It is 70 years since the first staging of Wexford Festival Opera and opening night tonight sees a return to live performance after covid-19 restrictions pushed last year's event online.

Shakespeare in the Heart is the theme of the 2021 festival and one of this year's productions is I Capuleti e i Montecchi, a retelling of the bard's famous Romeo and Juliet tragedy, by 19th century composer Vincenzo Bellini.

That will have its first of four performances on Thursday afternoon, following tonight's opening night production of Edmea in the National Opera House.

Another major opera which will be enjoyed by audiences over the coming 13 days and nights is Le Songe d'Une Nuit d'Ete whose story draws on the life of William Shakespeare; Ein Wintermarchen and The 47th Saturday.

"Having people back, having the audience back and feeling the energy of the audience is fantastic."

Then there are lunchtime recitals, a gala concert on Sunday night; the Dr Tom Walsh lecture on Friday of next week featuring Colm Tóibín; interviews and other pop-up events.

Artistic director is Rosetta Cucchi who took over from David Agler following the 2019 festival but had to direct most of the material online last year.

"Eighteen months has passed since I was appointed artistic director and last year was still a festival, in a very challenging time, but we did it," she said.

Artistic director Rosetta Cucchi said last year's festival was held in 'a very challenging time'

"We enjoyed that festival but, now, having people back, having the audience back and feeling the energy of the audience is fantastic."

Audiences will be at 60% capacity this year, described as "a good number" by Rosetta, with everyone being kept safe, socially distant, and wearing masks throughout the performances. "This is a safe place, this is a place where we look after safety.

"It's emotional, I tell you, it's really emotional," she said of the return to live performance. "Everybody: artists, creative teams, technicians, everybody is so willing to go. This is our feeling today, everybody is ready to go, so go."

There are many reminders around the opera house of the 70-year history of this world-famous event, as well as volunteers who have been there for many, or some, of those years.

Sandra Harris moved to Wexford from Dublin several years ago and got involved as a way of immersing herself in the community.

Volunteer Sandra Harris said she loves the feeling of walking in to the opera house

"There's such a good team and it's such good fun. You get to meet people from all walks of life that you would never have met before. I'm not an opera buff or anything, I don't know a lot about it but I know what music I enjoy and I know I enjoy listening to it.

When you walk in [to the opera house] it looks like it's just part of the street. But it just keeps opening and opening and opening. I love that part of it, I love the feeling of walking in and everybody in their finery and everything. I love that."

Peter Hussey was "volunteered" when he took over as manager of White's Hotel in 1977 and found that linking up with the festival was seen as part of the job. He has since been a type of liaison officer between the hospitality sector and the festival; a driver; a front of house manager; among other roles.

"I eventually lived across the road from the hotel, the chairman of the festival lived on the other side directly opposite me and the founder lived around the corner. So I was living on what is known in Wexford as the "cultural spine" of Wexford.

"Rather than brief me on who our most important [hotel] customers might be, I got a very long briefing on the subject of the Wexford opera festival which, in the minds of my new employers, seemed to be more important than how many tour coaches we might have coming."

Faces such as this will be out and about over the rest of the month as the festival proceeds until closing night on 31 October with the last production of Edmea.