NI Opera's Walter Sutcliffe sings praises of Rigoletto and opera for all

Promising musical time-travel, operatic musicals and an unprecedented level of access to the workings of Northern Ireland Opera, the company's new artistic director Walter Sutcliffe chats to Jenny Lee

Walter Sutcliffe, the new artistic director of Northern Ireland Opera

FROM large-scale productions featuring world-class operatic performers to children's operas and operatic takes on musicals Sweeney Todd and Kiss Me Kate, Northern Ireland Opera's new artistic director is promising "a plethora of operatic spectacles" and "plenty of opportunities for people to fall in love with opera".

"When I was interviewing for the Northern Ireland Opera job I said that the reason I'd like to come to here would be to test everything I believe about opera; this combination of music, drama, design, sculpture, architecture, fabric, reality, fantasy," enthuses 41-year-old Londoner Walter Sutcliffe.

"Opera is something that lets you time-travel, connecting the past and the present, discovering that the guys and girls from centuries ago were just as naughty, maybe even naughtier, than us.

"Opera is a paradox; it's something illogical, something that can't make money, but it's something addictive, something that generates obsession – the pleasure of it, the thrill of it, the realisation of so many aspects of human potential at once. My job is to bring you artists that take your breath away. And, let's be honest, opera is about the human voice – the live voice."

Central to Sutcliffe's vision is demystifying opera through increased community participation and awareness and open rehearsals – something he learnt working overseas, most recently as director at Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Dusseldorf.

Ahead of its September production of Giuseppe Verdi's Rigoletto at Belfast's Grand Opera House, NI Opera is providing an unprecedented level of access to stage and orchestral rehearsals, insight events and technical demonstrations to educational institutions, outreach and charity partners, including the homeless and refugee communities.

"NI Opera is a young company and I want people here to buy into the work we are doing and own it," Sutcliffe says of the company which has won international acclaim and awards for the quality of its work since its foundation in 2010.

"Opera stretches from Venice in the 17th century to today's Broadway. For us that means doing big shows like Rigoletto, which is sung in Italian, but it also means doing shows like Sweeney Todd [which is planned for Belfast's Lyric Theatre in February] and Kiss Me Kate and letting people understand that an opera company isn't just there to be complicated," the 41-year-old adds.

As well as producing at least one children's opera per year, the company aims to promote and develop young emerging talent and initiatives such as the NI Opera Studio programme, which on August 1 will perform Cosi fan Tutte / School for Lovers as part of Féile an Phobail. This tale of love, temptation and partner-swapping, which will feature some of Ireland's most talented young singers, promises audiences a fast-paced, comic operatic experience.

Then in the last weekend of August, NI Opera returns to the Co Antrim coastal village of Glenarm for its annual Festival of Voice, in partnership with BBC Radio 3. The three-day programme of recitals and performances concludes with five bright young talents competing for the title of NI Opera's Voice of 2018.

Produced in co-operation with the Ópera Nacional de Chile, Opera NI's next full-scale production, Rigoletto, is one of the world's best-loved operas, showcasing some of of opera's greatest hits, La Donna è Mobile and Caro Nome.

The cast, which Sutcliffe describes as "the strongest you would find anywhere in Europe at present", features multi-award-winning baritone Sebastian Catana, making his UK debut in the role of Rigoletto, Cardiff Singer of the World Nadine Koutcher as Gilda and Davide Giusti, winner at Placido Domingo's Operalia World Opera Competition 2017, as the Duke of Mantua.

They will be supported by a a Belfast-based chorus, a supporting cast, featuring many of the Ireland's top singers and the Ulster Orchestra.

"Rigoletto is a huge project and a huge set, great voices. It's a piece that takes our potential for darkness, negativity, self-absorption and blind idiocy and immerses it in a sound world that pushes our deepest emotional buttons. It's orchestration is cinematic, emotional and rock 'n' roll," Sutcliffe adds.

:: Rigoletto will open with a Charity Gala Performance on September 30 in aid of Inspire and NI Hospice and continue until October 6. Book tickets at For full information on forthcoming events visit

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe from just £1 for the first month to get full access


Today's horoscope


See a different horoscope: