“Il Bravo” review, Wexford Festival Opera, 21/10/18.

Extract of my review published on Bachtrack.com on 23/10/18.

If you happened to listen to Mercadante’s Il bravo blindly, you could almost swear you were listening to some unknown Verdi opera; except that Verdi’s first opera, Oberto, was only going to appear eight months later, while this was already Mercadante’s 44th opera! This is the sixth of the canon to be rediscovered at Wexford Festival Opera over the past twenty years, and one can easily understand why this is.

Director Renault Doucet goes for a split kind of staging… (continue reading on backtrack.com).

 

“Dinner at Eight” review, Wexford Festival Opera, 20/10/18.

Extract of my review published on Bachtrack.com on 22/10/18.

Dinner at EightWilliam Bolcom and librettist Mark Campbell’s 2017 opera, had its European première at Wexford Festival Opera on Saturday under conductor David Agler. The opera is based on the 1932 play by George S Kaufman and Edna Ferber, in turn adapted into a movie by George Cukor (1933). Set in American Depression New York, Millicent Jordan (Mary Dunleavy) is organising a society dinner for a couple from the English aristocracy… (continue reading on Backtrack.com).

“Bluebeard’s Castle” review, Gaiety Theatre, 12/10/18.

Extract of review published on Bachtrack.com on 15/10/18.

Béla Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle takes its inspiration from Charles Perrault’s fairytale; but while the original resembles more closely an actual horror story, with various potential moral interpretations (the atavic punishment of female curiosity and transgression, the discovery of truth and the loss of innocence, etc.), the opera navigates a more subtle and symbolic ground. It is this fundamental difference that director Enda Walsh seems to bypass in this production for Irish National Opera… (continue reading on Backtrack.com).

“The Tales of Hoffmann” review, O’Reilly Theatre, 14/9/2018.

Extract of review published on Bachtrack.com on 16/9/18.

By its very nature of opéra fantastique, Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann seemingly lends itself to diverse and imaginative staging possibilities. And yet, the challenge for a director is that of keeping the essence of the – very peculiar – story intact. Director Tom Creed is used to this challenge and I remember fondly his very successful transposition last year of Handel’s Acis and Galatea. Manipulating Offenbach, though, proves slightly more problematic… (continue reading on Bachtrack.com).

“Theodora”, Christ Church Cathedral, 8/4/18 – Review

“Theodora”, Christ Church Cathedral, 8/4/18 – Review

After attending the performance of Handel’s oratorio Theodora at Christ Church Cathedral, I can’t help quoting Dick O’Riordan’s words about the recent RIAM’s production of a Monteverdi’s opera (Il ballo delle ingrate): Theodora, too, “displayed once again what marvellous seams of musical gold and operatic nuggets continue to be mined from that era.”

A collaboration between the vocal ensemble Sestina Music and Irish Baroque Orchestra, the oratorio was presented in a staged version and set in contemporary times. Leaving aside the superfluous need to try and bring closer to us anything that in opera feels ‘old’, as well as the questionable but popular habit of dramatising the overture, the performance was superb.

The story tells of the Christian Theodora resisting the Romans’ order to worship the pagan gods, and of the converted Didimus, in love with her, ending up sacrificing his life together with Theodora in the vain attempt to save hers.

The young singers impressed. Countertenor Joseph Zubier as Didimus showed excellent singing and a promising voice. Peter Harris, as the compassionate Roman soldier Septimius, sang with conviction and control and displayed an alluring tenor voice. Bass Aaron O’Hare was a fitting Valens, the cruel officer.

Outstanding in the role of Theodora was Charlotte Trepress: her broad ranging soprano was always richly expressive and beautifully modulated, her performance culminating in the exquisite aria “Oh, that I on wings could rise”. The chorus was equally impressive. Conducted by Mark Chambers, finally, Irish Baroque Orchestra’s performance was as divine as Handel’s score.

If listening to Theodora alone, one could have a particularly hard time understanding all the blame thrown in the past on baroque music: superficial, overly ornamental and disjointed from reality. The infinitely intelligent writing of this work shows that ornamentation is not, necessarily, the opposite of substance.

 

Tosca – Bord Gais Energy Theatre, 14/3/18 – Review

Review first published on Nomoreworkhorse.com on 16/3/18.

As the one and only European capital without a dedicated opera house, there’s an element of novelty and treat that must be unique to Dublin audiences in going to the opera in a big, beautiful theatre. So attending Tosca – one of the pillars of the operatic repertoire as well as one of the most visceral operas ever written – in the shiny, contemporary frame of the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre was something I was really looking forward to. Nor was the enchantment broken at the opening of the huge red velvet curtains.

The production, by St. Petersburg’s Mikhailovsky Opera and International Leisure and Arts, is a gloriously traditional one and we are treated to a visual feast of lavish costumes and stunning sets. The opera’s locations of Sant’Andrea della Valle, the interior of Palazzo Farnese and the rooftop of Castel Sant’Angelo are spectacularly recreated on stage by the means of realistic marble columns, checkered floors, heavy curtains, shiny chandeliers and impressive lighting design; the whole effect amplified by the generous proportions of the stage.

The standard of singing wasn’t, however, quite in par with the visual element of the production. Tenor Fyodor Ataskevich seemed quite attuned to the role of Tosca’s lover, Cavaradossi; but his singing was uneven and the high pitches required in the main arias weren’t handled very strongly.

Baritone Alexander Kuznetsov, as the evil chief of police Scarpia, distinguished himself for the most correct Italian pronunciation among the cast. On the other hand he lacked the impetus of this very distinctive character, with his voice remaining rather atonic for most of the performance, exception made for some rare moments during the famous duet with Tosca in the second act.

Celine Byrne is gifted with one of the most beautiful voices among Irish sopranos; her tone has a sensuous and velvety depth that lingers in your memory. “Vissi d’arte” was the perfect showcase aria for her natural talent and was splendidly performed, being by far the highlight of the evening. However, her acting during most of the opera left something to be desired and her recitatives weren’t compelling enough to be fully believable. The second act was her best one.

With the aforementioned exception of Scarpia, incorrect Italian pronunciation was a widespread and recurrent issue among the singers. Even if you are not a native speaker, as an opera lover you are bound to learn some of the most famous arias by heart, and hearing any straying from the original can prove disturbing.

Under the direction of Mikhail Tatarnikov, The National Symphony Orchestra execution was – naturally – impeccable and Puccini’s score worked its usual charm, particularly in the third act. I personally found the tempi of both love duets (in the first and third act) unbearably phlegmatic. This was exacerbated by the uncertainty of the tenor in the Italian pronunciation, particularly in a passage of the duet in the third act, where the addition of a syllable in a verse (“Amaro sol[o] per te m’era il morire”) visibly jumbled the flow of the singing.

Here’s the thing: no visual embellishment can make us forget that the essence of opera is in the singing. We can use as a litmus test the following: would we be moved if we saw the same singers in a shabby room wearing ordinary clothes? If the answer is yes, then we’ll be sure we are witnessing great opera.

Here’s hoping that such a beautiful theatre will be more regularly filled with opera, and with productions that can successfully balance the singing and the staging.

RIAM’s La finta giardiniera, Beckett Theatre, 16/1/18 – Review

RIAM’s La finta giardiniera, Beckett Theatre, 16/1/18 – Review

I confess: I went to La finta Giardiniera at the Beckett Theatre for Mozart’s music. It was a students’ show, yes, but you can’t have everything. Little I knew I was in for a treat.

The production presented promising students from RIAM, and was made in collaboration with IADT students for hair and make up, while the creative team was a professional one.

La finta giardiniera makes for an instantly captivating listening, like a succession of pop songs from the eighteenth century. The score contains in nuce Mozart’s genius, while the libretto is full to the brim with facetious rhymes.

I disagree with William Mann’s dismissive opinion of the libretto (“feeble, stereotyped and […] incompetent”) as a distinction needs to be made between the plot and the verses. On the thin canvas of the ludicrous plot, the libretto manages to paint all the painful shades of unreciprocated love: jealousy, desire, madness, although in a formally comic guise. What’s more, the Italian verses of the libretto are moulded with exceeding metrical skill.

Veteran director Ben Barnes did a dazzling job in adapting this work. Both the directorial choices and the movement director’s (Libby Seward) ones were spotless, bringing out and magnifying the surreal nature of divertissement of this opera. On the other hand, the English of the surtitles could have been more literally faithful to the original.

Conductor Andrew Synnott drew out of the students’ orchestra a very enjoyable rendition of the score, particularly energetic in the aria of playfully metatheatrical flavour “Dentro il mio petto io sento”, sung with confidence by Vladimir Sima.

Clodagh Kinsella was a perfect Sandrina, with great stage presence, good acting and an interesting colour to her voice. James McCreanor displayed a sweet Mozart tenor voice. Eimear McCarthy Luddy was a very good Ramira, in an untangling of the trousers role’s ambiguity where the original “Ramiro” becomes the gay suitor of Arminda. Dylan Rooney (Nardo) boasted a deep baritone voice.  

Both Corina Ignat (Arminda) and Ecaterina Tulgara (Serpetta) demonstrated striking acting  and astounding vocal control, with the second one leaving a particularly strong impression in my mind.

*Picture: Vladimir Sima, James McCreanor, Corina Ignat, Ecaterina Tulgara and Dylan Rooney in RIAM’s “La finta giardiniera”. Photo by Colm Hogan.