You would not normally expect to see a venerable nonagenarian former singer and a much younger transgender one together on the stage of the National Concert Hall, but that’s what happened during the Verdi Gala by Lyric Opera on the 16th of May.
The concert was an early celebration of the 90th birthday of Dr. Veronica Dunne, or Ronnie, as she’s more affectionately known. Dunne – a patron of the opera company itself – has been a leading light in Irish opera for decades.
She came on stage towards the end of the concert to receive flowers and an affectionate address by artistic director Vivian J. Coates, after which followed a choral “Happy
birthday” from the standing audience and the singers on stage, including Lucia Lucas, a prominent American transgender baritone currently making her name in Europe.
The concert program was, to a degree, surprising and unconventional. It didn’t dig into the most blood stirring Verdi repertoire and instead invited the audience to savour some lesser known arias, together with more than a few orchestral pieces.
For example, from Nabucco we heard the Overture instead of the famous chorus with the same melody (“Va’ pensiero”), while from Il Trovatore the playful “Coro di Zingari” was chosen over the heart rending aria “Di quella pira”.
It was almost an exercise in self-constraint, as if the program didn’t want to dilute and short-sell the most powerful Verdi pieces. This choice certainly served to highlight both the excellent execution by the Lyric Opera Orchestra (directed by John Rigby) and the musical genius that Verdi was.
The singers all brought their own particular talents to the evening. Soprano Sinead Campbell Wallace impressed with her technical skill, especially in “Pace, pace, mio Dio” (La forza del destino), as well as for her beauty.
Tenor Marc Heller showed off his extremely pleasing, round and warm voice. Baritone Lucia Lucas confirmed – as in her performance in Madama Butterfly last February on the same stage – her ability to passionately dive into a role.
Her first entrance on stage may have left some surprised, with the baritone wearing a masculine tuxedo paired with a lacy top and high heels. But at the end of “Credo in un Dio crudel” (Otello), the audience celebrated her voice and interpretation with a big applause. Her execution of the aria was in fact one of the evening’s highlights, together with Macbeth’s chorus of witches and duet “Parigi o cara” from La Traviata.
But there was one out of tune note in the evening: this show was worthy of a Saturday night, which would have allowed a larger and more varied audience to fill the theatre, while the choice of a Tuesday was possibly due to financial constraints. If Verdi is not synonymous with opera tout court, he is certainly synonymous with what people most commonly associate with and love in opera: high pathos, unforgettable arias and music, archetypal human tragedies.
Hard as it is to believe, Lyric Opera, who do commendable work to deliver to Irish audiences staples of the classic operatic repertoire, do not receive any public funding. The responsibility to preserve and spread such a rich cultural heritage cannot be left on the shoulders of the Italian Cultural Institute in Dublin, which today is the main contributor to this opera company.
The concert was a great teaser for the upcoming Lyric Opera’s production of Verdi’s matchless work “La Traviata” on the 4th, 5th and 7th of November 2017 at the NCH. Write down those dates on your diary.