The Big Bang! – Concert review (9/1/18)

The Big Bang! – Concert review (9/1/18)

This is an extract of my review published on Bachtrack:

The biggest stigma associated with opera in Ireland is not that it is an elitist art form, but that it is not “Irish”, and that is doesn’t belong to Irish culture, more of a recent import, like pasta, or avocado. This is, of course, not true and can be proven wrong in a number of ways, from noting the names of internationally renowned 19th- and 20th-century Irish opera composers and singers, to the fact that major European operas have had an audience in Ireland for at least the past couple of centuries.

Whatever one may believe, the launch of Irish National Opera on Tuesday tells us one thing for sure: opera has a bright future in Ireland. Continue reading on Bachtrack.

IRISH NATIONAL OPERA 2018 PROGRAMME

Thomas Adès’s Powder Her Face
Irish National Opera will open its first season on Saturday 24 February 24th 2018 with leading contemporary composer Thomas Adès’s darkly comic, sexually-charged chamber opera, Powder Her Face. This pioneering work by one of the key compositional voices of our time will be seen in a co- production with NI Opera.

Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro
The company’s first full-scale production will be Mozart’s comic masterpiece The Marriage of Figaro, directed by Patrick Mason. The title role is sung by the New Zealand-born Samoan baritone Jonathan Lemalu with mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught as Susanna, the object of his desire. Erraught returns to Ireland fresh from her acclaimed 2017 debut at New York’s Metropolitan Opera. The Marriage of Figaro will be seen at the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin, and the National Opera House, Wexford, from Friday 13 April.

Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice
Irish National Opera presents Gluck’s moving telling of the myth of the great musician Orfeo rescuing his wife Euridice from the Underworld in association with Galway International Arts Festival from Monday 23 July, in co-production with United Fall. The stylish mezzo soprano Sharon Carty stars in a production directed by leading dance theatre director Emma Martin.

Donnacha Dennehy and Enda Walsh’s The Second Violinist
Irish National Opera will takes its award-winning production of Donnacha Dennehy’s The Second Violinist — a co-production with Landmark Productions, written and directed by Enda Walsh — to London’s Barbican Centre for three nights from Thursday 6 September.

You can read my review of this production here.

Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann
The company’s new chamber version of Offenbach’s opéra fantastique The Tales of Hoffmann — an operatic take on the weird and wonderful Gothic world of German writer ETA Hoffmann — will tour to ten venues across the country from Friday 14 September. Soprano Claudia Boyle will be returning home to Ireland for the production fresh from the Salzburg Festival, where she is singing in Hans Werner Henze’s The Bassarids. Tom Creed directs.

Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle
Irish National Opera opens its first partnership with the Dublin Theatre Festival on Friday 12 October, in a presentation of Hungarian composer Béla Bartók’s operatic masterpiece, the broodingBluebeard’s Castle. It is directed by Enda Walsh who will, for the first time, direct an opera from the existing repertoire.

Verdi’s Aida
Irish National Opera last offering of 2018 opens on Saturday 24 November. It is an epic production in Dublin’s largest theatre, the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, of Verdi’s most spectacular opera, Aida. The powerful Dublin soprano Orla Boylan stars in the title role, and the production is directed by Michael Barker-Caven.

 

For more details on Irish National Opera 2018 programme and to buy tickets check www.irishnationalopera.ie

Spectacular Strauss from Nathalie Stutzmann and the RTÉ NSO

Extract of my review published on Bachtrack.com on 4/12/17.

Two contraltos in one room is a high concentration of contraltos; except that one of them appeared in the role of conductor. Recently appointed RTÉ Principal Guest Conductor, Nathalie Stutzmann directed two very different works spinning around the theme of death and the peace found through it by men: Richard Strauss’ Tod und Verklärung (Death and Transfiguration) and Mozart’s Requiem.

The program juxtaposed just about opposite ends of the musical spectrum: the impure, modern, descriptive music of a tone poem versus the purity of the most classical of composers…  Continue reading on Bachtrack.

Dubliners, Samuel Becket Theatre, 9/11/17 – Review

Dubliners, Samuel Becket Theatre, 9/11/17 – Review

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.

La Traviata, National Concert Hall, 4/11/17 – Review

“I honestly do not have much appetite for reimagining classical masterpieces […]. Too much opera is juggled around needlessly” declared Lyric Opera’s artistic director Vivian Coates in an interview. In the production of La Traviata staged at the NCH he remained true to this and, even though the costumes belong to the 20th rather than the 19th century, this is in fact a substantially classic take on the work.

But the pitfalls of staging such a well known and well loved opera are plentiful, even with a traditional production. Too many great recordings fill your ears. What seems like a safe bet – the choice of possibly the most popular among popular operas – can easily become a minefield when it comes to pleasing the audience.

La Traviata is pure operatic dynamite; but it still needs ignition. For the whole first act the wick would stubbornly not be lightened. All of the visual and vocal elements mysteriously compounded in a lukewarm result.

Luckily things picked up right from the start of the second act (“Lunge da lei per me non v’ha diletto!”) and then with the entrance of Charles Johnston as Giorgio Germont. The party scene – specular to the one in the first act – was a highlight. Here everything worked very well: the now sensibly monochrome costumes (as opposite to the multicoloured ones in the first act), the excellently executed chorus “Noi siamo zingarelle”, the more convincing scene between Violetta and Alfredo and the vehement chorus “Oh, infamia orribile tu commettesti!”. The third act was equally good and truly moving, and passed the melted-mascara test.

What about Violetta? Having listened for the first time to Claudia Boyle in a concert last July in Castletown House, I was delighted to hear that she was going to play in La Traviata (this is actually not her first time with Lyric Opera) and I had quite high expectations. The program of that concert was very varied, ranging from opera arias, to Schubert’s songs, to musical. Accompanied by the piano, she was excellent in every single piece. I was smitten by her voice, her vocal control, her acting abilities and her grace. She also sang on that occasion the long recitative and aria “E’ strano, e’ strano” and she left a very good impression.

I was therefore a bit taken aback by the different impression I had watching her singing in the whole opera and with an orchestra last Saturday. She certainly possesses a complete control of her instrument and displays effortless high pitches and brilliant coloratura; but, I believe, she lacks the dramatic weight and darker colour required by this – agreed, impossibly demanding – role.

On the other hand, even one of her distinctive features, her acting ability, here seemed to play against her: possibly the result of directorial choices, her performance felt, overall, between the overacted and the perfunctory. She is a great singer, no shadow of a doubt about it. But, to me, she was not Violetta for most of the night. That said, she sang a convincing “Addio, del passato”, her evening highlight for me.

Quite committed, in the role of Alfredo, seemed tenor Alexander James Edward, with his alluring warm timbre. At least two voices stood out among the secondary roles: first of all the rich mezzo of Mihaela Lorendana Chirvase as Flora, and then the bass-baritone of Matthew Mannion as Marchese D’Obigny. Who stole the show was Charles Johnston as Giorgio Germont, his strong Verdi baritone perfectly fulfilling the role and leaving almost nothing to be desired.

The reliable RTE Concert Orchestra was smartly directed by Timothy Burke, like shown, for instance, in the quietly played, heartrending but treacherous “Amami Alfredo” bit. The prelude to the third act felt very delicate but fell slightly flat, as if the ever soft strings conveyed the sadness of the approaching death but lacked the remaining emotional undertones in the score: the sudden joy, the short, untimely resurgence of hope, its final, tragic vanishing.

With any flaw the production may have had, it was an overall good show and we should not forget that, if it wasn’t for Lyric Opera and the passionate commitment of Vivian Coates, Dublin audiences could not experience a traditional, local production of a mainstream opera like La Traviata, and we should therefore be grateful for that.

Rigoletto, Wexford Festival Opera, 22/10/17 – Review

Extract of my review published on Bachtrack on 25/10/17.

As well as fully staging each year three rare or forgotten works at the National Opera House, Wexford Festival Opera also has a series called “ShortWorks”, matinée shows held at the Clayton Whites Hotel that include either rare one act operas or shortened versions of standard length, mainstream operas. Even in a festival like Wexford’s, you cannot resist the attraction of a beloved opera that you know by heart. These shows have generally only piano accompaniment. Surtitles are provided, but don’t sit at the far sides of the room or you won’t be able to see them! Continue reading on Bachtrack.

Risurrezione, Wexford Festival Opera, 21/10/17 – Review

Extract of my review published on Bachtrack on 23/10/17.

Franco Alfano’s name is inextricably linked to that of Puccini, as he’s mostly remembered for completing the unfinished score of Turandot, and has overshadowed his own operas. Composed in 1903, Risurrezione was first performed in November 1904, nine months after the première of Madama Butterfly. The subject is taken from the last of Tolstoy’s novels by the same title (“Resurrection”) and is loosely adapted in the libretto, which skims most of the moral tribulations of the protagonist Prince Dimitri to focus on the more classic, personal drama of the seduced-and-abandoned ingénue. So far so Madama Butterfly. Continue reading on Backtrack.

“Eithne” Review, National Concert Hall, Dublin 14/10/17

“Eithne” Review, National Concert Hall, Dublin 14/10/17

As much as Festivals like Wexford’s have accustomed us to forgotten operatic works, an Irish opera with a libretto in Irish was something practically unheard of. Eithne, composed in 1909 by Robert O’Dwyer on libretto by Tomás Ó Ceallaigh, is the first opera written in Irish, and was born as part of the Irish language revival between late 19th century and early 20th century. The score went lost for more than one hundred years, and finally rediscovered in 2012. Opera Theatre Company, with a great research input by baritone Gavan Ring, brought back to life this work on the 14th of October at the National Concert Hall.

Gavan Fergus
Baritone Gavan Ring and conductor Fergus Sheil. Photo by Ros Kavanagh.

The untold fear about this resurrection was that the opera would hold little more than a historic significance, and would be of special interest only for Irish speakers and Irish language enthusiasts. But this was absolutely not the case.

The subject of the opera is, fittingly, a mythological one and revolves around various family wrangles and a spell to be broken by love. Given the plot’s substantial staticity, the choice of having a concert performance rather than a full staging was probably a good one. But while the plot is quite flimsy and would easily alienate a modern audience, the beautiful words in the libretto (English subtitles were very helpful here!) bring the story much closer to us. If you then scratch the surface of any myth, you will always find universal human stories and feelings: in this case, siblings’s rivalry, treachery and virtue, anger and forgiveness, love longed for and finally found.

Musically, the score follows the trail of late 19th century music and is much closer to the German rather than to the Italian style. Although there were some very beautiful soloist parts, like Nuala’s aria in the first act (”When the sky is hidden by cloud”), or Cert’s one in the second act (“For years throughout my youth”), it’s the powerful choruses that always stole the scene, when galloping at full throttle together with the orchestra.

Imelda Brendan Eamonn
Mezzo-soprano Imelda Drumm, baritone Brendan Collins and tenor Eamon Mulhall. Photo by Ros Kavanagh.

As for the cast and the performance, there was no sparing of talent, nor energy. Some of the best Irish singers, both younger and more established, were present in the evening. Renowned soprano Orla Boylan was Eithne while Gavan Ring was the High King of Ireland. This low baritone’s role was possibly stretching a bit Ring’s higher tessitura, but nonetheless you could sense his pleasure in being there as the soul of the show.

Robin Tritschler (as Eithne’s lover Cert) gave a stunning performance and delighted with his exquisite lyric tenor voice. Mezzo-soprano Imelda Drumm’s voice left a lasting impression in the role of Nuala, and one would hope to see more of her on stage. Very familiar on Irish stages, bass John Molloy was a reliable choice for the role of the giant, and his entrance in the second act shook the air with his vocal and acting energy. Given the limited scope of the roles, you could not perhaps fully appreciate here two very fine singers, tenor Eamon Mulhall and baritone Brendan Collins (respectively the brothers Neart and Art).

John Molloy & Robin Tritschler
Bass John Molloy and tenor Robin Tritschler. Photo by Ros Kavanagh.

The OTC chorus was outstanding throughout. Although you cannot identify individual singers’ voices in a chorus, this can never be more than the sum of its parts, and I was not surprised of spotting in it fine young singers like soprano Kelley Lonergan and mezzo Eimear McCarty Luddy. Finally, the National Symphony Orchestra was in gleaming form under conductor Fergus Sheil.

And what about Irish as a language for opera? It did work; although, as this ‘experiment’ demonstrates, as long as great music is present – like it was in this case – the libretto is secondary. Of course, for those who understand Irish, experiencing an opera sung in Irish must have been something quite unique and rewarding.