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

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Allegiance: a play by Mary Kenny

By Guest Blogger John Hartery

The Mary Kenny play Allegiance by Sásta Productions completed a two-night run at Garter Lane Waterford last evening as part of a nationwide tour.
The work is based on an  imagined evening as Winston Churchill and Michael Collins meet in the drawing room of the Englishman's Hyde Park home. The meeting is set during the 1921 London talks when   Collins and Arthur Griffiths were sent  to represent Ireland in talks with the British Government. Scholars have pointed to De Valera absenting himself from the talks as a sign that he foresaw the inevitable outcome of partition.

The two characters are played, interestingly, by a father and son. Rory Moran Snr as the rotund Churchill and Rory Moran Jnr as Collins fresh from having a price on his head as he was pursued by the the Black  Tans.

Over the course of the evening the two drink a lot, and trade arguments about Irish history and the Empire. They rarely touch on the detail or content of the negotiations bar the deadlocked items  of The Oath of Allegiance and Ulster. The play is directed by Jason Byrne.

The Collins character in the play is one that is well-rounded and comfortable in an environment where he is alone and verbally sparring historical facts and and arguing successfully with a government minister. The Churchill character is well informed on Irish matters reflecting his time spent as a youngster in Dublin - he lived in Little Lodge in Phoenix Park, the house next door to the Viceregal Lodge where his grandfather, John Winston Spencer Churchill was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Here's an interesting radio documentary on that period . The character we saw was a gentle man softened by the recent death of his young daughter  and not the implacable war leader that emerged a few decades later.

The humourless play lacked a degree of sublety that would be normal in a negotiation environment. There was little nuance that hints at concession of a negotiating position or one of the protagonists signalling a middle ground. Churchill led an extraordinary life and touched on a huge range of historical events. There was little in the Kenny's play that suggested why. Instead, he was drawn as a foil  that  constantly conceded to Collins' points

The conclusion was rushed and our history was sorted out in a few seconds.

Good acting, good production but not convinced by the script.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Celebrating Waterford's Architectural and Spiritual Heritage

photo from www.igs,ie 
Event post on Irish Georgian Society

Waterford is unique apparently in having two cathedrals designed by then same architect, John Roberts. This weekend under the auspices of the Irish Georgian Society, there will be talks by eminent historian Julian Walton at both venues and morning and evening sung services following the 18th century liturgies.  Full schedule on link above to Irish Georgian Society website. 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Cathy's Reviews Ten Blue Ribbon Events of 2013

The New Year Bells have rung, the fireworks have popped and it is out with the old and in with the new. 2014 has rolled in amid extreme weather and turbulence in the arts politics interface in the Limerick City of Culture debacle. So it is past time to sift through the  memories  to savour some of the best moments and give a last burst of virtual applause to the artists that brightened our experiences over the last year. Here are my top ten arts experiences  for 2013.  Click on highlighted text to read the related post.

Best Opera: Again it was the grand set pieces of the opera stage that spring to mind as offering the biggest wow factor. The baroque splendor of Dresden Opera House was the star setting for a  production of Puccini's Manon Lescaut , the first production with acclaimed German conductor Christian Thieleman at the helm. Closer to home, Cork Operatic Society produced something extraordinary, magical even, in their enchanting production of Gluck's Orpheus and Eurydice. In the centenary year of Benjamin Britten,  a highly charged Proms performance of a  Glyndebourne production of Billy Budd was thrilling with roles for Irish singers Dean Power, Padraic Rowan amd Brendan Collins and a more spartan production of Curlew River by Opera Nova  was an intense experience in an austere St Johns Smith Square with Limerick baritone Owen Gilhooly excelling in the role of Ferryman. Wexford Opera Festival unearthed some gems , of which a work by Verdi contemporary, Foroni was the most impressive.  I enjoyed reporting on the festival for the Irish Examiner and you can read my roundup here. Cathy's Reviews' Pick of 2013 was the elegant and sophisticated Wexford Opera Festival production of Christina Queen of Sweden  Bravo tutti

Best Song Recital. There were several contenders for this category. Music for Galway brought an interesting programme of settings of Irish songs by Beethoven and an opportunity to hear BBC Young Generation artist Robin Tritschler.  Helen Houlihan brought a classy line up of friends to share the platform at the Classical Thursday series in St Columba's Ennis with Edel O Brien, Owen Gilhooly and Helen herself contributing attractive programmes to some dreary lunchtimes. Celebrity baritone, Bryn Terfel didn't disappoint in his Bad Boys recital at the NCH. But my pick for most memorable song recital of 2013 is the  first part of Conor Bigg's Schubertreise at the NCH in February, a rollercoaster ride of poetry and emotion.  Biggs was accompanied by Belgian pianist Michael Stas and the duo plan to perform all 600 of Schubert's song over a ten year period , an unprecedented musical oddyssey. Bravo Conor Biggs and Michael Stas.

