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

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

GUBU Rigoletto

Leaving Munich Opera House on a trip recently, I noted a row of seats at the top of the house with no view of the stage but with dinky seat lamps to allow reading of the libretto while listening. to a performance.  Curious, I thought.

I ran into the cast of Opera Theatre Company's  at a service station on Monday as they journeyed from Dublin to Donegal to present their latest  production of Verdi's Rigoletto. There has been much hand wringing over the lack of a major house in the capital. As a provincial theatre goer, I am much more concerned that we continue to have good touring productions and OTC do a fantastic job of bringing top class singers and musicians  regularly to a theatre near you at reasonable ticket prices. Tonight they are in Kilkenny  at the Watergate Theatre and your last chance to catch them is at the Lime Tree  in Limerick. With at three locals in the cast, Kevin Neville, David Howes and Owen Gilhooly -there should be a rousing reception to close  proceedings at the  Shannonside, Duke's Court.

My review of the production appeared  in Saturday's Irish Examiner

With a tight word count, there wasn't room for everything and I want to note also the excellent performances of Kate Allen and John Molloy. Both are deliciously dark in character and timbre as the ‘hitman’ Sparafucile and ‘masseuse’, Maddalena. The male chorus of 'scumbags, scangers, spastics and of course eejits' , bearing all manner of gangland weapons are very impressive.

In musical terms this was a superb performance in so many respects. but the production appalled  me. Transformations of the aristocratic milieu of 16th century Mantua to visions of sleazy 20th century underworlds is mainstream stuff in major houses . Jonathan Miller’s enormously popular Mafioso staging for ENO is 30 years old.  Here is the quartet from that production. Sleazy but quite stylish and  retaining a degree of charm, I think.

Picking up the resonance of newspaper reports around an infamous double murder in the 1980's, The current OTC production  appeared to me to be a GUBU Rigoletto.  The plot also  features a double murder, Monterone and Gilda both are dispatched (spoiler alert) Set in a grotesque  'boxing club' set of with prominent portaloo, cage  and other club accoutrements . Singers are never allowed to simply stand still to deliver their arias but are kept busy with bizarre tasks such as rearranging oversized bunnies or simulating sexual activity. Gilda's Cara Nome is performed while zipping the Duke into a large bright yellow onesie.

All this  'provocative' theatrical busyness  does rather drain the energy from the piece. Is the general audience best served by a radical charmless production, I wonder? In her preview interview with me for the Irish  Examiner , Emma Nash spoke about being introduced to the genre by her father at a live performance at Cork Opera House. It seems a shame  that this was not a production you would want a young newbie to see or indeed that I myself would want to revisit. For many who don't travel to see opera , this might be the only production we may have a chance to see in years.  Do we really need a fresh innovative  approach.?

    Suddenly, an option on those 'libretto seats' seem like a rather  good idea.

Rigoletto Promo (Opera Theatre Company) from Opera Theatre Company on Vimeo.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Chamber Music at Termonfeckin:

I spent the weekend at An Grianánm, the ICA HQ  in Termonfeckin where the Dublin Chamber Music Group were holding one of their twice yearly chamber music courses. It is always reassuring to return after a gap of many years to find a place and event unchanged and just as good as you remember it. Here is an extract from  Kevin Myers' Irishman's diary  on  the event  in 1998. 

'Twice a year, the DCMG and friends go on sabbatical weekends to An Grianan in Termonfeckin, and the venue alone would justify the journey. Termonfeckin is one of the most beautiful little villages in all of Leinster, and it is one of the oldest too - it has a richly decorated high cross from the ninth century and it was the home of the great James Ussher, the prelate of Meath and later Armagh, whose modest little library once included the Book of Kells and who was once world-famous for his calculations that that the world began at 4004 BC (though even he never had the temerity to declare the date on which God invented chamber music).
Ham salad
The DCMG weekend breaks consist of musical sessions over the two days under the watchful eyes and attentive ears of tutors Constantin Zanidache, Helmut Seeber and Adele O'Dwyer, concluding with a quite lovely afternoon concert in which everyone who wants pitches in. It is very informal, but still serious: it is music played as music should be, out of love. That is followed by an old-fashioned and now sadly unfashionable Sunday evening meal from one's childhood: ham salad, with thinly sliced buttered bread, fruitcake and scalding tea out of great big pots. The tea alone is enough to make you take up the viola and conquer the Everest that is Gluck, or at least, bring back Dev - the kind of tea once served to visitors by convents; it is shiveringly delicious.   Kevin Myers : An Irishman's Diary 1998

Hear hear to all that. The  tutors on this occasion were the complete ConTempo string quartet who were between OTC Rigoletto engagements. On Saturday night, there was an open rehearsal and we heard a performance of Haydn String Quartet, Opus 76, no 2  and Beethoven.   My group for our Sunday afternoon concert performance of Mozart's Kegelstatt Trio consisted of Karen Ni Bhroin and Ronán Conroy. You can hear my interview with Karen here. We were tutored by Andrea Balencu,. You can hear Ronán read his poem, A Muse is a Terrible Thing   inspired  by Andrea's wondertfully animated coaching  here. 

A performance of the work here with Maxim Rysanal viola Martin Frost Clarinet.

The next weekend is the October Bank Holiday. All musicians are welcome. As My Myers said 'they are enormously enjoyable, civilised and enjoyable. 

 Cost of participation, accommodation and meals is €250: enquiries to Brian McBryan at 01-288 3627.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Amateur Orchestral Manoeuvres: Dublin Orchestral Players Gala and City of Dublin Chamber Orchestra

Surveying the classical music scene, the limelight  naturally falls  on the professional orchestras and ensembles practicing their craft in the grander concert halls. Two  RTE orchestras  provide rich big band experiences for music lovers in the capital. It was encouraging to see the RTE NSO move  out of their comfort zone and play to packed houses in Cork and Waterford recently.
  Limerick is fortunate to have the splendid  Irish Chamber Orchestra as  residents. In the vanguard of new music, The Crash Ensemble have garnered much praise internationally for exposing the new and the Irish Baroque Orchestra  have kept the muted glow of the past burning with elan.  But beyond this harmonious inner sphere is a broader circle of enterprise drawing on dedicated amateurs that fill the ranks of choirs and orchestras to create a panoply of events that immeasurably illuminate the Irish cultural landscape. Many of these probably won't be recorded in  national press reports for future historians to mull over  In Dublin this weekend, I was fortunate to catch two thrilling events from this end of the spectrum.

Dublin Orchestral Players
As the  National Concert Hall prepared to welcome the great Russian violinist, Maxim Vengerov  to join the  NSO  to celebrate the 150th anniversary of music making within it's grand portals, an amteur ensemble slipped onto the patform  ahead  of the posse. On Saturday night , 150 years after the opening of the hall, I was in the packed house to hear the Dublin Orchestral Players celebrate their own 75th anniversary with a gala concert. It is hard to imagaine that as the Allies and German forces battled in the turmoil of  Dunkirk, players  were rosining their bows in St Andrew's Church Hall in Suffolk St at the very first rehearsal of a new amateur orchestra. Members were asked to contrinbute 3 pennies  at the door. Sufficient thruppeny bits were collected to present a concert in the Abbey Lecture Hall on June 5, 1940 conducted by Havelock Nelson and Constance Harding. Over the years, the orchestra has delighted audiences, encouraged young soloists and conductors, given a platform to new music by  Irish composers and a creative outlet for the talents of their members, most of whom who have day jobs in other areas. I am proud to have been a member myself in the early 80's. In a detailed history essay, I note ,the contribution of Anew McMaster as narrator.

Rising star, Nadene Fiorentini sparkled in Grieg's concerto. The programme notes informed us that Valerie Walker was the soloist when the ensemble first performed the work in 1952 in the Abbey Lecture Hall .  Ms Walker was a guest at the gala on Saturday.  As  a bonus Tristan Russcher  pulled out the stops on the NCH organ in Albinoni's  Adagio- a rare treat. The orchestra was joined by not one but two choirs, local AIB Choir and  St George's Singers from Belfast imbueing the event with a cross border element. If the skill level was more uneven than a mainstream professional event, the sense of occasion and rapport with the audience was at the top of the scale. A spirit  of gala glee mingled with pride fuelled the post show buzz in the foyers and the audience  lingered long after the final notes to savour the atmosphere of the occasion.  (One minute of undiluted post show  buzz in the audioboo)

On Sunday, while Vengerov was rosining his bow at the NCH, Belfast pianist, MichaelMcHale was flexing his fingers  in the hallowed crypt at Christchurch as he prepared  to join the City of Dublin Chamber Orchestra under Gavin Moloney. Under mellow lighting and Gothic arches, McHale gave a mesmerizing performance of Chopin's Piano Concetto no 2. A poetic benediction in a magnificent sacred space.  His teenage jazz roots showed through in a unique interpretation of Danny Boy in an encore. Formed in 1966, the orchestra originally known as the Dublin Baroque Players has been rebranded to better reflect the broader range of repertoire and constitution.

