Reviews

 

MICHAEL DERVANreviews La Bohème, PETER CRAWLEYreviews Queer Notions: All Over Townand ANDREW JOHNSTONEreviews Tara Erraught and the RTÉ NSO.

La Bohème

Pavilion Theatre, Dún Laoghaire

MICHAEL DERVAN

Anne-Marie O’Sullivan’s new DLR Glasthule Opera has a dual goal, “to help our brilliant young Irish singers by giving them an essential Irish platform for performance” and “to promote the availability of opera to everyone”.

These are laudable aims. Ireland has a peculiar track record when it comes to opera. We trumpet the international achievements of our singers, yet some of our major organisations, most notably Wexford Festival, seem happy to ignore major Irish talent when it comes to casting.

In terms of Irishness, DLR Glasthule Opera’s score is 100 per cent. But, sadly, the company’s debut production, Puccini’s La Bohème, directed and designed by John McKeown and with a small ensemble conducted by Roy Holmes, does not allow anyone involved to be heard or seen at their best.

McKeown has conceived a bare-bones production that goes well beyond representing the shabbiness of the opera’s bohemians. The open stage is very bare, its black floor broken only by minimal furniture and the musicians of the orchestra.

The cavortings of the young artists in the Act I garret and the antics of the small chorus outside the Act II cafe conspire somehow to bring about a kind of inertia. And Marcello and Musetta’s absurdly prolonged Act II kiss suggests nothing more than the pursuit of cheap laughs. Persuasive characterisation is not one of the production’s strengths.

Roy Holmes’s dutifully brusque musical approach prioritises metre over rhythm, and doesn’t make things easy for the singers.

Carthaigh Quill and Emily Alexander look an attractive pair as Rodolfo and Mimi, but their potential is limited by signs of vocal strain. Katy Kelly sings Musetta’s big aria strongly, but is variable apart from that. The most persuasive presences in an evening I found dispiriting (but which the audience applauded with enthusiasm) were Brendan Collins’s Marcello and John Molloy’s Colline. DLR Glasthule Opera festival runs until Saturday

Queer Notions: All Over Town

Project, Dublin

PETER CRAWLEY

For the young hero on a journey, this well-trodden earth can still be a fresh discovery. For the writer of a monologue play, the storyteller form is similarly well trampled. In All Over Town, playwright Phillip McMahon and his protagonist, Seán, face similar challenges. With another voyage of self-discovery, what more is there to find? With yet another monologue play, what is there left to say? McMahon’s engaging answer, subtly accentuated by Calipo Theatre Company and thisispopbaby, is all in the delivery. As Seán departs Dublin for Sydney, via Bangkok, with a towering self-confidence known only to 21-year-olds, his story may be familiar, but the telling is both breezily affectionate and infectiously ironic; part epic narrative, part package holiday.

It would be enough if this play, rejigged from a 2006 version, simply worked at all. That it works so well comes down to the empathy McMahon and director Tom Creed have for the charcater and the sly knowing that they share with the audience. We may know the difference between a gap year and an odyssey, but no one has thought to tell Seán, and Dylan Kennedy’s performance asks you to love him for it.

A slight presence, nervy at first, Kennedy bobs around Project’s stage like a merry buoy on a choppy sea. Set designer Ciarán O’Melia and lighting designer Paul Keogan conspire to set him adrift with blanket illumination over stretches of wooden floor, or send storms of neon across cascades of tinsel.

Anyone passingly familiar with gay representation in culture – be it the coded references of Oscar Wilde or Edmund White’s soul-searching bildungsroman– might expect a tentative coming-out story. McMahon isn’t interested in this. Flaky, cocky and promiscuous, Seán’s is a love that not only dares to speak its name but has sprayed it on a tight T-shirt. In the wrong hands he would seem insufferable, but McMahon knows precisely where to show his vulnerability.

Falling in with Karl, a seductively sinister Irishman abroad who runs an escort service, the naively “adaptable” Seán slips thoughtlessly, even proudly, into parties, drug binges and prostitution. But we know it’s a pose. “It’s all a bit Jane Austen,” confesses a lovesick Seán at one point, “which is too tragic for words.” But McMahon is clearly a romantic in a world of cynics, so much so that he affords Seán a guardian angel via an Eircom telephone operator, consolingly voiced by Janet Moran. It’s the spaces between his words that give him away, she tells him when Seán hits his expected nadir. For all Seán’s blur of motion and fizz of speech, it is the exquisite moments of silence that Creed and Kennedy deliver which touch the heart, explain the character and justify the form. The speaker of the monologue, the dramatic form of loneliness, believes he is alone. The audience for this warm, wry and touching story know that he is not. Runs until the end of the Queer Notions festival on Saturday; projectartscentre.ie

Erraught, RTÉ NSO/Sheil

NCH, Dublin

ANDREW JOHNSTONE

This lunchtime programme by the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra might well have had the air of an opera gala were it not that mezzo-soprano soloist Tara Erraught and conductor Fergus Sheil turned it into something much more satisfying.

Erraught, born in Dundalk and currently furthering her studies with the Bavarian State Opera, has the true mezzo’s rare ability to illuminate the most ordinary segment of the human voice.

Her items were discerningly chosen from four staunch mezzo roles, beginning with Rosina’s cavatina, “Una voce poco fa”, from Il barbiere– not in its show-stealing coloratura version, but as Rossini originally intended.

It was with Desdemona’s willow song, “Assisa a piè d’un salice”, from Rossini’s Otello, that Erraught’s instinct for drama began fully to reveal itself. Despite the brightly lit concert hall, the impression was of a tragic heroine on a gloomy stage.

It was thus the presence of the characters, rather than merely that of the singer herself, that could be felt in her rounded performances of two Mozart extracts: Cherubino’s aria, “Non so più cosa son” (from Le nozze di Figaro), and Sesto’s aria, “Parto, parto” ( La clemenza di Tito).

All was neatly accompanied by the RTÉ NSO, with some notable obbligatos from Andreja Malir (harp) and John Finucane (clarinet). Amid side-drummers’ volleys of crossfire in Rossini’s Thieving Magpie Overture, it was just about possible to hear how tidy the string-playing was.

Two romantic orchestrations of Handel favourites, Largoand Water Music, cannot have been calculated to appeal to purists. Yet thanks to Sheil’s ear for detail and careful balances, not to mention a generous violin solo from leader Alan Smale, these passé scores sounded fresh, refined and revalidated.