Best choral experience: The choir at St Theresa's Clarendon St Dublin is one of the few Irish church choirs made up of professional singers and I enjoyed hearing them enrich a February Sunday morning liturgy with a programme that spanned centuries and included a piece by Director of Music, Ronan McDonagh. How wonderful it was to be  among a  solemn  Lutheran congregation in Thomaskirche, Leipzig for the Good Friday performance of Bach's Johannes Passion. The University of Oregan Chamber Choir proved themselves worthy winners at the Cork Choral Festival closing gala concert . It was satisfying  to play  in the ensembles for  contemporary composer, Patrick Hawes Song of Songs with the MIC Choral Society and for a splendid opera gala with the Waterford Male Voice Choir. Limerick Choral Union again treated Handel's Messiah with the greatest care that made the wonderful texts gleam at UCH.  The highlight has to be the experience of hearing Johannes Passion in the church where Bach  spent most of his working life . For the solemn sense of time and place and  superb musicianship, the Blue Ribbon goes to the Thomaskirche Choir and Orchestra for their Good Friday performance of Johannes Passion

Best Solo Gig:Veteran Scottish singer, Dick Gaughan was like an aged malt, smooth and potent in  his set of folk and original songs in Miltown Malbay. English troubadour Chris Wood brought something special to the Imagine Festival Waterford. The Blue Ribbon though for solo gig of the year goes to another of the Imagine Festival events- Little John Nee's one man show Sparkplug,  an extraordinary  mix of storytelling and song from a 'rockabilly conceptual artist'.

Best Theatre  Perfidia from Red Kettle Theatre Co was powerful. Richard Hardwick was hilarious in his clever monolgue Cat . An Enemy of the People at the Gate had strong resonances with present day events and we enjoyed This House set in the back rooms of Westminster at the Olivier, London  My pick for best play is On the Razzle. The Tom Stoppard  play  produced by Garter Lane Arts was great fun and dazzled us with a large cast, a brass band,  and a  pantomime horse . What more could we ask for ? Bravo tutti!

Best String Playing :  Contenders are the  wonderful Vogler String Quartet heard in Cork, Vladimir Jablokov and ensemble heard at his Viennese Evening at the Theatre Royal, Waterford The Blue Ribbon goes to superb Hungarian cellist Peter Sebestyen  heard with pianist Noel Lennon of Music Theatre West at An Evening of Cello Music and Song Glór, Ennis.  Bravo Peter Sebestyen and pianist Noel Lennon for sympathetic accompaniment .

Best  Band Gig. Katakana filled the post Christmas lull with a memorable first gig in the intimate Central Hall    Ennio Morricone's  evening in Dublin was memorable for the wrong reasons The diminuitive Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain were mighty in their  return to Waterford at the Theatre Royal Waterford. Also at the Royal,      Barrack Street Concert Band celebrated the work of Burt Bacharach with a gala evening.  Director and trumpet player extraordinaire, Mark Fitzgerald coordinated a great event that combined solid musicianship with  a  showbiz pzazz that delighted a full house and Magic Moments The Songs and Music of Burt Bacharach  presented by The Barrack Street is my pick for best band gig of 2013  Bravo!

Best Musical: It was good to have the opportunity to see a production of The Threepenny Opera  There was a fabulous Cats from Midas in Limerick. Me and My Girl in Ennis was bright and breezy but there was something so good  about The  Sound of Music from Nenagh Choral  Society  and this production is my pick for 2013 Best Musical.

Best Female Artist   Kilrush mezzo Edel O Brien's rousing rendition of American songs arranged by Copland were memorable.  Imelda Drumm's excellent singing in the role of Opera Theatre Company's Carmen was a redeeming feature of an otherwise  ghastly production. I heard soprano Claudia Boyle on two different platforms. She stood out among the large ensemble in the madcap caper Il Capello di paglia di Firenze at the opening of Wexford Opera Festival. I tend to be wary when opera divas attempt other genres but Boyle was terrific in the lighter repertoire  at Vladimir's Viennese Christmas at the Theatre Royal, Waterford  . Whatever she sang she made it seem effortless and has the sort of magnetic stage presence that  commands attention. Bravo Claudia Boyle!

Best Festival I enjoyed  the   range of events at Imagine Arts Festival, Waterford. In addition to the events mentioned above, Booze Blaas and Banter , a morning of local
reminiscence with musical interludes was memorable. Catherine Foley reading from her Sunday Miscellany pieces and Tina O Connor reading from her father, Peter's memoir  A Soldier of Liberty based on his experience of fighting in the Spamish Civil War were highlights. I was very proud to be included on the bill myself. My guest reviewer enjoyed the local history events and posted  reports on the talks on the Poole Archive and the Story of  the Bonmahon Copper Mines.  

Media Moments I also loved the BBC TV documentary on Jools Holland 'My Life in Music' and Pat Kenny's interview with Alison Moyet on his morning radio show made for great listening.

Thanks to all the artists who thrilled and entertained us over the last year. Who knows what this year will bring. Looking forward to seeing and hearing new things and new collaborations.