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23rd February 2024

Northern Ireland Opera lead the way in developing the next generation of operatic talent in NI

Artists and creatives from NI Opera’s Chorus Development Programme and Artist Development Programme take to the Grand Opera House stage in new production of ‘The Juniper Tree’, an opera by Philip Glass/Robert Moran based on the famous Grimm’s fairytale.

Northern Ireland Opera and the Grand Opera House present the dark, evocative and visually striking new chamber opera production of ‘The Juniper Tree’, Philip Glass and Robert Moran’s tale of jealousy, revenge and redemption, in The Studio at the Grand Opera House Belfast from 21-24 February 2024, supported by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

Watch the Arts Council NI video taken at rehearsals below.

Rehearsal Video taken by The Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

This new production, which is directed by award-winning Artistic Director, Cameron Menzies, draws most of its cast and creative team from NI Opera’s Chorus Development Programme and the Artist Development Programme, creating an opportunity for NI Opera to showcase some of the stellar local emerging artists who are working with the national opera company at this time.

The Juniper Tree is based on the famous Grimm’s fairytale which tells of a wicked stepmother who murders her stepson and serves him in a stew to his unsuspecting father. The boy’s stepsister buries her stepbrother’s bones under a juniper tree, and the child’s spirit returns as a singing bird who wreaks vengeance on the evil stepmother before being restored to life in the bosom of his family. Sung in English, unusually this opera was composed in alternate scenes by Philip Glass and Robert Moran, with a libretto written by Arthur Yorinks.

Cameron Menzies, Artistic Director of NI Opera comments, “We are very proud to be able to present works like ‘The Juniper Tree’ to our audiences and it is another way in which we are developing our NI talent.  Most of the cast of this production have been taking part in the NI Chorus Development Programme over the last two years.  This production of ‘The Juniper Tree’ is a way of us extending this training programme for these individuals by producing a show that allows them to develop and hone skills as a solo artist as different to that of a chorus singer.  While this piece is a challenge for them it is also a great way for us to give our local opera singers and practitioners opportunity to get paid training experience and public performance outcomes without the immense pressure of the work that we do on the main stages.”

Cast includes bass James Cooper (The Husband), Guest Artist soprano Mary McCabe (The Wife), soprano Rachael Heater (The Son/Juniper Bird), mezzo soprano Jenny Bourke (The Step-Mother), soprano Petra Wells (The Daughter), tenor Desmond Havlin (The Miller), baritone Ryan Garnham (The Cobbler), bass Paul McQuillan (The Goldsmith) and soprano Niamh Lavery (Mama Bird). Further members of the NI Opera Chorus Programme will perform as the chorus. 

The creative team is led by NI Opera’s Artistic Director and CEO Cameron Menzies, with Frasier Hickland as Musical Director – Frasier is also a member of NI Opera’s Artist Development Programme and this is his first role as Musical Director for a fully staged opera.  Stage Manager Deirbhile Larkin is also a part of the 2024 Artist Development Programme and will be stage managing and calling this chamber opera. 

Jenny Bourke as ‘The Stepmother’, Rachael Heater as ‘The Juniper Bird’ with the chorus in ‘The Juniper Tree’ at the Grand Opera House Studio. Photo credit: Neil Harrison Photography.

This NI Opera production of The Juniper Tree is presented as part of the Grand Opera House’s new Studio Series, Jen Rea, Head of Marketing and Sales at the Grand Opera House, said, “We are delighted to present this production of The Juniper Tree as part of the Grand Opera House’s Studio Series. The Studio Series is a brand-new strand of programme in which we will be collaborating with local production companies, writers and performers to present a variety of shows covering music, drama and comedy in the Theatre’s intimate 123 seat Studio, as well as presenting new works and writing by local talent.”

Ciaran Scullion, Head of Music and Opera at the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, said, “The Arts Council of Northern Ireland is proud to be principal funder of NI Opera and the Grand Opera House.  It’s so important that we widen the access to the pipeline for career and talent development and support mechanisms that enable young people to reach the fullness of their potential. And in this way, not only is Northern Ireland Opera developing the sector, but it is safeguarding the future of operatic and creative talent in Northern Ireland.”

Pictured are The Juniper Tree cast in rehearsals with award-winning artistic director, Cameron Menzies and Ciaran Scullion, Head of Music & Opera, Arts Council NI.

The production received a fantastic review from The Stage on their opening night which you can read here: