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

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Accidental Opera Singer : Kelley Lonergan Ciao Italia!

I caught up  with rising opera star  Kelley Lonergan in between shows at Wexford Opera Festival last October where she was busy as a member  of the Festival Chorus. You can read my roundup for the Irish Examiner here. She filled me in on me how she had come to the  world of opera singing via a circuitous route.
Although her family were musical theatre stalwarts in her home town, Clonmel, it was to study piano with Jan Cap that she first came to Cork School of Music. She went on to do Masters in piano accompaniment there.  An opportunity to do an Erasmus year in the Italian opera centre, Verona gave her a chance to develop her singing . As a guest at  the home of the Arena repetiteur, she saw every aspect of the opera production process and she hasn’t looked back since.  ‘It was always a dream at the back of my head to go for the singing but I didn't think then that it was a realistic option but  here I am and I am loving it’.

Lonergan was a member  of the show stealing Milliner’s Chorus in Il Capello di Paglia di Firneze and also in  Christina, Queen of Sweden.  Her chance to  shine in a solo role came as part of the line up in Una Hunt’s Irish Connections concerts that have been a big hit at Wexford 'Audiences have been very moved by the nostalgic  parlour songs from the early part of the century. We have seen people moved to tears as the songs bring back memories of byegone days. It is such a privilege to be part of that. It is about the music but it is also about engaging your audience'. Does she have a preference for the either the stage work or song recital. 'No not really When I'm singing I'm happy . I love the chorus work but I love also  reaching out and touching a listener with just your voice alone'.  Lonergan has had a very successful year on the competition front collecting bursaries from the RDS and Feis Ceoil. The bursaries have allowed her to concentrate on studying and to improve her technique

Kelley Lonergan is currently a member of the Young Associate Artists of Opera Theatre Co.  She is currently studying with Sinead Campbell Wallace and Aoife O Sullivan. She  will be singing at the RTE NSO Summer Lunchtime series on Tuesday 1st July when she will perform arias by Puccini, Leoncavello and Cilea. Watch the video clip for  little foretaste of what is in store on Tuesday.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Soaking up the Bachmosphare in Leipzig

Bachmosphare. Markt during BachFest Leipzig 
I am in a  spartan  Lutheran  pew at 9.30 in the morning in a swish Saxon suburb  with the whole works - a four part choir in concert dress with  soloists and orchestra. working our way through some solid choral fare as part of the festival  Matins service. Yes indeed,  the Leipzig Bach Festival  held annually in  honour of their famous resident, one Johann Sebastian Bach  is a earnest, solid sort of festival, not for the faint hearted. German audiences it seems are accustomed to long sits. Intervals if they happen at all tend to be brief and when it comes to a spot of congregational singing, they sing all the verses.
  Over the ten days or so more than a hundred concerts are scheduled in venues around the city. The festival overlaps with the Handel Festival in nearby Halle.  You can read my experience of a day at the Handel FestSpiele here
 This year's title is 'Die Wahre Art', the True Art and there is an emphasis on the work of  best known of the Bach's sons, Carl Philipp Emmanuel in the 300th anniversary of his birth. The title is taken from one of his essays on how to play the keyboard. There are  lectures, seminars, excursions and a children's programme .  A less solemn face of the festival is offered by the Bachmosphare, a weekend of free live music and  screenings when the central market square is converted to an outdoor cabaret venue. When I arrive on Sunday, a jazz group are mixing  strains of Led Zeppelin Stairway to  Heaven with Bach's famous Air in G.  But the real jollity factor is injected via the proliferation of open air tv screens in  pavement cafe's where punters discuss performance aesthethics  of football and crumhorms  as this year's festival coincides with the FIFA World Cup. Excellent programme  notes gave English translations of all the texts and  overview comment.

Although tickets for the headline  events are pricey, day tickets were available at €10,  15 minutes before start time of the evening concerts in the church venues.

Chorwerke at St Thomas' Church   photo Gert Mothe  Bach-Archiv facebook

BachFest105  Friedensgebet   at Nicholaikirche. The weekly 5pm  Monday gathering at this church is  credited with playing a pivotal role in the peaceful political revolution against Communist rule in East Germany . Although it no longer draws the crowds it did in the 90's, the weekly vigil goes on.  This is the first year that this event has been incorporated into the Bach Fest. It included a contemporary work for saxophone organ and drums. It  opened with the choral work Allegri Miserere and a there was rather long  sermon.

 BachFest 36: Style Galante Violin Virtuoso Concertos Midori Seiler with Tafelmusik Baroque
The Canadian period instrument ensemble was the resident ensemble of the ensemble.  Best view was in the upper gallery and the programme presented a selection of solo concerto and the related concerto grosso in a lively performance  

Concertprobe Academy of Ancient Instruments:   Richard Eggar and Malcolm Bilson were the twin  harpsichords . The church was open for onlookers to the morning rehearsal.

Midori Seiler Tafelmusik Baroque   photo Gert Mothes via facebook 
Matins at Peterskirche 
BachFest 47: WW1 Compositions  Grassi Museum  After the muted timbres of the period instrument bands, the modern instruments sounded rich and sonorous.  This was the second musical evening devoted to music composed in WW1 that I have attended recently  I was struck by the divergence between the popular music of the time and the programme of avant garde work by Schoenberg and his contempories. You can read my report on Oh What a Lovely War a programme of popular music of from the Great War here

BachFest 49 Matins at Peterskirche inc BMVIn allen mein taten. Presented as part of a series of daily Matins services, the performers from Die Evangelische Hochschule for church music in Halle. 
Chamber Music at  Grassi Museum
Bachfest 54: Chorwerke at Thomaskirche: This in the very solemn space of the church most associated with Bach. The programme  included Bach Cantata  Weinen, Klagen Sorgen Zagen, and a  Donner (Thunder)  Ode , a work in memory of a catastrophe when in 1755, an earthquake off the coast of Portugal destroyed the city of Lisbon. Hamberg had strong trading links with Portugal and the City Council commissioned the work from the City Music Director, Telemann. It went down so well that he wrote a second part the following year. We heard both parts which had parts for not one but two basses which together with timpani rolls created the thunder rolls of the title. Even though this was a performance and not a constituent of a religious service, it had a devotional atmosphere with the Gewandhaus Orchestra and Thomanerchor placed in the Gallery behind the audience. I was reminded of the TV pop singing concert where the judges sit with their backs to the performers and turn when they hear the 'xf actor'. The two thundering basses had many heads turning in the pews for the no 7  duet for two basses  Er donnert, dass er verherrlichet werde.  He thunders that he may be glorified 

Unfortunately my visit didn't coincide with any of the  events at the Gewandhaus Concert Hall so a visit to the home of the oldest European Symphony Orchestra remains on the  bucket list. IThere were some events at the Leipzig Opera House including a German language version of My Fair Lady. I left before a much talked about production of a Strauss Opera opened there. It hit the headlines when a critic referred to to Ms Piggy  in his unflattering critique on the soprano Jennifer Ann Wilson The soprano gave a wonderful response on the Arts Journal Slipped disc .I  quote  it here. Bravo Ms Wilson!
Dear Norman,
I am delighted to be mentioned in the same breath as the magnificently gifted showbiz icon, Miss Piggy! Please send Herr Scholz my most heartfelt thanks.
All best,
Jennifer “Miss Piggy” Wilson
PS – and don’t forget it, Kermie!
- See more at:

Getting There :  From Ireland your options by air are to fly to Stansted and take a Ryanair flight to Leipzig (Flightsare  on alternate days).

You can fly out of Shannon Monday and Friday  and most days from Dublin  to Berlin and get a train or bus to Leipzig. Bus time is 2 hours.  Train is more expensive at €29 Bus is as low as €8 booked online a day in advance
  Having done the journey several ways, I would avoid the spirit sapping Stansted.  You are required to go through the arduous queueing process for security a second time and it is choc a block during the Summer. I fllew back via Berlin Schonefield. . I took a bus from Leipzig to SudKreuz Station , Berlin . An  S 46 SBahn takes you to the to the airport, journey time half an hour. Ticket was €3 or s. Don't forget to validate your ticket before you get on the S Bahn .

Where to stay. It is  hard to pass the Motel One budget chain which is all over Germany .  The one in Leipzig has a great location  directly opposite Nicholaikirche but is frequently fully booked.  There is very handy Ibis on Goethe Street both walking distance from Hauptbahnhof. Both are under a €100. I have also stayed at the Schlafgut Pemsion which which was half the price but tends to book up quickly


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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Books and Strings in the Viking Triangle

Julian Walton and Eibhear Walshe and 'the Bishop'

