimaginable opportunities. I got to conduct The Dublin Youth Orchestra a few times while I was still in school and when I got to Trinity, I started a new orchestra there and conducted it for a number of years. I was in heaven. I’ve never lost that sense of joy at making music with others. There’s a freedom and a sense of total possibility when you’re on the podium.



Q. You've had a varied career, working with Wexford Opera and in Edinburgh, what was the highlight for you? 

Fergus :  The 2012 production of Tristan und Isolde that I conducted and produced in the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre with the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra was undoubtedly a highlight. This was the biggest and most prestigious production I had conducted at that time. The opera is one of the most challenging in the entire repertoire, demanding huge resources of musical and physical stamina. It lasts over five hours and requires top level singers and a huge orchestra. It had not been performed in Ireland for fifty years. We webcast the opening night live and it was viewed by thousands of people internationally in over fifty countries. The production received rave reviews. Afterwards I felt that if I never did anything else, this was a big achievement.

The Marriage of Figaro


Q. Describe the new schedule for the Irish National Opera Company Inaugural programme.

Fergus : The programme involves 38 nights of opera with seven different opera titles in thirteen venues in Ireland as well as London’s Barbican Centre. It has firm audience favourites like The Marriage of Figaro and Aida as well as a major work Bluebeard’s Castle by Bartók which has never previously been staged in Ireland. We have two contemporary operas, Powder Her Face by the English composer Thomas Adès, which was written in 1995 and which has become a modern cult masterpiece.

It tells the story of a tabloid sex scandal surrounding the Duchess of Argyll. We have a new opera by the Irish team Donnacha Dennehy and Enda Walsh, The Second Violinist, which we premiered with Wide Open Opera and Landmark Productions in 2017. We also have a baroque masterpiece Orfeo ed Euridice at the 2018 Galway International Arts Festival and a touring production of the well loved opera The Tales of Hoffmann.

Q. What are your favourite operas? 

Fergus : I find some of the large scale romantic operas to be the most exciting where you can lose yourself in a new and different sonic and visual world. Wagner’s huge operas (such as Tristan und Isolde), as well as Tchaikovsky (Eugene Onegin), Verdi (Otello) or Strauss (Der Rosenkavalier), these would be among my favourites, but there are many more.

Irish National Opera

Q. What is your motto for 2018? 

Fergus : Not sure about an actual motto, but my mission will be to get more and more people interested in opera, attending shows and becoming converted!

Fergus Sheil is Artistic Director of Irish National Opera which launched last week - for further information on the company’s inaugural programme of events see

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