NI Opera Shorts

Tue, Jul 3, 2012, 01:00

The MAC, Belfast

NI Opera is exploring “lives on the edge” in five premières from Northern Irish composers and leading playwrights. Our Day, by Conor Mitchell with words by Mark Ravenhill, sparked the entire venture: a New Music 20x12 commission for the London 2012 Festival.

The set for all five – a long grey room of panels and doors – was placed diagonally to the audience, leaving a triangular performance space for the different-size ensembles of Ulster Orchestra players conducted by Fergus Sheil. The stage was also raked quite steeply, rising to stage right, not easy for the singers, but allowing lighting designer Kevin Treacy to exploit his understated resources to maximum effect.

Director Rachel O’Riordan and designer Gary McCann brought clarity and distinctiveness to an evening which benefitted, above all, from the teamwork and ensemble strengths of the singers.

Our Day centred on the Troubles and Mary Peters going for gold. With clearly etched orchestration, and long lyrical lines, there was a good balance between stage and pit, a big overwrought climax, and a puzzling outcome.

Jackie’s Taxi by Ed Bennett and Stacey Gregg explored the world of drugs with taxi-driver Jackie complemented by four dancing hoods with real attitude. Some of the words were difficult to make out, but the driving rhythms, and the humour of the Belfast street talk made this a memorable highlight.

Another startling change of mood came with The Girl Who Knew She Could Fly by Christopher Norby and Frank McGuinness. Lots of words here, but time standing still for parents mourning their daughter was underlined by the static staging and the long gentle lines of music.

Driven by Deirdre McKay and Richard Dormer explored the memories of war hero Blair Mayne, alone on an empty stage. Minimalist repetitive rhythms from the lower strings, winds and brass accompanied Mayne’s eccentric ramblings.

Brian Irvine and Owen McCafferty’s witty, fast-paced and colourfully orchestrated May Contain Flash Photography (above) was a great finisher.

A family watches the National Lottery draw on television and, apart from the maudlin moment when the formerly silent father actually sings, this dealt amusingly with unattainable wealth.

Composers and playwrights alike were more than well-served by NI Opera’s ensemble of singers which included Doreen Curran, Giselle Allen, Eamonn Mulhall and Paul Carey Jones.

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