'What better place for a book launch than in the Palace of a Bishop who bequeathed his collection of books to the city'.  So said doyen of local historians, Julian Walton who launched  Eibhear Walshe's new book  in his customary erudite manner.  'Waterford is fast becoming the book capital of the South' he added. This is apparently the fourth book launch in the city this month .  Walshe is best known here for  a childhood  memoir, Cissie's Abbatoir and in academic circles for  biographies of 19th century literary figures.  This is his first novel set in the period and milieu  in which some of those figures  would have moved. 'The hurler has come down off the ditch' said Walton. The book is centered on the havoc caused by a notorious court case brought by Mary Travers and involving major society figures arising out of  her affair with Oscar Wilde's father. In  1864  it provided great entertainment for the prurient Dublin masses.  'Eibhear draws us with consummate skill into Mary's Traver's world with. constant allusions to sights sounds and smells of th 19th century a novel about real people and events'

Eibhear spoke warmly about the experience of learning about writing in his native city and  visiting the old library in O Connell Street, a space I remember visiting myself. He said it was his most enjoyable of his writing experiences to date.
The book is publishes by Sommerville Press in Bantry .

24 Hours from Tulsa: Visiting String  Ensemble at the Medieval Museum
After the launch, I moved to the Medieval Museum for a performance of a visiting ensemble all the way from Oklahoma. Mother and daughter team Jody Naifeh and Karen Harmon with cellist Amanda Hardy led  a group of seventeen string students from the Tulsa Honors Orchestra in a selection of Suzuki repertoire from Book 1 and 2  and some arrangements of Irish jigs and polkas. They finished with a piece by Karen inspired by Argentinian tango, a movement from a Brandenburg Concerto and Warlocks's Capriol Suite.
'It took us twenty four hours to get here' said Karen in an echo of the Gene Pitney hit. They are moving on  to play in Tralee, Connemara and Dublin. They will be in Christchurch Cathedral Dublin on Monday 30th June at 3pm and are delighted to hear from other Suzuki groups who may like to come and play with them. Here is their schedule.
Thursday June 26 at 7:30pm,
Thursday June 26 at 7:30pm, St Johns Church in Tralee.
Saturday June 28 at 12:00 pm Kylemore Abbey in the Gothic Church in Connemara.
Sunday June 29 @ 3:00pm, Dublin Unitarian Church on St Stephens Green, Dublin.
Monday June 30 @ 3:00 pm at Christchurch Cathedral in Dublin, 

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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Eclectic Picnic: Jammin' at the Cork Midsummer Fest

Best Dressed Picnic Ladies. No sitting on the grass in these outfits.

I spent Sunday in the Park with denizens of Cork who flocked to the Mardyke for a Picnic, one of a range of events on the Midsummer Fest programme.   Planning a picnic is a precarious endeavour, a triumph of hope over experience.  Just the merest sprinkle of rain and the whole venture evaporates. Thankfully the weather Gods were kind and the sun shone gloriously on an eclectic assortment of revelers gathered in Fitzgerald Park. Gadabout Ladies dressed for tea on the Titanic rubbed shoulders with perambulating Roman Centurions, (who knew there is a local Roman Military Society?),  There were a plethora of performers; musicians, singers, jugglers,  balloons, dogs and boys and girls who had lots of wonderful songs to sing and marvelous games to play. The event team were aiming for a  gentle nostalgic vibe with a vintage Victorian ambiance in keeping with the genesis of the Park.
Fidleir jamming with Quango Rhinehearts. Love the top hat and tails.

It was a busy afternoon for my fiddle. After a mid morning spot of jamming with Ian and the  delightful Quango Rhinehearts, I made a guest appearance on the main stage with the Dust Busters Light Orchestra. This wonderful initiative directed by Aine O Halloran aims to give adult learners and lapsed players access to an enjoyable playing experience. Then it was off to the Sky Garden  for my al fresco solo gig serenading visitors to the spectacular new viewing gallery overlooking the river. Definitely one of the most coolest spaces I have been privileged to perform in! Finally I made a beeline for the  lily pond for a ukehooly sing song. A lovely day!

Coolest gig venue ever for Fidleir Serenades.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Hit and Miss at Halle Handel Festspiele

Festivals dedicated to the twin giants of the Baroque take place in June within commuting distance of each other in the German province of Saxony. Both the Bach Fest in Leipzig and the Handel Festspiele in Halle each run over  ten days or so and with an overlapping weekend it is possible to get a taste of both in one trip.

I arrived in Halle just in time to sample the final day of the Handel Festspiele.  The festival must be especially welcome this year following a dark period when it was cancelled  due to catastrophic flooding. I hadn't expected to find myself on  a bus chuntering through Saxon suburbs but the most compelling event of the day  was a staging of a pasticcio at the delightful  Goethe Theater in the spa town of Bad Lauchstadt.  A wall plaque states that the theatre was where a young Richard Wagner  began his conducting career with a Don Giovanni. There was time for an alfresco kaffee and kuchen before withdrawing to the charming vintage interior of the Summer theatre.

