Music and Reviews from Clare, Limerick, Waterford and sometimes further afield

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Opera in Concert: Tosca in Cork ; The Veiled Prophet in Wexford

Tosca at Cork Opera House
Opera in concert has a lot to recommend it. Production costs tumble without the expense of sets, costumes  and with less rehearsal time.   If the music is gloriously played and sung, there is still plenty to thrill. Both of the nations designated opera houses presented successful concert performances last week.

Cork Opera House completed their 2019 Opera Concert series with a production of Puccini's Tosca.  Without the benefit of theatrical spectacle, the opera depends on the strength of the central performers. Producer Aisling Fitzgerald assembled an impressive cast led by Cork's own Majella Cullagh. All three leads projected convincing characters pushing beyond the confines of the format. Making her role debut, Cullagh was a fabulous Tosca, every inch the on-stage diva.  American tenor Michael Wade-Lee was splendid as Cavaradossi. (I last saw this tenor in a strange production of Carmen when many patrons might well have opted instead for a concert version.)* English baritone, Julian Tovey projected a rather suave Scarpia, 'a smiling demon' rather than a pantomime villain. Seated on stage behind the cast, the orchestra conducted by John O' Brien gave wonderful support. The darker timbres of viola and cello were to the fore there was super work from wind principals.

The choristers  of St Fin Barre's Cathedral clad in red cassocks and ruffs made a striking visual impact as well as  an authentic church choir sound and the act I Te Deum was a highlight.
The capacity house loved it and there was long ans sustained applause and quite a few on their feet. The loudest cheers were for Majella Cullagh. The party continued afterwards in the bar where spirits were high as artists and patrons mingled to discuss the evening's performance. Hurrah too for two intervals. It was good to have a breather after each act.

The Veiled Prophet at Wexford Opera House

Wexford Festival with Una Hunt's Heritage Music Productions presented a concert performance of an opera by CV Stanford on the main stage of Wexford Opera House. Here is an extract from the programme.

"The Veiled Prophet by Irish composer Charles Villiers Stanford is based on Irish poet and songwriter Thomas Moore's most famous poetic romance Lalla Rookh. The opera is set in the Merou and the Prophet's Palace in Persia and the title is taken from the name of the heroine of the story, the daughter of the 17th-century Mughal emperor Aurangzeb.

Very few professional performances have been given of Irish composer Charles Villiers Stanford’s operas in the last century. Stanford was a prolific opera composer, much more interested in the lyric stage than most of his contemporaries in Britain (his career was largely divided between Cambridge and London). But recognising the hopelessness of pursuing an operatic career at home, he turned to Germany – he had studied with Reinecke in Leipzig in the 1870s – and it was in Hanover that the first of his ten operas, The Veiled Prophet of Khorassan, was premiered in 1881. Given there as Der verschleierte Prophet, it had been translated again as Il profeta velato by the time it reached Covent Garden."

The standout aspect of the production was the chorus (prepared by Errol Girdlestone in his final Wexford engagement)  who filled the stage in Act 1 and 3 The Wexford chorus augmented by a Dublin Conservatoire Chorus did Stanford's choral writing justice. In Act 2 soloists were to the fore and there was much to admire in the performances and the score. I didn't however get a sense of the intrigue of the plot and all the characters seemed indistinguishable to me. I met members of a Stanford Society, a fan club based in the UK who were there in force and clearly delighted with the afternoon's entertainment. I enjoyed it and look forward to listening to the broadcast on RTE Lyric FM on November 9th. The broadcast will be available to listen back.

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