Taking centre stage
After 30 years behind the scenes, Albert Lacey finally had his moment in the spotlight
By Michelle Newman
Last October front of house volunteer at the National Opera House in Wexford, Albert Lacey won the 2017 Ecclesiastical/Wexford Festival Opera Volunteer of the Year award after being involved with the festival for over three decades.
Back when Albert was just 13 years-old his father took him to the opera for the very first time to watch a performance of Ernani, by Giuseppe Verdi.That was in 1961 and his admiration for the theatre has grown ever since.
“Now it’s the National Opera House but back then it was known as the Theatre Royal. Ernani is a major work and even on the big stage today I don’t think we would attempt to put it on but back in those days you just did whatever it was,” says Albert.
“I was a bit of a gobsmacked 13 year-old and I didn’t know what was happening because there was no such thing as subtitles or anything like that and all these guys were walking around the stage and singing in Italian. I must have been bold in 1962 because he didn’t bring me [that year] but we went again in 1963 and it grew from that really.”
Albert, who is now retired but worked for the revenue for many years, moved back to Wexford in 1981 where he and his family would always go and watch the final night of the Wexford Festival Opera. A few years later in 1983 Cyril Nolan who was the front of house manager at the time spotted Albert and asked him if he would be interested in doing some voluntary work at the Theatre Royal.
“He was driving down the main street and that’s a feat in itself because it’s very narrow. He pulled over and said that he had seen me at the operas and wondered if I would like to help out and that’s how it happened. It’s a bit of fun, a bit of craic,” he says.
“Cyril died within the last two years but he would have gone well into his eighties so he had a good life. He was a gentleman of the first order.”
The Wexford Festival Opera celebrated its 66th anniversary in 2017 and it was also named the Best Festival Opera in the World at the International Opera Awards the same year. It is a huge event in the town and generally lasts for about 12 days, during which time a dedicated team of volunteers lend a hand.
This includes Albert who became the front of house manager in 2012 but has decided to step down slightly from the demanding role recently, but nevertheless still does more than his fair share of the work.
“There’s 70 now on the front of house team and you would be looking for between 20 and 22 people to volunteer every night. There’s four levels in the theatre and we have to have people at each level,” he says.
“There’s a floor manager at each level, we’re all radioed up. Basically you’re hoping that everybody is seated and that everything is ready to go at eight o’clock because in one area we have the floor manager asking is everything ready to go and then in the other area we have the stage manager asking the same thing.
There’s an absolute rule in Wexford that late comers just cannot be admitted. Once the conductor leaves his dressing room basically and the National Anthem goes up, it’s closed. The front of house manager is responsible literally for the front of house and saying, ‘Right we’re ready to go’ and then handing it over to the backstage team then at that stage. The pressure is getting people in and seated properly and still trying to be nice while you’re doing it.”
Throughout the years Albert has met countless opera goers, but out of these one person in particular stands out.
“I got to know a London chap who used to come across every year for the full whack of the three operas and he’s stay locally in the Clayton White’s Hotel,” Albert says.
“He was a member of the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden in London. He told me that he comes to Wexford to see three operas, all of them with a chorus, which is not necessary the case in Covent Garden. He was very facetious about keeping a list of all the operas he’d seen hundreds of them and it was a big thing for him to come all the way every year.”
Of his recent award Albert is humble yet most appreciative, although he is quick to point out that it is a team effort.
“To tell the truth, it’s a nice honour. It’s relatively new, I think I’m maybe the seventh or eight winner, so it was an honour indeed,” he says.
“But as I did emphasis on the night in the 31 and a half words that I spoke, it’s very much a team game and everybody has to be pulling their weight. There’s great fun it in, the gang, the comradery is very, very good.”