 I learn that  a pasticcio is not an  icecream flavour, but  a form of opera cobbled together from previously composed works, a sort of theatrical compilation of greatest hits. Handel had plenty to choose from by the time he compiledGiove in Argo, one of three notable works in this style. Programme notes tell us that ' while the pasticci are relatively unknown on modern stages, they were standard 18th century fare. This one is unusual in that it uses three deep male voices, and features a prominent chorus  The work was first revived in a  performance at Bayreuth in 2006.

Sung in Italian without surtitles, the work spanned three acts in as many hours.The variety of voices were uniformly strong, one as dazzling  as the next. The two hearty bass voices gave the work a  weighty resonance.  The intimate venue allowed a great degree of nuance in dynamics. The contemporary staging  was  zany, seeming to take inspiration from a fusion of films, Airplane and KillBill, all singers seeming to throw themselves into the frenzied madcap nature of the proceedings. One had to feel sorry for the character who murdered in Act 1 is required to lie motionless on stage for the following hours.

Despite the undoubted strength of the soloists, the highpoint for me was the chorus who shone in  Viver e non amar. Conductor, Werner Ehrhardt directed the  Orchester l'arte del  monde in a powerful and vivacious performance from the pit.

Skip Sempé 
In contrast, the Paris Salon conjured up by Skip Sempé and the Capriccio Stravagante at the morning recital  in the Leopoldina Festsaal seemed a dull and tedious affair, lacking anything of the brio of the afternoon proceedings.    The pacing of the recital seemed odd. Solos for viola de gamba predominated before the interval  and pieces seemed to peter out in lugubrious tempi. Even the addition of a blokflote failed to add a bit of  sparkle. The all  too tasteful and the 'finely nuanced ' style in works by Couperin, Rameau and Marais and a austere stage presence had me heading for the exit at the pause.  The best thing about the event was the elegant light filled venue which was similar in size and ambience to London's Wigmore Hall .

Soloists Curtain Call 

Giove in Argo HWV A14

An opera by G. F. Handel

Music director: Werner Ehrhardt
Directed by: Kay Link
Set designer: Olga von Wahl
Soloists: Roberta Mameli (Iside), Krystian Adam (Arete), Natalia Rubiś (Calisto), Johan Rydh (Liacone), Barbara Emilia Schedel (Calisto), Thilo Dahlmann (Erasto)
L'arte del mondo orchestra & vocal ensemble

Monday, June 9, 2014

Rock and Roll Failure Extraordinaire: John Otway in Sheffield

The ebullient Mr Otway

The Greystones Pub Music Venue Sheffield
Scanning the listings of the Sheffield Mail, last  weekend, there was an impressive range to choose from. Dawn French was launching her one woman show tour in the Yorkshire city. Pianist, Benjamin Frith was delivering an Emporer with a local orchestra. An impressive schedule of documentaries with live Q&A's were lined up in a documentary  festival at City Hall. So you can understand my son's bafflement when I suggested  an evening in the backroom of a   pub with a performer who  claims to be Rock and Roll's Greatest Failure.  'Eh OK so - If you are quite sure'. he said somewhat dutifully.  So we made our way to The Greystones pub in a Sheffield suburb to  join the  notoriously ardent fans of  John  Otway and his band..

 How best to describe this performer.?  If you could imagine equal parts of Bill Nighy crossed with an extremely hyperactive child and large measure of a Victorian Music Hall MC, that would sort of do it, I think. The ebullient Mr Otway arrived on stage and  surveyed the backroom venue as gleefully as if it had been the Royal Albert Hall. The sixty something gaunt 'popstar'  lifted the art of self deprecation to a new level in a  show that referenced disco, pop, heavy metal, stadium rock, punk  and included all two of his hits and his theremin 'virtuoso' skills. Don't be fooled by the 'failure' tag. The band, a foil for much of the humour were a super, accomplished  outfit. with Richard Holgarth - guitar, Murray Torkildsen - guitar, Seymour - bass & Adam Batterbee - drums giving great support and allowed space to shine throughout the set.

He has made a film, Otway the Movie'  that charts the  ups and downs  of an eccentric rock and roll career, which is currently travelling around the festival cinema circuit. I haven't seen it but on the basis of tonight's performance, .I suggest it would make a good addition to a film component of an Arts  Fest line up. Details here  and a Guardian review here  Catch him at Glastonbury and Edinburgh Festivals later this Summer.

