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

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Pagliacci for Everyman at Cork Midsummer Festival

The action of  the  Cork Midsummer Festival production of   Pagliacci begins outside the Everyman Palace Theatre on McCurtain Street  where the theatre goer runs a gauntlet  of  assorted carnival entertainers, stilt walkers, limbo dancers , tattooed ladies and the like. Cork Operatic Society has wholeheartedly embraced the ancient Roman formula for happy  audiences and their  2012 production of Leoncavello’s verismo masterpiece is a vibrant, gaudy carnival interweaving  circus elements, a Victorian Music Hall setting as well as excellent singing and acting.

 “Pagliacci” (translated as clowns or players) presents a play within a play, a tale of a tragedy in a traveling troupe of commedia dell’arte players rife with jealousy and lust. No surprise then that things don’t end well with not just one, but two on stage murders. In this production,  the opera is divorced  from its usual pairing with Cavalleria Rusticana  and was sung in the original Italian with English supertitles.

Director Michael Barker- Caven extends the stage into the space usually occupied by the front stalls. There is no stage curtain and as patrons enter the auditorium, the musicians in costume are reclined in various poses on an elaborate, red and gold   circular podium. Throughout Act 1, the musicians remain on stage moving around the action as they play from memory. Although heavily made up, I recognise the quartet led by Marja Gaynor from a John O Brien's production of Dido and Aeneas which had many stylistic similarities to tonight’s production. The scoring for the overture is reduced to piano and the smaller ensemble is expanded  to an ensemble of 30 or so players in Act 2, seated  in a theatrical balcony at the stage rear.

Leoncavello on the Lee
The five leading roles are well cast. The leader of the troupe, Canio, was sung by Trinidadian tenor, Ronald Samm whose burly stage presence and air of menace  gave credibility to Nedda’s  terror of his discovery of her unfaithfulness.  And yet his anguish in his concluding Act 1, “Vesti la giubba” was equally convincing, Samm was well matched by local soprano Cara O Sullivan, who aside from her superb vocal skills demonstrated considerable dramatic instinct in conveying the complexity of Nedda’s character.
 Her Act I aria, Stridono lassù in which she envies the freedom of the birds was set against an acrobatic rope sequence by one of the Cork Circus Troupe. Baritone, Simon Morgan as lover Silvio in nondescript costume was a handsome enough suitor but didn’t quite  convince me that Nedda would run away with him.
Brendan Collins
 Poor ‘ol lustful Tonio, the fool of the troupe of players  whose vengeful actions have drastic consequences was powerfully portrayed by baritone Brendan Collins who  opens the show appearing from behind  a curtain in a side stage box before delivering the opening prologue..
One of my favourite moments was David Burzotta  singing and acting in the commedia del arte  role of Arlecchino in Act I.I He best of all,  I think,  signalled  the shift from reality to the ‘play within a play’ scenario.
Cara O'Sullivan as Nedda

The chorus of townspeople were a  mix of all ages and further invaded the theatre bursting in from side entrances and surrounding the audience on all sides.
The programme notes were poor. Although very cheap at €2 , there was no plot synopsis for the opera virgins and it was impossible to read the print against the muted colour of the page.

 This was fast paced, highly entertaining production and a terrific collaboration by Cork Operatic
Society, Cork Circus, Barabbas, Everyman Palace Theatre and Cork Midsummer Festival, co-directed by Barker -Caven and John O'Brien
There was a spontaneous standing ovation from the Friday night audience and I hope it is sold out for the remainder of the run. Cork is fortunate to have an opera company presenting such as  innovative quality productions to entertain its citizens.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Love Live Music Day Ennis

Kilfenora Ceili Band
Soft rain  failed to dampen spirits yesterday as Ennis marked International Music Day with an open air gig in Abbey Street car park.  Titled 'Clare Connections',  and featuring a stellar line up. the musicians  including  heavyweights, , Lunasa , the Kilfenora Ceili Band, the Teetotalers, newcomers, Socks in the Frying Pan and our very own 'Darlin Girl from Clare' Maura O Connell who sang her hit  My Irish Molly at the finale.  History was made as Martin Hayes, long associated with the Tulla Ceili Band joined rivals from Kilfenora  for the last set of reels. This was music to set your feet dancing and while most of us contented ourselves with a bit of toe tapping and gentle swaying, a group of ladies burst into an umbrella dance, a variation of the Brush Dance.

