The Irish Canon: mad ambition, madder promotional strategy
The stated aim of a new concert series is to create a new canon of Irish works and make them repertoire standards. Good luck with that
Ask yourself a few questions. Which works from the 1950s to the 1990s have the people who plan programmes for the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, RTÉ Concert Orchestra and the Irish Chamber Orchestra deemed to be worth hearing again? What policies are in place to ensure that the best new works of more recent years will be heard again? And what role has a major institution such as the National Concert Hall played in the development and nurturing of an Irish canon in the 32 years of its existence?
The answers to those questions are: none (with one possible exception), none, and none. And, yes, I am aware of the honourable role of the CDs that appear on the RTÉ Lyric FM label, and those that appeared on Marco Polo in the last century.
But those recordings serve to set the problem in even greater relief by presenting the idea that we’re dealing with repertoire that is worth issuing on CD but not actually worth a concert performance. No disrespect to the CDs, but there’s something seriously skewed here.
Take just one example. Seán Ó Riada’s best work, Hercules Dux Ferrariae, has been issued on an RTÉ Lyric FM CD in a 2011 recording by the RTÉ NSO under Robert Houlihan, but, unless I’m mistaken, it hasn’t been programmed in an RTÉ concert for more than 25 years. Even the preparation and issuing of the CD didn’t prompt a live performance.
At the moment, the evidence is that, in the minds of the NSO’s programmers, the Irish orchestral canon is restricted to just one composer, Shaun Davey, whose work never appears in the regular season, but in separate, one-man concerts. Go figure.
Opera Theatre Company rises
Opera Theatre Company, which has been through a difficult few years, was involved in a good news story last week. It will engage in a production of Kurt Weill’s Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny in partnership with Rough Magic theatre company, which has received a €230,000 Sky Arts Ignition award for the project. The show will run at the Olympia Theatre in Dublin from June 12th to 22nd next year.
Just a few years ago, Opera Theatre Company faced the prospect of being forcefully merged by the Arts Council into a new national opera company based in Wexford, and it still faced extinction when that project stalled. But a good face was put on the scandalous treatment of opera in Ireland by throwing the company a lifeline, while Opera Ireland was allowed to go under.
Opera Theatre Company didn’t receive the full funding it had sought for a 2013 project involving the much-anticipated Irish premiere of Berg’s Wozzeck, and although the Wozzeck performances were announced, they were later cancelled.
The company’s new team of Rosemary Collier (executive director) and Fergus Sheil (artistic director) arrived in September to steady the ship. January’s tour of Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’amore, a co-production with NI Opera, has had to be postponed. And a planned 2014 co- production of Britten’s Albert Herring with Mid Wales Opera has been shelved. For Opera Theatre Company, the announcement of the new Mahagonny is a shot in the arm that couldn’t have come at a better time.