3 Generations of Kelly Women Tread the Boards of the Opera House in Wexford

Friday, 15 February, 2019
Stephanie Dufresne

By Stephanie Dufresne

No woman is an island, and my career as a performative artist has never been an individual pursuit, but rather a cumulative journey fostered and supported by several generations of family and friends. Never has this been more apparent to me than in the run up to my performance in Irish National Opera’s production of Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice at the National Opera House on the 2nd of March. Performing on the stage of the National Opera House has been a lifetime dream of mine and an opportunity I’ve been anticipating since I started performing. During a childhood spread over a myriad of different countries and continents, one facet of my upbringing was always consistent, and that was my mother and my grandmother’s love for the arts and especially opera.

Raised in 1950s Wexford, my mother Clare and grandmother Angela were some of the first community ensemble members of the Wexford Festival Opera and enjoyed many seasons performing there from the 1960s through to the 1980s. My grandmother and mother's memories of performing in the opera; stories of sliding down slippery raked stages mid show, hysterical prima donnas and flings with chorus masters (sorry Mam), are some of my most vivid memories and doubtlessly laid the foundation for my obsession with dance and the theatrical arts. Throughout my time studying dance in Rotterdam, the Netherlands and dancing in London and Ireland, my parents and grandparents have been a constant support and have travelled the length and breadth of the country to watch me perform.

Dufresne.png#asset:2014Angela Kelly as part of the Wexford Opera chorus (left) and Claire Kelly in Handel's Orlando (right)

My grandmother, now 90, suffers from dementia and lives in a care facility in Meath. She struggles to remember who we are and where she lives, but when I mention to her that I am in a production of Orfeo, she wants to know whose version it is (Gluck) and whether "the team are any good?” (Yes). The nursing home carers tell us they love to listen to her sing and that she begins unprompted when certain songs are played. I like the idea that there are certain parts of the brain that are slower to degenerate than others, and for my grandmother it seems, the part of her brain that loves opera, is one of them.

OrfeoStephanie Dufresne (right) in Orfeo ed Euridice

The building of Wexford Opera, now the National Opera House, has been completely regenerated and modernised and the Wexford Opera Festival continues to grow from strength to strength. But some histories are not carried in the bones of a building, but instead in the stories and blood of performers and audience members. I will be the third generation of Kelly women to tread the boards of the opera house in Wexford. When I perform on the 2nd of March, it’s not just me performing, it is also the legacy of the women that have come before me, and will come after...unless my kids become accountants.

You can see Stephanie Dufresne performing at the National Opera House on the 2nd March. Full tour details can be found here. http://www.irishnationalopera....