The event was an initiative brought to fruition by a team of local business people and councillors. Bravo to Tracy Crawford of BallyO Promotions who coordinated the event. 

Article Clare Champion re event

Love Live Music Day 2011 Blazing Bows Live at the Plaza

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Ancient and Modern Orfeo at Theatre Royal Waterford

Golden Couple 

Theatre Royal Waterford
 Opera Theatre Company's latest production offered us a  modern take on the  strange and beguiling world of early Baroque opera .  The Greek myth of musical Orpheus and his  journey to the underworld to retrieve his beloved nymph Eurydice has kept composers busy for centuries but it is thought that no composer harnessed music to chart the emotional turbulence of young blighted love  better than Monteverdi. His Orfeo  is regarded as the first important work in the opera canon born in the Renaissance mindhives of the 17th century Florentine camerati .  Sadly there are resonances in current news headlines with the theme of happiness of young newly weds tragically  cut short in idyllic surroundings.
The historic Theatre Royal, Waterford seemed just the right sort of venue to hear a rare, ancient opera and the foyer was buzzing with anticipation on Saturday night as local aficionados,  critics and figures from the national theatre scene gathered for the opening night of the nationwide tour. This was quite the best dressed audience I have seen at the theatre in a while.

Sung in an English translation to the original libretto, the singers were accompanied by a seven piece period ensemble led by Andrew Synott.  I was intrigued by the sound of the cornettos  and the note of menace  evoked by the hurdy gurdy like regal.  The gentle sounds of the harp and theorbo were heard clearly with the musicians comfortably ensconsed in one of the exposed wings rather than the sunken pit.
The staging under director Ben Barnes was very interesting.  This was a youthful cast The golden couple looked radiant in the cream wedding attire but I was a bit baffled by the 'smart casual'  first act costumes. It seems that into each show some rain must fall  and the evoking of tears with a profusion of umbrellas and the emptying of a watering can on the prostrate  messenger wrung  giggles rather than tears from the back row of the balcony . Hades was a WW2 concentration camp and the journey back from the underworld was via art deco hotel elevator presided over by  baritone Padraic Rowan in natty red bell boy costume . There was a run on programmes in the interval as patrons brushed up on the mythic plotline. The programme notes were excellent with substantial articles on the context of the work in addition to the usual items.
There were several remarkable performances that stood out. American tenor, Oliver Mercer  in the title role was everything you would want in an Orpheus, a beautiful voice in a style quite different from a bravura tenor of the Romantic tradition.  Swedish contralto  Karolina Blixt was enthralling . Her low contralto tones reminiscent of Kathleen Ferrier were chilling as the Messenger , bearing bad tidings.  It was good to see Clare tenor, Peter O  Donohue another singer from Archie Simpson's stable in the cast and Ferghal Curtis was impressive  in the role of Apollo in his professional debut. The foyer ladies choice for best man though was American bass Matthew Trevino for  a powerful voice, great stage presence and real air of malevolence  about him  in the role of Pluto.  Irish sopranos Sadhbh Dennehy  as Musica and Eurydice, Daire Halpin as  Proserpina  completed the impressive cast.

Among the attendees were Professor  Eric Sweeney who conducted the Dublin premiere of Orfeo in 1974 when it was presented as part of Dublin Theatre Festival at Christchurch Cathedral  to great critical acclaim.

We very much enjoyed this  production and at €30 a head it was terrific value for a top class production in a beautiful venue. There was great sense of occasion and the evening concluded with a convivial reception in the foyer with the artists present to meet and greet. While there is much angst about the lack of an opera house in the capital, I am much more concerned that we continue to enjoy excellent touring productions  in the provinces in the many underused  arts centres around the country. Even if Baroque Opera is not your cup of tea, this production is very well done, worth seeing and deserves to be supported . Tour dates here 

My favourite moment from the opera.

