Andrew Synnott’s and Arthur Riordan’s Dubliners is a masterclass in stage adaptation, with a sense of the theatre not always seen in opera productions. That’s, on one hand, the experienced touch of theatre director Annabelle Comyn, helped by excellent costumes, set and lighting design.

The libretto by Arthur Riordan, in turn, exudes intelligence, wit and refinement. The Irish subject gets here stressed by some vernacular inflections (like “Jaysus” or “me” instead of “my”). Riordan’s philological – often literal – approach to Joyce’s text finds a creative twist in his ingenious metaphors and puns (“Her people were butchers by trade./She knows where a cut must be made” or Polly that was “a typist for a spell”).

But all the liberties he takes with the source material are incredibly measured and never stray from the essence of the story. Last but not least, Riordan – admirably for a playwright – tries very hard to use poetry rather than prose, if not by creating perfectly accented hendecasyllables, at least by using regular rhyming and roughly same-length verses.

Andrew Synnotts’s score, written for piano and four strings, aptly conveys the feelings of the two stories: frustration and anger for “Counterparts”, social anxieties with touches of romance for “The Boarding House”. The coupling of piano and cello in some passages is distinctively modern.

All of the young singers in the cast played their part well. Cormac Lawlor gave his acting best as Farrington. Emma Nash brought to three-dimensional life all the roles she covered, Polly in particular. The use of mezzo-soprano Anna Jeffers in a trousers role (in “Counterparts”) for a contemporary opera was slightly confusing, but she was brilliant in the part of the scheming mother in “The boarding House”. David Howes enriched the role of Jack with his warm timbre and his natural acting skills.    

I have only one remark. I don’t want to sound old fashioned, but is it anachronistic to expect a clear succession of recitatives and arias in contemporary operas? I’ll leave out the question of the self-sufficient, striking beauty of a single aria. Nonetheless, I’ll keep looking for both, trustingly, in future works.

“Dubliners” is a co-production of Opera Theatre Company and Wexford Festival Opera.

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