The audience participation came not so much in singing along with the songs  as in a chanting of a well honed responses in a 'Good Old Days' fashion to theatrical questions posed by Otway. 
It was an  evening  delivered with charm, good hunour,  and  excellent showmanship.  A great gig, definitely one for end of year picks.

One of Otway's two hits Burn Baby Burn

Pulp members gather on City Hall steps 

Pulp Heroes: Earlier in the afternoon while walking around seeing the sights, we happened across Jarvis Cocker and his entourage on their way to a sold out documentary screening on the band at City Hall.  Famously from Sheffield, Cocker and his fellow Pulp members with critic Paul Morley  paused in front of the steps posing for cameras and answering reporters questions while a local ladies choral group sang acapella version of their hit Common People. The scene gave us a sense of just  how important these local heroes were to this town.

Thoughts on Taragate

I have just watched the live screenng of Der Rosenkavalier from Glyndebourne. Tara Erraught, a young Irish mezzo soprano excelled as one of the leads. At 27, Ms Erraught's rise in the opera world has been quite extraordinary and has merited more attention than she has received at home. Despite being relatively young, she has numerous lead roles in A grade opera houses under her belt. She received glowing praise for her portayal of Sesto, a trouser role in Le Clemenza di Tito screened live from Munich Opera House earlier this season.   She has been under the spotlight, not for her wonderful voice but  for the furore over some unflattering remarks about her physique in the UK broadsheet reviews of  Der Rosenkavalier. Ms Erraught plays the lead role of Octavian, another  trouser role .

Following all he hullaballoo, anyone following opera matters will know two things, that this Drogheda girl can sing and she sure as hell doesn't look like a boy.  My own tuppence worth is that as this was a comedy, the unconventional shape match between the characters Octavian and very tall Marschallin was not that unconvincing.  I did think she was not well served by  the costume department and her frock coats seemed to be poorly fitted.

Does the look matter?. Is it all about the voice as some singers have stated this week.
To the singers who have rushed onto media platforms and accuse critics of misogyny and say it is all about the voice, I say rubbish!. It is theatre and were it not, we wouldn't bother with expensive staging and just have concert performances.  However, looking back on some productions I have seen, I rather liked the fact that an Escamillo was the wrong side of 50 and somewhat portly for his Toreador's costume  . A middle age Mimi added even more pathos to a Madame Butterfly. Here is what I had to say about a most unlikely Orpheus in a Cork Operatic Society production.  'Trinidian tenor, Ronald Samm returns to play the title role. His is not a pale youthful sylph like Orfeo, but a heavyweight middle aged one with a great bottom to his tenor voice. His interpretation of the grief laden Che Faro at the close was moving and memorable and very much his own Having seen him in the role, I feel all Orpheus' should be thus',

I must confess that I giggled at  this pairing of tenor and soprano in a Bavarian State Opera  production of  La Boheme. There is nothing to say that a tall Mimi might not fall for a short Rudolfo but it didn't make for convincing theatre.  In my write up on the evening I couldn't leave out this physical aspect of the performance. But how to put it?  I opted for this form of words
Rudolfo (Stefano Secco) and Marcello (Levente Molnar) set the scene and are shortly joined by Schaunard (John Chest) and Colline (Christian Van Horn). Mimi duly appears with her unlit candle and the Anja Harteros is vocally splendid as befits the first if not only German winner of Cardiff Singer of the World. While both leads are vocally suited to their roles there are some physical aspects of their stage presence that cause some logistical difficulties and two steps of the stage garret set are required for Rodolfo to clasp Mimi to his manly bosom.

I haven't yet  heard Tara Erraught live. I applaud her achievements and the hard work she must have put in to get there I hope she hasn't been unduly upset by the remarks.  Although I would defend the right of the critics male or female to comment on such aspects,   I do think some of the remarks were ill chosen. I am looking forward to hearing this dynamic Irish singer sooner rather than later  I hope. 

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Rare Opera Nights at the Coliseum

Act 2 Thebans

No drama like a Greek drama it seems and all roads lead to Thebes for Irish librettists. My review of The Invader, a new Irish opera by Mark Roper and Eric Sweeney appeared in the Irish Examiner recently. While Roper opts for Euripides, Frank McGuiness mines the Theban trilogy of Sophocles for his libretto of Thebans  which just finished a run of seven nights at the Coliseum.   The chiaroscuro lighting effects by Jean Kalman gave the opening  tableaux of each of the three acts a real wow factor. I enjoyed Fiona Maddock's review and I think she gave the best insight into the orchestration. Read it here I was glad to have a view of the orchestra pit to attempt to determine what instruments were producing the striking  effects in Julian Anderson's innovative score. Baritones used to playing the baddie must rejoice  that Anderson gives the dastardly Creon's voice to 'an over florid and untrustworthy tenor'.