Monteverdi, "Tu Se Morta" from 'L'Orfeo' from Jon Meredith on Vimeo.

OTC's staging was more understated in contrast  than the very Gothic one here with a baritone in the role

My review of Lismore Music Festival Barber of Seville

Opera Britania Review Orfeo

Monday, June 18, 2012

Pilgrms and Priests: Bloomsday at IEC2012

Irish Times photo Alan Betson Sr Gwen of the Discalced Carmelites

The last trip I made to the RDS  in 2010 was a pilgrimage of sorts to see an icon of the pop music world,  Paul McCartney, celebrating his 70 th birthday this week . I was propelled to make the expedition as  it seemed likely to be the last chance  to see the veteran Beatle (although given the proliferation of aging rock stars leaping around on a stage near you, I wouldn't be so sure about that.) At the time I vowed  it would be the last outdoor stadium event I would attend but much in the same spirit and given that thousands of overseas visitors had thought the event worth a trip to our rainy and windswept isle end, I travelled to the last day of the International Eucharistic Congress at the RDS in Dublin. The event held every four years was last held in Ireland in 1932, still in living memory for some.

 A  pricey €35  admitted one to the  days programme of talks, religious  services and exhibitions. First,  the stations of the display stands - nearly all with some sort of ecclesiastical bent. You could thumb through a rack of brightly coloured vestments, plan a pilgrimage holiday,  try out a church organ  and gen up on family planning (the Billings method, naturally!).  Dana and Liam Lawton were pedalling their records and potential postulants could check out the sandal shod Discalced Carmelites among the many stands extolling  religious life.

Abbot Mark  Hederman
Queue was the  key letter of the day. There was no central notice board of the events  but I was advised that whichever event I chose, queuing would be an essential part of the pilgrimage experience. Hall 2B was packed for Mark Hederman’s  Bloomsday talk on Ulysses.   Among the faces in the audience were Patsy McGarry of the Irish Times,  politician Pat Cox and musician Micheal O Suilleabháin.  I met Sr Sarah O Connor recently returned to Kerry from teaching in Peru and Noel Tierney of the Parnell Summer School. The Abbot of Glenstal Abbey gave quite a drole paper outlining liturgical resonances in  Ulysses with references to the tridentine language of the Mass in the iconic novel.  Joyce, we learned, drew parallels between the writing process and the liturgical Eucharist, 'converting the bread of life into something that has a permanent artistic life of its' own'.  Hederman had some interesting insights on word origins and  it seems even erudite monastic types like to use the odd willy joke. In answer to a query about the description of liturgical music in the novel, he had an amusing anecdote of his encounter  with the road rage prone New York cabbie de-stressing with Gregorian chant on the mean streets of the Big Apple. Unfortunately, the speaker had competition from the next hall and the audio overlap was disconcerting for audience but must have been doubly so for him.

Ennis Gospel Choir 
In the  Main Arena the  twin domed choirs with leaders in billowing white robes  were working hard at rousing a rather sodden congregation, Saturday's pilgrims having been unceremoniously baptised in a heavy shower. Although the stewards made an effort to consolidate the attendees in the central area, the dissipation  to the stands was inevitable. The music for the liturgy was a  good mix of chant, old and new settings of psalms, hymns  and featured much contemporary  Irish work.   Although the reluctance of Irish congregations to sing is often commented on , a  fair attempt was made by the crowd at singing the Congress anthem ‘Though We Are  Many’ but we were just too physically dispersed a congregation to create a satisfying sense of communal choral endeavour.  There was a strong sense of communal musical endeavour  however in the RDS Main Hall when Bernard Sexton's specially commissioned  hymn was reprised at the close of the St Agnes’ Community Orchestra  concert in the RDS Hall. The ensemble now after 5 years is  a 130 strong intergenerational ensemble .  School Principal Sr Bernadette Sweeney stated  her simple philosopy of equality of musical opportunity for all regardless of means and 'process being more important than product' . The Ode to Joy from Beethoven 9th symphony never sounded so powerful. Celebrating his 9th opus was singer, James Kilbane . The  Mayo based gospel singer had set up with his guitar outside the Veritas Book Stand and sang some tracks from his recently released album, Gravel and Grace which he tells me is getting a lot of airplay on local radio stations around the country.  

