Jerome Hynes

Chief executive of the Wexford Festival
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The Independent Online

Jerome Oliver Hynes, arts administrator: born Ballymote, Co Sligo 30 September 1959; administrator, later general manager, Druid 1981-88; managing director, later chief executive, Wexford Festival Opera 1988-2005; married 1987 Alma Quinn (three sons); died Wexford 18 September 2005.

Jerome Hynes, who ran the Wexford Festival for the last 17 years, and for the last two served as Deputy Chairman of the Arts Council of Ireland, devoted his short life to the arts, and achieved a remarkable amount in his brief time.

Born in Ballymote, Co Sligo, in 1959, he was brought up in Galway, part of an Irish-speaking family that included two sisters and a brother. The father, Oliver, was principal of a vocational college there, where his mother, Carmel, still lives. One of his sisters is Garry Hynes, the only woman theatre director ever to be awarded a Tony. Jerome was educated at the Jesuits' College and then University College Galway, taking degrees in Education and then Law.

While still in his teens, he joined the Druid Theatre Company as a volunteer, looking after publicity for Ireland's first professional theatre company outside Dublin, which his sister Garry had founded in 1975. Hynes then helped organise the troupe's first successful visit to the Edinburgh Festival (a highlight of this year's Edinburgh International Festival was Druid's performance in a single day of all six plays by J.M. Synge). Garry Hynes was director of Druid from its founding until 1990, and then again from 1994, and her brother was so caught up with this exciting, innovative company that in 1981 he became its administrator, and then general manager, turning it into a major player on the theatre stage, chiefly through a carefully managed programme of international touring.

Druid was as celebrated abroad as it was in Ireland when, in 1988, Hynes was recruited as managing director (later chief executive) of Wexford Festival Opera. Despite Hynes's record of real achievement with Druid (of whose board he remained a member until being given his Arts Council post), the appointment raised eyebrows in the arts world, simply because the complexity of running an opera festival is so much greater than steering a theatre company. To all aspects of theatre management there is added the job of dealing with an orchestra and chorus, as well as coping with the individual personalities and problems of the star singers; having a conductor as well as a director, designer and the whole panoply of stage personnel, means more than double the complications - a lot for a man not yet 30 years old.

Moreover, Wexford was seen as the plum arts/ music job in Ireland, a festival that attracted international singers, directors and audiences, as well as the attention of the international press. Wexford's great appeal was (and still is) its mixture of professional performance standards with some amateur participation, and of ticket-buying international visitors with most of the town's population joining in some part of the festival - if only the opening fireworks display or the shortened (cheaper) "opera scenes". (Festival tickets now start at about €100.) Opera buffs love Wexford's weird mix of evening dress and informal meetings after the show with the cast in the pubs or the bar of White's Hotel over a convivial pint of the sponsor's brew - Guinness.

Wexford's mission lends itself to this special pro-am ethos. Almost since it started in 1951, every season has been an opera adventure, in which three works that are rarely otherwise performed (sometimes for good reason) are staged to a very high professional standard. Audience and cast share a we're-all-in-this-together feeling, an atmosphere Hynes successfully promoted by his ubiquity, high profile and accessibility to his audience as well as to company members.

This year's Wexford programme is typical: an obscure opera by Donizetti, Maria di Rohan, is followed by Fauré's Pénélope and Carlisle Floyd's Susannah, a 20th-century American piece in which the story of Susannah and the Elders is used as an allegory for McCarthyism.

In recent years there has been controversy about Wexford's use of non-Irish orchestras and choruses - the National Philharmonic of Belarus has played for a few seasons, and this year the orchestra is the Krakow Philharmonic of Poland. Soloists and the production team have always featured non-Irish artists, but nobody would deny that the bands and the choruses were imported because they were much cheaper. As recently as last February Hynes confirmed that using an Eastern European orchestra meant savings of €150,000. And, for the past six years, only one of 23 members of the production teams has been an Irish citizen.

This policy was encouraged by the former artistic director, Luigi Ferrari, who had come from the Pesaro Rossini Festival, and during his regnum the programme reflected his taste for Italian and late Romantic composers. Hynes was much concerned by this reliance on foreign labour and talent, and by headlines such as last February's "Rip-off Ireland has Reached the Opera House", and he was pleased that the new American artistic director, David Agler, was pledged to resolve this issue satisfactorily, as, said Hynes, "his job description includes engaging Irish artists".

Money was always Hynes's greatest challenge, for the 18-day Wexford Festival annually brings in €25m to the local economy, and, though the house is always 100 per cent full and tickets are not cheap, the box office provides only 40 per cent of the income needed.

People are always surprised that the Wexford Festival's base, the Theatre Royal, is in a small side-street in this small town, and Hynes and his board had big plans for improvements in addition to those made in 1987 that increased the number of seats by 25 per cent to 550, and the duration of the festival from 12 to a more economically viable 18 days. In the next few years Hynes planned to oversee enlarging the stage depth, the backstage area and the orchestra pit.

The small, jovial, verging on companionably plump Hynes was a familiar face in the audience of operas in London and at festivals both at home and abroad - he was a member of the advisory board of Arts from Ireland at the Kennedy Center in Washington. He served as a member of the International Festivals Association, and enjoyed being a judge for the Irish Times Theatre Awards. He did his share of local hard work, too, as a director and vice-president of the Wexford Chamber of Commerce.

In 2000 the Irish government appointed him to the board of the National Concert Hall, and in 2003 as a member and deputy chairman of An Chomhairle Ealaíon - the Arts Council of Ireland. He was a now a platinum-card-carrying member of Ireland's great and good, but the Irish-speaking Hynes got a special pleasure when earlier this year the Minister for the Arts chose him to chair a Special Committee on the Traditional Arts of Ireland.

Hynes died dramatically when he was making an announcement on the stage of the Theatre Royal and collapsed - five days after his 18th wedding anniversary and 12 days short of his 46th birthday.

Paul Levy