Opera on the Edge

The Opera Fringe Festival is back, bringing edgy exclusives and world premieres to County Down. Click Play Audio to hear from Rosa Solinas and conductor Roy Laughlin

Norma is having a nightmare of a day. Beginning with the news that her lover has fled with a younger model, as the sun lowers it seems that war with the Romans is inevitable. Life as high Priestess of the Gaulish druids was never going to be easy.

The 2008 Opera Fringe Festival begins with Vincenzo Bellini's Norma, pairing The Ulster Orchestra with conductor Massimiliano Murrali. 

First produced in 1831, Norma (who triumphs over the day and scores a hot date with the tenor), opens the festival's most ambitious and eclectic programme to date, which includes a centrepiece double bill of music from Mozart and Salieri.

The Opera Fringe Festival artistic director Rosa Solinas'We try to have a mixed programme,' says Opera Fringe artistic director Rosa Solinas. 'This is really what we're all about.

'We subtitle the festival "Opera on the Edge" because we believe that opera is really for everyone. People often have a mixed conception of what opera is and that you need to go there "prepared".

'We want to convey that it's not, by including shows like the double bill but also through others that show that opera is singing, it's music, it's words, presented in many different ways. Some are staged, some aren't - like Norma - but there's a story there.' 

The festival, started by Down District Council in 2002, includes a new artist development programme alongside world premieres like Antony Pitts' Jerusalem Yerushalayim at the Down Cathedral, an Opera Gala at the Down Arts Centre, and In Search of Ol Man River - a Musical Feast inspired by the Life and Music of Paul Robeson.

'I would hope that people aren't intimidated by opera,' says conductor Roy Laughlin. 'People are becoming more familiar with the operatic idiom, through a variety of means. 

'You've had the Three Tenors, you've had Pavarotti singing 'Nessun Dorma' at football matches, you've got lots and lots of young people coming up through the business who are then seen by younger people.

'I think it's become less and less something that's foreign, that's intimidating, that people feel they can't approach - because they're hearing more of it.' 

Kiran Acharya

The 2008 Opera Fringe Festival takes place at various venues in county Down. Click here for website, programme and box office details.