NI Opera

Northern Ireland Opera

Northern Ireland Opera, based at Belfast’s historic Grand Opera House, has a mission to provide the highest-quality opera to the widest possible audience. With a philosophy of excellence and risk-taking underpinned by an imaginative programming policy and first-rate casting, Northern Ireland Opera is committed to opera as a unique art form.

By keeping ticket-prices affordable, and through the regular (but not exclusive) use of English in performances, we are committed to widening the audience for opera: everyone will be welcome to our productions, from young to old, rich to poor, and from traditional opera-goers to those who have never seen an opera in their life before.

Northern Ireland Opera aims to promote the best of Northern Irish talent, engaging with local communities and young people, collaborating with other Northern Ireland arts organisations, and using some of the province’s most iconic spaces for its performances.

Northern Ireland Opera would like to thank all of its supporters, partners and collaborators, but particular thanks goes to the Arts Council of Northern Ireland for its continuing support and guidance.


Sean Rafferty

Sean Rafferty, Patron of Northern Ireland Opera, was born in Belfast and brought up in Newcastle, Co. Down. He studied law at Queen's University. Belfast, and soon after began his career in broadcasting. Sean is a respected arts broadcaster, having presented a variety of radio and television programmes on BBC Radio 3, BBC Northern Ireland and BBC Radio Ulster. Since 1997 Sean has been the regular presenter of In Tune on Radio 3.

Meet the team

Oliver Mears, Artistic Director

Oliver read English and History at Lincoln College Oxford, and began his career assisting playwright Howard Barker.

As Artistic Director of Second Movement Opera, Oliver directed many site-specific opera productions in London, including several UK stage premieres (of works by Fleischmann/ Shostakovich, Martinu, and Weisman) and a Czech Republic tour of Martinu’s The Knife’s Tears. He has also directed a prison project with lifers, Sweeney Todd (Pimlico Opera), La Calisto (Early Opera Company), Hansel and Gretel (Opera North), the National Opera Studio Showcase 2010, The Bear (National Reisopera, Holland), Albert Herring (Aldeburgh), David Almond/Pet Shop Boys’ My Dad’s a Birdman (Young Vic), The Magic Flute (Nevill Holt Opera) and Don Giovanni (Bergen National Opera).

For Northern Ireland Opera, Oliver has directed Tosca (Irish Times Theatre Awards Theatre Award for ‘Best Opera Production’, 2012), Hansel and Gretel, L’Elisir D’Amore, Noye's Fludde (Belfast Zoo/Beijing Music Festival/Shanghai Music in the Summer Festival), The Flying Dutchman (nominated for UK TMA Award ‘Achievement in Opera’), L’Elisir D’Amore (with OTC), Salome and Macbeth (co-production, Welsh National Opera).

His production of The Turn of the Screw was nominated for two Irish Times Theatre Awards in 2013 (‘Best Opera Production’ and ‘Best Director’), and in 2014 premiered at Novaya Opera, Moscow. In 2012 he was nominated for an ‘Achievement in Opera’ award by the UK TMA Awards for his leadership of Northern Ireland Opera, and was nominated in the ‘Best Newcomer’ category at the 2013 Opera Awards. His recent production of Agrippina won Best Production at the Dublin Theatre Fringe Festival Awards.

Clíona Donnelly, General Manager

Clíona studied History at Queen’s University, Belfast, and then completed a MSC in Marketing and Entrepreneurship at the University of Ulster. She previously worked for the Dublin Business School and the Abbey Theatre in Dublin before moving back to Belfast to join the Northern Ireland Opera team in March 2011.

Mark Irwin-Watson,
Outreach & Administration Officer

Mark studied Humanities at the University of Ulster followed by a postgraduate (MPhil) in Theatre Studies at the University of Glasgow. He spent 14 years in Scotland working in Marketing and Communications at the Citizens’ Theatre, Scottish Youth Theatre and the King’s Theatre & Theatre Royal (both part of the Ambassador’s Theatre Group). Mark returned to Northern Ireland in 2013 and since then has worked for Libraries NI and most recently, the Grand Opera House, as Theatre Administrator. He joined the NI Opera team in August 2016.

Andrew Forsythe, Marketing Manager

A music graduate of Durham University, Andrew has previously held marketing positions with Northern Ireland Opera, the Lyric Theatre Belfast, and The Belfast Opera.

Steven Hadley, Projects Director

Steven is an arts marketing and management consultant with over twenty years’ experience in both the visual and performing arts. As Chief Executive, Steven led the development of Audiences NI, the audience development agency for Northern Ireland. He has significant experience of working with a wide range of funders, local councils and government departments. Steven holds an MBA and currently researches and teaches at Queen’s University Belfast.

The Northern Ireland Opera Board

Roy Bailie OBE, Chairman
Fionnuala Jay-O’Boyle CBE, Vice-Chairman
James Hunt
Stephen Kingon CBE
Ken Lindsay
Professor Dolores O'Reilly
Jane Wells

If there’s anything more you want to know about the company or if you have any questions about the 2012 / 2013 season, please do get in touch. You can call us on +44 (0)28 9027 7734, or send us an email at