 I was in London for  the opening night on Thursday (June 5th) of a rarely performed Berlioz piece, Benvenuto Cellini. There was all the buzz  of a premiere and the fun of  celeb spotting before we got down to business.  Even on first night, the dress code is somewhat more relaxed than at the Royal Opera House. Used to the more leisurely speed of the appearance of Irish theatre and opera reviews, I was amazed to see  first press reviews were on line within an hour and a half of curtain down and in print the following morning editions, an  impressive feat of logistics and speedy writing. Here is the Daily Telegraph review by Rupert Christiansen

What with everyone getting their britches in a twist over Tara Erraught's curves, I note that another great Irish voice was on duty in the trouser role tonight. Paula Murrihy's  Ascanio, made a very pleasing blend of voice with Corinne Winter's as Teresa. Willard White stole the show in a Poobah-esque  Pope emerging from a  theatrical contraption, a sort of  deus-ex machina and like the Downton, dowager duchess,  had all the best lines.
Looming Statues Manon Lescaut, Semperoper
Benvenuto Cellini 
Berlioz in his autobiography  summed up the work as 'containing a certain variety of ideas, an energy and exuberance and brilliance of colour such as I may never find again'. And that is not a bad summary of the work.

 Two other productions came to I watched this production.  I was reminded of the circus performers role in the Cork Operatic Society's production of Pagliacci and the enormous statue  and the mix of time frames in the costuming  recalled  a  Semperoper production of Manon Lescsaut where the set was dominated by a giant Statue  of Liberty. There was a snooze factor in the 90 minute long first half which sagged in the middle before taking off in the pantomime scene.The second half zipped along nicely and the audience responded with warmth and enthusiasm to this ebullient production.

The production will be screened in cinemas across Ireland and UK  on June 17th. I look forward to a closer look at the wonderfully OTT theatrical details.

Director Terry Gilliam's hilarious diary which appeared in The Guardian is here
Benvenuto Cellini – Michael Spyres

Giacomo Balducci – Pavlo Hunka
Teresa – Corinne Winters
Fieramosca – Nicholas Pallesen
Pope Clement VII – Sir Willard White
Ascanio – Paula Murrihy
Francesco – Nicky Spence
Bernardino – David Soar
Pompeo – Morgan Pearse
Innkeeper – Anton Rich

Terry Gilliam (director, set designs)

Leah Hausmann (co-director, movement)
Aaron Marsden (set designs)
Katrina Lindsay (costumes)
Finn Ross (video)

Chorus of the English National Opera (chorus master: Nicholas Jenkins)

Orchestra of the English National Opera
Edward Gardner (conductor)
onductor   Edward Gardner
Director   Pierre Audi
Set Designer   Tom Pye
Costume Designer   Christof Hetzer
Lighting Designer   Jean Kalman
Video Designer   Lysander Ashton
Oedipus   Roland Wood
Creon   Peter Hoare
Antigone   Julia Sporsén
Tiresias   Matthew Best
Jocasta   Susan Bickley
Messenger   Christopher Ainslie
Haemon   Anthony Gregory
Polynices   Jonathan McGovern

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Chasing the Blues in Chi Town

I just got back from the windy city. Chicago, the second city of the US. It's a helluva town as the song goes. The city downtown area is relatively compact and the attractive lakeside location gave it a seaside holiday air 'though the weather was on nippy side for the beach. At my downtown hotel, doormen wore overcoats and  fur hats to ward off the mid May chill and cheerful looking convention delegates milled around  the  lobby. Here are some of the highlights of my three day toddlin in Chi Town. Hear the Blues version of My Sweet Home Chicago

Chasing The Blues    You can't come to Chicago and avoid the Blues  We headed to Kingston Mines on the North side where you buy beers by the bucket load and ribs by the slab.  On Saturday night , the joint was heaving. The music is a bit like the sauce, thick and sludgy, robust and addictive. Nonagenarian, Doc Pellegrino who started the joint almost five decades was in the house and welcomed the revellers. His son was MC clad in Blackhawk jersey for the evening, moving between two long performance  halls. We heard veteran blues guitarist Byther Smith who looked like he could double for BB King, sharply attired  in blue pin stripe and gleaming white shirt. We chatted to musician Rod from Michigan.

