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

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Red Iron: New Jim Nolan Play at Garter Lane

Michael Quinlan and Brian Doherty

Anticipation was high in theatre circles at the prospect of a new play by the Waterford's  favourite playwright. Garter Lane was humming for the opening night. The Blackwater Gin was flowing, the mellifluous sound of the Barrack Street Concert Band installed in the Gallery threw a cheerful aural glow over the pre-show buzz as stage folk gathered to say hello and see a new play brought from page to stage. Best dressed among the gathering was the Mayor wearing his chain and office and Munster Express theatre critic, Liam Murphy in splendid red shirt and matching shoes. Memories were triggered of the glory days of Red Kettle when the Waterford company was at the forefront of the national theatre scene. Although the company ceased operations, Nolan has acquired the title and 'The Red Iron' was presented under the Red Kettle banner.

After a tragic funeral, a group of friends reunite after decades on the eponymous Red Iron, a bridge that now can only be approached from the 'enemy territory' of Co Kilkenny. The bridge is  a haunt of their younger days. It happens to be the day of the homecoming of a defeated Waterford hurling team and we hear a recording of the reception voices of a stoic manager Derek McGrath and entertainer Richie Hayes so effectively drawing us back to the emotional occasion on the Quay. I remember; I was there!

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The dialogue is peppered with references to sport and particularly  hurling. Hurling jerseys and bunting adorn the beams of Dermot Quinn's impressive set. Nolan adroitly draws the characters from the streets around Upper Yellow Rd with sharp detail of local streets,  GAA  teams and pubs. The redemptive power of music is  a familiar theme in Jim Nolan's plays and there is much reference to the characters' involvement in the Barrack Street Band who feature in the sound track. Nolan has a sharp ear for local humour and the comedy dialogue rang as  true as if overheard in Jordan's Bar. The characters  pick at scabs to reveal some painful memories that produces some powerful and poignant drama if a little convoluted at times as one  reveal rapidly follows another.

The cast, with one exception, are professional thespians drawn from  Waterford and its diaspora  who delivered very  credible characters.

The opening night audience loved it and the a standing ovation swiftly followed the final lights down.

Booking is heavy for the first week and  the play runs until November 30th.

Cathy's  review of Jim Nolan's Brighton play here
Cathy's review of Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye here 
The Red Iron Bridge from

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

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

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

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

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

The Veiled Prophet at Wexford Opera House

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

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

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

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

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Finghin Collins at City Hall Waterford.

Finghin Collins and Marian Ingoldsby 


Mozart Sonata in A major K. 331 “Alla Turca”

Marian Ingoldsby Ros Tapestry Suite XIV: Exchange: the Irish and Normans mingle at the fair

Philip Martin: Ros Tapestry Suite XI: Gothic Glory: The Building of the Parish Church of St Mary’s in 1210

Schubert Sonata in A major D. 959

22 years after his Waterford debut, Finghin Collins returned to play at the Georgian Large Room. It is part of the lore of the local history that he stood in to play for an indisposed Vladimir Ashkenazy here as a teenager. Collins took to the platform with broad smiles and seemed surprised and delighted by the warmth of the reception. The playing was superb and delivered with theatrical aplomb. Sustained applause wrung two Brahms' intermezzos as encores. Linda O' Shea Farren from the Contemporary Music Centre was in the house to interview composer Marian Ingoldsby about her piece based on the Ros Tapestry. The event was much enhanced by having a unique visual dimension. The two relevant panels framed the stage with the house Steinway C sandwiched between them. Many patrons lingered to chat and greet the virtuoso. It was a marvelous night

There are few, I believe, in the  business who have worked harder than Finghin Collins to shape and promote the classical scene in Ireland as well as developing a successful international career. What he has achieved both in New Ross and Galway in well planned and executed festivals is so impressive and has added enormously to the musical life of those towns well beyond the pale. It was good to see committee members of the New Ross Piano Fetsival in the audience to support their artistic director.

LAST 3 DATES: Finghin Collins plays in Glór, Ennis tonight, in Curtis Auditorium Cork tomorrow (Ros pieces by Linda Buckley and Sam Perkin) and in Galway on Friday. Next dates in Switzerland.
Panel 14 Ros Tapestry