Surprise exit: what is behind the departure of RTÉ old hand Crimmins?
The bowing-out of one of RTÉ’s most experienced musical hands is a bombshell
There was much more of the atmosphere of opera, and of the presence of an operatic character onstage, in Fleming’s recital than there was in the concert performance of Julie Feeney’s new opera in progress, Bird, which was heard at the close of the Galway Arts Festival on Sunday.
Feeney sees opera as a story told through song, though some of us might see that as more the area of a song cycle than of opera. But opera is a wide church, reaching back to Monteverdi and beyond at one end, and to any number of adventurous extremes in the 20th and 21st centuries, not to mention the aberration of that now-forgotten 19th-century Italian composer Pietro Raimondi, who wrote a pair of operas – one a comedy, the other a tragedy – that could be performed separately, and then together, with plots and music knitting into a new whole.
Feeney’s Bird, to her own libretto, inspired by Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince, brings together the singer’s current persona and her past, blending her current voice with the kind she used to cultivate when she was a professional choral singer with the National Chamber Choir.
One style is based on personality and presence, the other on an ability to to curb individuality in order to serve a bigger community. At the end I found myself in the position that I suspect many of Feeney’s biggest fans probably found themselves in, too. Things palled when she wasn’t singing. There wasn’t enough of her to justify the 45-minute length. Where I was sitting, the resonant acoustic of St Nicholas Collegiate Church swallowed up so many of the words that I stopped trying to decipher them. And the players in the mixed ensemble seemed seriously under-used, apart from the electric guitarist. A work in progress with a lot of work to go.
An injection of youth
Both the Irish Youth Choir, appearing in tandem with the Ulster Youth Choir (they share a conductor in Greg Beardsell) and the National Youth Orchestra of Ireland (under Rafael Payare), were in action during the week. Youth groups vary hugely from year to year, and at the moment it’s the singers who are at a peak, not the instrumentalists. Beardsell even managed the feat of taking Charles Wood’s Hail, gladdening light, and making it glow with an impactful brilliance that neither of the works by living composers (Elaine Agnew’s sombre Tears and Enda Bates’s giddy Pauper’s Lament) could quite rival. Quite an achievement.