Back in the exhibition hall, I spoke  Sr Magdalena Fitzgibbon and Joe McKenna  about  plans to develope a cultural retreat centre at the magnificent Kylemore Abbey after  a long tradition of post primary education.  Finally, I  viewed an interesting exhibition of memorabilia on the 1932 congress in the RDS Library where I met Joseph Patrick Prunty  born in the year of 1932 .The Archbishop's archivist, (what a  poetic title) Noelle Dowling was busy greeting and signing a special commemorative programme of the 1932 event. 

St Agnes Community Orchestra 

Generally my impression was that Irish parish groups had not arrived by the bus load but in small parties. Call me a cheapskate but in principle, I was somewhat reluctant to pay an entrance fee when the main event is a religious service and I wonder to what extent this aspect influenced the many empty seats plain for all to see at the opening and evident too on the last day. I had sympathy with the sentiments expressed by Theo Hobson in a  Guardian article on the subject  of visiting St Paul's . '..: paying an entrance fee changes the nature of the visit. To pay is to make a tacit statement: that this is primarily a tourist-attraction, that its sacred function is secondary to this'  (In a related precedent, Kilkenny Arts Week in 2010 programmed a Mozart Mass performed in context and resolved this thorny matter  by suggesting a suitable  donation)

 My specific  interest was in the music chosen for the liturgies and I was impressed with the range and quality of the music chosen  over the week. Pat ODonoghue and Tomás Kenny made trojan efforts to marshall a congregational element and it would be good to see this policy carried on in to the parishes
While I can't say it was the most spiritually uplifting experience I've ever had, it was  an  interesting afternoon and while the men were sporting all the best frocks, there was a spirit of bonhomie in the  cross section  of national and international visitors to the capital.

Mr and Mrs Prunty in the Library

Musical Memorabilia 


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Jazz at Berts in The Merchant Belfast

By Guest Blogger John Hartery

Belfast has been working hard on its tourism potential and offerings for the visitor. We found another reason to go there.  What a thrill  to find on a Monday night a  late night jazz bar that is promoted as 
 'find yourself instantly transported back to the chic, intimate jazz bars of 1930s New York as you soak up the sophisticated atmosphere and let the cool jazz melodies wash over you'

It delivered on just that!  The bar is Berts which is the house bar of The Merchant Hotel in Skipper Street. 

Kevin & Scott
Seven nights a week there is live jazz  in a bar that is styled on the classic  New York music and dining combination and similar in ambition to Ronnie Scotts of London.  What a great addition to the live music scene in Belfast with great food too! When we visited we enjoyed the great vocals of Kevin Morrow accompanied by  the excellent Scott Flanigan on the piano. Over a two hour set we were treated to soft jazz standards from the duo. They  also play in the Burlington and Hampton hotels in Dublin.

A terrific venue,  excellent live entertainment and  great food.

John Hartery

Monday, June 4, 2012

Cool Blackwater Barber

Ah June- that magical  pre-exam time of sunshine and balmy evenings. Perfect for picnics  on the lawn and putting a tent up in the garden. So to Lismore Music Festival in the enchanting Blackwater Valley, Co Waterford for an evening of sparkling Rossini in the Castle Grounds.  Turning off the main road at Cahir, the drive  to Lismore through the Vee Valley in the Knockmealdown Mountains was magical with a clamour of purple rhodedendrons in full bloom lining the route .