Iam happy to report there were very few free seats at either venue. We send an extra round of virtual applause and a shaft of bloggersphere limelight to both these terrific ensembles. Long may they flourish and

No classical events listed in two page spread on Limerick's music scene

Friday, May 8, 2015

Rough Magic in Famished Castle

I am just in from seeing  a preview of Rough Magic's latest production.  Famished Castle, a new play by Hilary Fannin will be premiered tomorrow, Friday 8th May at the Theatre Royal  Waterford.  

 The play takes it's title from a sean fhocal quoted by Enda Kenny in a speech delivered on the inauguration of Michael D Higgins as president. Is fearr botháin biathar ná caisleán gortach. (Better a cabin with food than a famished castle). The drama hinges on a strained  Bergmanesque family drama that fuses bitter elements of death, frailty, betrayal, bleakness and insanity, laced with enough tongue-in-cheek humour to make the bitter cocktail palatable. Through this prism, characters offer sharp observations and wry commentary on the changes in post Celtic Tiger Irish society. 'A flawed family in a flawed country' as observed by Ciaran O'Neill in his programme note.  I was reminded of the returned emigrants from European countries that I met living in a country village that had been rapidly transformed to suburban Dublin, Baffled by the Ireland they met ,  several  returned to Europe as soon as they could. 

The high point of the drama is a flashback to a fraught family gathering  where a young couple Nat (Ray Scannell) and Angie( Aislin McGuckian)  are out to dinner with Nat's parents Tom (Vinnie McCabe), a garrulous property developer and his acerbic wife, Trixie whom Tom dubs the Mother Teresa of Sauvignon. Later Nat is forced to revisit his past when compelled to return from abroad to care for Tom  and witnesses how society has changed .  There are strong convincing  performances from the quatet. I particularly enjoyed Trixie's (Eleanor Mentven's) withering retorts, sharply written and crisply delivered.  Staging was simple but effective. The lighting design produced some dramatic effects on  a diaphanous curtain backdrop. (At the preview, Angie seemed a little under-dressed for the occasion)

Original music and sound design  by Denis Clohessy made much use of marimba type percussion and created a dream-like  ephemeral soundscape .

Following the performance, there was a Q&A with director and author chaired by Una Healy. The author's links with Red Kettle was explored. They  spoke about  the creative process and the emergence  of Rough Magic  in the 80's  in a wave of new independent theatre groups in Temple Bar.  They expressed genuine delight in the venue, the bijou Theatre Royal itself. 

The quality of writing in the dialogue, the sharp observation and the convincing portrayal of well drawn characters with  an original score made this an engaging  theatrical experience


Thursday, May 7, 2015

Emma Nash Gears Up for Gilda

Emma and Suzanne 
Rising star on the Irish Opera scene, Emma Nash has been  very busy in the last year. I enjoyed her performances in the IYO production of the Rape of Lucretia and in the Der Vampyr at the Everyman, Cork She plays lead role of the ill-fated Gilda in OTC's Rigoletto currently in rehearsal.  My preview appears in today's Irish Examiner. You can read that here 

 I include below some additional  insights into Emma's path to the opera stage that emerged in the interview 
Watch out for her at Wexford, later this year. I hear she is to appear as lead in one of the short works, Hansel and Gretel

Where did you grow up.? Can you tell me a little about your early music training- your first music lessons. 
I grew up in Douglas in Cork and I don't come from a particularly musical family. I remember attending theory lessons from a young age at The Cork School of Music and singing in the junior choir there. It was my mum who first introduced me to theatre and performing, enrolling me in CADA Performing Arts when I was very young. I was bitten by the bug, appearing in Pantomimes and various shows over the years. When I was 17 I was encouraged by my music teacher Alison Johnston in Scoil Mhuire to audition for the Irish Youth Choir. I spent a summer singing with other talented young singers and I was inspired to begin training my voice more seriously. 