102nd Revue 

Losin' the Blues   Comedy is a serious business at the theatre complex known as Second City out of town in the Lincoln Park area . Renowned as a centre of excellence of comedy improv , the venue hosts  performances , writing classes and all manner of activities.  A slick sketch show titled Depraved New World was based on material gleaned from improvised sessions and honed  for performance. The ensembles were slick, the comedy was sharp, witty with no gimmicks or crude vocabulary and the audience of locals was a mix of ages from young professional types to senior citizens.

Matinée in Belmont Theatre District
Much as I love the  Sound of Music which was  playing at the Lyric Opera House,  I opted instead  for a less familiar vintage musical    I took the red line to Belmont  Theatre District to seek out Stage 773, the Chicago equivalent  of Off Broadway .  You can read the Chicago Tribune review of Porchlight's terrific production of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying here    A lovely detail was the themed foyer space furnished with period props.

50's Lobbyat Stage 773

 Salon Concert at IAHC  with Baal Tine and The Academy of Irish Music . Too much to say here in this round up . You can read an account of my visit to a  terrific event showcasing the musical activity at the Irish American Heritage Centre here

 Sunday Gospel Singing on Michigan Avenue 
Best Buskers.  Buskers abounded on the public spaces. The sound of a marimba cast quite a spell over the path outside the Chicago Cultural Institute. If you don't feel up to the Chicago Fine Art Gallery, you can visit this centre for free. It is worth it for the amazing dome As I passed through guide was pointing out thye names of authors of antiquity engraved on the ceiling alongside the names of 19th century authors who would have been contemporary when the Institute was built.

Civil Engineering Monument of the Millenium to Chicago's Wastewater System : A tribute  to gladden the hearts of civil engineers everywhere. Spotted on the River Walk,  the plaque reads  'One of the finest examples of how civil engineering ingenuity shaped the development of society's quality of life in the 20th century. 

Sunday Morning Service: There was just time on Sunday to attend  a church service. The Presbyterian Church on Michigan Avenue was celebrating it's centenary and offering a tea time jazz service. In the Holy Name Cathedral, a professional choir added contemporary works by Jonathan Dove ,Ubi Caritas by  Paul Mealor, an Elizabethan motet by William Byrd   to simple congregational hymns. You can hear a little of the organ postlude on the audioboo.
Impressive as the music was, the detail that I recall  is the clarity of the diction and care taken with the spoken word. More on music at Holy Name Cathedral,  Chicago  here 

A friend  sent me these  comprehensive travel notes which I include below in the hope they may prove useful to other travellers.

The truly great city of Chicago is know as Chi-town and not the Windy City. It is known for its sport and music culture and great shopping and of course food and history. you need to know that the song of the city is Sweet Home Chicago
It's easy navigate Chi-town
1. You are either North of the river or South of the river and the lake is to the East of you - think East coast of Ireland.
2. The big streets run North to South and the two most famous are Michigan Ave ( which is more on the North side)  and State Street  ( which is more on the south side ) but both are parallel and just three streets apart.
3. You will hear of the part of town called the Loop which is called that because it's the loop that the subway takes - the subway is called the Elle or L because it is elevated in parts of the city
4 you have Greek town and Little Italy and of course the River North as well not to mention Chinatown   
Hotel Sax - which was formerly the House of Blues Hotel and it's beside the House of Blues it's on Dearborn  Hotel Monaco is on Wacker and it's a cute boutique hotel with a nice bar attached called the South Water Kitchen ( good for breakie see below)
The Hard Rock is also an interesting hotel 

Everything that you want is downtown - all within easy cab rides I can't imagine you spending anymore than $ 6 to $ 10 dollars for any trip downtown. everything is accessible and hotels are noted for their friendly staff . no need to book any cabs as they will have them at the ready - no trip is too short either.

Eating out is or can be expensive but top quality 

Breakfast is big and also kinda costly - I either go for it or a midday brunch - try South Water. Kitchen on Wacker and Wabash part of of the Monaco hotel as a treat . Comfortable bar and restaurant. 
the Sunday Gospel Brunch at the House of Blues is worth it but need to book it in advance. 
          Chicago Steaks are just great and you are spoiled for choice with Morton's , Smith and Wollenskys  and Fultons the very best to be                 found anywhere  - Any one of these a must and all near the river and the hotels I suggest above
 Marrgiano's is a classic Italian - can't be missed but you could also try Harry Caray's on Dearborn - he was a famous baseball announcer - really busy and buzzing place
 Nicks Fish Market  is among the best fish spots - the waiter giving you the menu specials is sufficient - after that you are full!!!!!

