Dáirine Ní Mheadhra

Co-Director - Contemporary Music Ensemble
Office: MB 310
Phone: (519) 661-2111 x85372
Email: dnimhead@uwo.ca

Conductor, Music Director

Dáirine Ní Mheadhra grew up in Cork, Ireland, speaking Irish as her first language. She began her professional career in Dublin aged seventeen as a ‘cellist with the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland. In subsequent years Dáirine developed an interest in conducting and a passion for contemporary music, and in 1990 founded the new music ensemble Nua Nós. Comprising the principal chairs of the Symphony Orchestra, it rapidly established itself as the leading exponent of contemporary music in Ireland. Premiering numerous Irish and European works, it was awarded an AIB Better Ireland Arts Award. In 1994 their first CD of chamber works by Irish composer Gerald Barry (NMC label) was nominated as best CD worldwide of music by a living composer for that year.

In 1995 Dáirine immigrated to Canada to join her Canadian husband, pianist John Hess. Together in Toronto, they founded the chamber opera company Queen of Puddings Music Theatre. Under her direction as resident Artistic Director, the company emerged as a bold and provocative leader of new Canadian chamber opera. Over the span of twenty years it radically changed the dynamic of new Canadian opera, by commissioning new works and producing ground-breaking productions that were original and striking, with an uncompromising artistic standard that drew wide critical acclaim.

Notable opera productions include Beatrice Chancy (Rolfe, Elliott-Clarke), an adaptation of the Italian Cenci tragedy, set in Nova Scotia, bringing to life the story of African-Acadian black slavery in Canada, which was filmed and broadcast nationwide by CBC TV. The Midnight Court Opera (Cúirt an Mhéan-Óiche) (Sokolovic, Bentley), an adaptation of Brian Merriman’s raucous Irish epic poem, voted one of Toronto’s Top Ten shows in 2005, and premiered at England’s Royal Opera House in 2006. In 2008 Beauty Dissolves in a Brief Hour (Klanac, Rea, Shi), a Mandarin, English and Medieval French language triptych. Love Songs (Sokolovic), a virtuosic tour de force opera for one female singer based on love poems in multiple languages, toured Canada and Europe, including the Holland Festival and the Zagreb Biennale, where it was declared best production of the festival. Inês (Rolfe, Bentley), an opera inspired by Portuguese Fado music, adapted the legend of Inês de Castro to reflect Toronto’s Portuguese community, featuring opera singers in combination with a Coimbra fado singer.

Svadba-Wedding (Sokolovic, original Serbian poetry), a virtuosic a cappella opera for six female singers, sung in Serbian, epitomized the company’s aesthetic of a physical singing theatre. Svadba-Wedding won the 2012 Dora Mavor Moore Award for Outstanding New Opera, and toured Canada, Philadelphia, Paris, Orléans, Belgrade and Dublin.
Beckett: Feck It! (Beckett, Hamilton, Barry, sean-nós), premiered in 2012, a show combining music, theatre, and Irish madness juxtaposing Samuel Beckett’s shorter plays with contemporary classical music from outstanding Irish composers inspired by his appreciation for the absurd.

In May 2012, Dáirine was awarded Canada’s 2012 Molson Prize in the Arts in recognition of her outstanding lifetime achievements and ongoing contributions to the cultural and intellectual life of Canada. In October 2013 she received the Opera Canada Ruby Award in recognition of a distinguished career as musician, producer, conductor and educator in the Canadian operatic community, and particularly for her work with Queen of Puddings Music Theatre.

In the current season, Dáirine continues to tour with Queen of Puddings’ productions, mostly recently conducting a new production of Svadba at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence in France and at San Francisco Opera in the U.S. She is Co-Director of the Contemporary Music Studio at Canada’s Western University and Co-Director of Amhráin ar an Nua-Nós, a new Canada-Ireland project to commission, create, and produce a body of original contemporary art song and chamber opera, written solely on texts in the Irish language. Upcoming is All That Ends:A Beckett Rhapsody, a new production with Toronto’s Necessary Angel Theatre Co., in which the work of Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho is combined with that of playwright Samuel Beckett.