 I only began getting my voice trained quite late. I think I always wanted to sing but I didn't know opera would be the path I took. I initially intended to study drama and theatre studies at UCC but when I was offered a joint honours option with music the singing training took over completely. Opera was a way to combine my two great passions; singing and acting to the highest level. 

What was your first experience of opera. 

 My dad actually introduced me to opera. He has a great love for the classics; Tosca, La Traviata, La Bohème etc. I have a very vivid memory of him taking me to see Madam Butterfly at The Cork Opera House and I was enthralled. Prior to this I believed opera singers were simply born with those incredible voices but as soon as I found out that it was possible to train your voice to sing like that I was on a mission! 

 Is Gilda your first  Verdi role?  Looking at your biography, you seem to have sung  lots of contemporary  opera. ! Yes that is true although my first professional engagement after the opera course at The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama was a romantic opera; Der Vampyr by Marschner with The Everyman and The Cork Operatic Society. Then in December I sang with Wide Open Opera in their new commission The Oldest Woman in Limerick by Brian Irvine and John McllDuff. Before that I sang the role of Lucia in Irish Youth Opera’s inaugural production of The Rape of Lucretia  conducted by Stephen Barlow and directed by Michael Barker Caven. I'm looking forward to returning to some of the theatres; The Limetree Theatre in Limerick, An Táin Arts Centre in Dundalk, The O’ Reilly Theatre in Dublin and Wexford Opera House on the Rigoletto tour. Gilda is my first full Verdi role although I've done some Verdi scenes and arias before. Gilda is one of those bucket list roles and I'm really looking forward to singing it with Opera Theatre Company alongside this exciting cast.  

Friday, May 1, 2015

A Whirl on a Waterford Carousel

Displaying photo.JPG

It was marvellous to see the Theatre Royal full with an midweek audience of young and old for the inaugural production of a brand  new musical society, The Waterford Musical Society presented Carousel, a musical penned by Rogers and Hammerstein after the success of Oklahoma. A mix of emotions pervaded the atmosphere in the Viking Triangle at the eagerly anticipated debut.  Excitement, pride, nostalgia and glee and regret too made for  a bittersweet cocktail that in some ways chimed with the dark musical itself.
Carousel has a fairly  grim clunky  plot that  doesn't sit easily into the musical genre. That said, it has great gags and terrific show stopping members including the iconic Liverpool anthem. An extra round of  virtual buala bos here for these five elements I particularly loved about the production.

1 A live band in the pit!  Oh the luxury of real and not synthetic brass, reed and strings emanating from the pit under director, Wayne Browne. I've noted with apprehension, the drift towards using backing tracks for musical productions. I would prefer to listen to the rehearsal pianist live than the a sophisticated backing. I've heard perfectly acceptable solutions with two pianos. I won't fork out for a show if I know backing tracks are providing the accompaniment.

2 The Costumes. Cast and chorus look splendid in vintage costumes. In particular, we loved  the tableau of colourful circus performers in the first scene.

3The Carousel. Having a horse in a show is usually  a good thing.  Lots of pretty horses on the carousel. The on stage assembly of the carousel was super slick.  We were just sorry it didn't feature again in a later scene.

4 Super performances all round.  With an elegant stage presence and a clear strong voice, star of the show was Lupita de Bháil as Nettie Fowler, an aunt Ella type role.  At school in Presentation, I remember Lupita Sheehan creating sets for the school shows but I was unaware of her stage talents until last night. Indeed I was delighted to see at least one Pres girl of my era on stage. Lovely to see a mix of generations involved in the production

5 Best Cameo.  Des Manahan has given so much pleasure to audiences in his many comic roles for societies throughout Ireland. Dressed in silver to match his hair, Des added his own unique blend of gravitas and humour  in the cameo role of Starman.

Venue Notes: The audience in the balcony were a bit fidgety. There was a lot  of unnecessary movement that was irritating and did spoil some quieter moments such as Billy's soliliquay.  If someone does exit for whatever reason, they should not be readmitted until an interval or at least they should  only be admitted between songs and  encouraged to sit on  spare seats on the periphery rather than making their way back to middle of a row .  In this theatre, this requires other patrons to stand interrupting the proceedings for everyone in the vicinity. I was distracted when a staff member made his way through the balcony to deliver popcorn  during a song. .