With a relatively late start of 8.30 pm,  presumably to better facilitate the die-hard picnic brigade and to allow changing natural illumination, the festival  production of The  Barber of Seville commenced in the canopied disused stable yard in the grounds  of Lismore Castle.   The large cast was well chosen with petite Rosina, Pervin Chakar nicely matched by Almaviva played by Puerto Rican tenor Javier Abreu. Star of the show in the title role was  Limerick baritone,  Owen Gilhooly who commanded the stage in every respect from his hilarious arrival on baby blue vespa scooter even adding his own sympathetic guitar accompaniment  in the balcony serenade. Sandra Oman  almost stole some of scenes in her role of Berta, a  perky bar maid  and there was much slapstick jocularity particularly in the final scene before slimy Dr Bartolo (Damon Nestor Ploumis),  inevitably took a dive in the fountain at the finale. Other Irish singers included Gerard O Connor as Don Basilio and Mark Duff as Fiorillo. The device of having
Barber Gilhooly 
the recitatives in English with the arias sung in Italian worked very well and eliminated any hankering after surtitles. There was a very fine seven piece on stage instrumental ensemble led from the harpsichord by David Adams even if the outdoor acoustic was inevitably not too kind to strings.

I note that director Dieter Kaegi spent ten years at the Aix en Provence Festival helm and the experience had many elements in common with a visit to Theatre l'Archeveché , the existing structures of a historical building integrated into the open air set. Here the shabby stable doors  and courtyard fountain
Figaro's Vespa
perfectly evoked a provincial  town piazza. It differed  in one  respect however -the temperature.   Sadly it wasn't just the quality of the performances that sent shivers down our spines as Lismore Music Festival 2012  was not blessed with fine weather although the capacity Sunday night audience were spared the downpours that dampened  Saturday proceedings.

'Rossini' Cocktail du Jour 
at OBrien's Chop House

Maybe it was this aspect of the evening that reinforced my ambivalence about the al fresco opera experience. Opera in the Open in a Dublin Civic space appealed  to me because it made a daytime opera experience easily available and accessible to lots of people who wouldn't normally attend . With a surfeit of well appointed theatres  and  a defecit of events to fill them  in driving distance of Lismore, does it make sense to mount an expensive  production in an outdoor space heavily reliant on an aspect of the production you can't control,- the weather? While I  found this production to be thoroughly engaging and great fun with  fine ensemble singing and acting and some  remarkable individual performances , one couldn't say the evening was very comfortable. Opera began in the homes of the Florentine aristocracy but at Lismore, there was a sense that we could play in the garden but not in the house as no part of the tantalising  interior of the splendid  castle was open to us for any part of the evening apart from the entrance courtyard.

Nevertheless, the 2012 LMF production of The Barber of Seville was  one of  great flair and imagination and cast &crew fully deserved their standing ovation  from a full house at the close .Next year's production  is the Mozart's Magic Flute and the programme  is extended to include recitals at Salterbridge,  Cappoquin  and Tourin Houses.  I am looking forward to seeing LMF develop in this beautiful and under rated part of the country.
Stableyard Lismore

Courtyard  Aix en Provence

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Duke and Durcan at Listowel Writers' Week

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Sun Room Serenades

I spent a very pleasant afternoon entertaining patients in St Joseph's Ennis at the invitation of Staff Nurse Fiona Moran. The tea party took place in the lovely Sun Room. I was accompanied by Brian Flynn on guitar and tenor Tony Murray .  Among the party  were Kathleen and her family, including grandaughter Mathilda, harpist Maireid Slattery and her mother violinist Margaret Slattery .

Our selection included  Irish favourites  beginning with  The Lark in the Clear Air and finishing with Waltzing Mathilde dedicated to our youngest guest.   Numbers included ,  I'll Take You Home Again Kathleen, The Star of the County Down, Believe Me of All Those Endearing Young Charms and at the special request of an attendee at the 1932 IEC , Panis Angelicus and  a lovely rendition of  When You and I Were Young Maggie .  No jigs or reels today but some tunes from Fred Astaire films, Dancin Cheek to Cheek and A Fine Romance.  Thanks to Sarah for the fondant fancies.