Fun spots for Mid-day snack

; Billy Goats Tavern really can't be missed as it's the inspiration for Saturday Night Live - it's a burger - cheezeboorger joint - no fries - just chips - it's a bar underneath - yes underneath Michigan Ave. ASK anybody - it's innocuous but a Chicago classic - walk in the door and get confronted by a mad Greek telling you Cheeseburger are good but double cheese is best,; Ed Debevics is a classy 1950/60s fun spot  - watch the staff dance on the bar every half hour or so. Be ready to be insulted !!!!

Sights to see 

; Hancock or Sears - now Willis tower - either will do - I prefer Hancock though it's smaller - slightly 
; The Field Museum - home to SUE the T Rex 
; The Art institute of Chicago - classics including the famous Seurat and American Gothic 
; The Museum of Science and Industry is brilliant too - 

They re all within easy reach and close by each other - I would also recommend the. Adler Planetarium which is close by as well on a linger trip.

At this time of year you could take the river cruise which is a history lesson about Chicago - relaxed - and informative - did you know the Chicago River had its flow reversed !!!!! .

You are spoiled for choice here - I just love the following places but there are spots down Rush street and almost any street you care to mention.
1) Buddy Guys - he might even be there himself the great man - a short taxi away
2) Blue Chicago on Clark street. I have had some great nights there - I actually think. Thursday night is a great gig 
3) House of Blues can be really good too - there is a bar there and food not bad and some minor acts during the early evening - it's situated right under the two big Corn on the cob towers - beside the SAX Hotel

The Second City Comedy Club is also a must - the inspiration and where almost any comedian who is a comedian started.
          Travel Notes Barry Brennan.

Dublin Kerry Alliance: Keane and Sheahan in Listowel

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Eamon Keane and John Sheahan in Listowel

It   seemed an unlikely Dublin Kerry alliance. But John Sheahan and Eamonn Keane  proved to be a winning team that drew a packed house to the ballroom of the ListowelArms Hotel for an evening described as a kaleidoscope of music, song and poetry during the annual Writer’s Week

I can’t imagine coming to Listowel during the annual literary shindig and not having the pleasure of running across John Sheahan.  With his distinctive white beard, the former Dubliner  is easy to pick out among the lobby literati but this is the first time I have seen him upgraded to a main event slot.   I am intrigued by Eamonn Keane since I saw him follow a TV chat show  interview with a virtuoso turn on piano. The ex  Newstalk broadcaster has quite a varied portfolio of activities. He has a regular counselling slot on Waterford Local Radio and a recent  work for  a TV composition project  was well received .   There are not too many gigs listed on his website schedule but those few are  in prestigious venues and  usually sell out.

There was an almost palpable warmth in the air  both in the  anticipation among the audience and the rapport between the duo. Keane has impeccable local connections, Sheahan is an annual migrant  and  the evening had the relaxed informality of a soirée 'among friends', a tone epitomised in the title of the first fiddle tune.  Words were paramount whether in Sheahan’s poems of tribute to his late colleagues,  Keanes song lyrics or the humorous stories of reminiscence, sometimes poignant but never maudlin.  Both gentlemen are excellent raconteurs. There are elements of the baroque and the boulevardier  in Sheahan’s  crisp fiddle style. Keane’s first improvisation had shades of Keith Jarrett and the larky ‘trip round the piano’ masked an impressive technique.  They  were great company. It was a privilege  to be there.

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John Sheahan reads his work Eamon B Keane

Keane’s final song was Hang the Moon. In the lyrics, the theme of consolation after death resonated   with Bryan Borrough’s one man show Beowolf seen earlier in the evening at St John’s  Theatre. There were no props just good lighting and a  dialogue based on a father’s  theatrical storytelling of Beowulf to explain impending death  and offer consolation to his son . Given my antipathy to one man shows,   I sat near the aisle thinking I might nip out early so I wouldn’t  exhaust my attention span before the Keane Sheahan combo .-- suffice to say,  I stayed  'til the end.

Set List
Poem Orphans
Tune Among Friends
Tune Christchurch
Poem Echoes of the Forest
Piano Improv  She Moves thro the Fair/ Somewhere over the rainbow.
Song The Land of the White Cloud
Walking with Angels dedicated to Sr Eugene
Tin whiste   poem in memory  of Luke
Song Calling me Again
]3 Jigs inc Ms Zanussi after Iruish Washerwoman
Farewell to H. Norwegian farewell
Trip around the piano
Hang the Moon