Lismore has a lash at singing in the rain

 

While at times vocals and instruments were hard to decipher under a barrage of rain, the singers at the Lismore Music Festival created a sense of solidarity

‘THE RAIN in Spain stays mainly in the plain,” says the song from My Fair Lady. It’s not true, of course. But the rain in Ireland does seem ready to fall anywhere and anytime. And last weekend it fell with a vengeance on the opening night of the Lismore Music Festival.

The festival’s big shows are its opera performances, given in a stable yard in the grounds of Lismore Castle. The festival covers the yard with a protective marquee, but leaves the stage end open to the elements, with a gap, clear to the skies and the clouds, that provides natural light at the start of a performance (the starting time is 8.30pm). On Saturday, it provided bucket-loads of water, too.

Wetting was one of the features of Dieter Kaegi’s production of Rossini’s Barber of Seville. The yard has a fountain that was used for games of splashing, was made to disgorge a mountain of suds at one point, and into which, when relatively suds-free, the Bartolo of Damon Nestor Ploumis later plunged with an almighty splash.

But the fact that singers sometimes had to run through or stand in the rain and sing was the least of the evening’s problems. Yes, it must have been uncomfortable for the performers. But the problem for the audience was the noise. There was no let-up to the barrage on the marquee, and that barrage, which somehow gave the impression of being in perpetual crescendo, often made both the singing and the instrumental accompaniment of the small ensemble, under the direction of harpsichordist David Adams, sound puny.

Kaegi had important action and singing take place on a balcony which, while it offered its own modicum of protection from the rain, was separated by open air from the audience under the marquee. This would have diminished the carrying power of the voices in the best of circumstances. In a heavy downpour, it was a case of no contest. The rain won every time.

The difficulties were so extreme that the singers only sounded at all normal when they were close up and singing straight on. The instrumental accompaniments were mostly hard to decipher beneath the noise of the weather.

The performances in Lismore are bilingual. The arias are sung in Italian, the recitative in English. And the production was certainly ready for the weather, with a rake of rain-related jokes as well as umbrellas. Kaegi’s now trademark transport gag saw Owen Gilhooly’s Barber arrive on a scooter – earlier festivals have involved a sports car and a bicycle, so horses, donkeys and camels must surely follow – and comedic slapstick was the order of the day.

In those few moments when the voices were clearly to be heard, Pervin Chakar’s Rosina and Javier Abreu’s Almaviva sounded agile and effective. But the broader characterisations provided by Owen Gilhooly’s Barber and Ploumis’s Bartolo were more effective again. And the audience was clearly won over by Sandra Oman’s Berta, here a barmaid rather than a housekeeper, who, although she didn’t have much to sing, showed a doggedness and surliness that were completely weather-proof. It was one of those nights where cast and audience clearly understood that, come what may, we were all in it together, and solidarity could only make the evening a more pleasant experience.

The festival also offered a programme of piano duets at Salterbridge House in Cappoquin, played on a suitably domestic scale by Dearbhla and Finghin Collins. And St Carthage’s Cathedral in Lismore was the venue for that most secular-sounding of masses, Rossini’s Petite messe solennelle, with a forceful team of soloists (Sandra Oman, Máire Flavin, Anthony Kearns and John Molloy) and a much more pliable chorus bringing together members of Carlow Choral Society and the Dún Laoghaire Choral Society, with conductor Marco Zambelli sharing the piano and harmonium accompaniment with the ever-sensitive David Adams.

* Toronto-basedIrish musician Dáirine Ní Mheadhra has been awarded this year’s Canada Council for the Arts Molson Prize, worth C$50,000 (€38,585). The award is one of two made annually (the other is for the social sciences and humanities) in recognition of “outstanding lifetime achievements and ongoing contributions to the cultural and intellectual life of Canada”.

Cork-born Ní Mheadhra joined the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra as a cellist at the age of 17, and in 1990 was one of the founders of the highly-regarded contemporary music group Nua Nós, which recorded the first CD of music by Gerald Barry.

Ní Mheadhra emigrated to Canada in 1994 after her marriage to Canadian pianist John Hess, and together they founded Queen of Puddings Music Theatre in 1995. The company specialises in contemporary opera and music theatre and describes its aesthetic as “a physical, singing theatre where the performer is the central force and the instrumentalists are integrated into the dramatic action”.

The Molson Prize selection committee paid tribute to Ní Mheadhra for “the excitement her work generates, its innovative nature and its significant ramifications in the theatre, new music and opera communities”.

The committee also praised her ability to bring together artists from different backgrounds and raise the standard for creative interdisciplinary work. It described the arc of her career as “amazing” and credited her with having significantly shaped the way opera is viewed in Canada and on the world stage.

Although Queen of Puddings Music Theatre productions have been seen around Europe, they have yet to be presented in Ireland. Information about Queen of Puddings can be found at queen ofpuddingsmusictheatre.com, and details of the Molson Prize are available at iti.ms/KuaKSL.

* Music Networkhas announced that its new chief executive, succeeding Deirdre McCrea, will be Sharon Rollston, who has been acting chief executive since August 2011.

She joined Music Network in 2008 as performance programmes manager, before which she worked with the Crafts Council of Ireland and in Belfast with Moving on Music. She is the fifth person to head up the organisation in its 26-year history, and says that her priority will be to develop a new strategic plan “in consultation with our many stakeholders which will inform our future direction.

“The artistic programming aspect of the role provides me with a greater opportunity to engage with our network of partners in bringing new and exciting music experiences to audiences across the country,” she continued.

Music Network’s chairman Peter Finnegan welcomed her appointment. “With over 15 years of experience working in a range of key arts and cultural organisations,” he said, “Sharon brings a wealth of skills and qualities to the role of CEO of Music Network . . . She will bring a fresh new energy to bear on Music Network’s activities.”

You can gauge the importance of those activities to concert-goers by the fact that the Music Network directly supports an average of around two concerts a week during the year (just over half of them classical) and handles around another 50 through its administration of the music funding of the Arts Council’s performance and touring awards.


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