January hits the high notes in a packed operatic schedule


There are a wealth of operas to choose from in Ireland this year, with Britten proving particularly popular

The first Irish opera productions of 2013 are coming in January, and both are in direct competition with each other. Students from the Royal Irish Academy of Music will perform Britten’s Albert Herring and students from the DIT Conservatory of Music and Drama will perform Britten’s The Turn of the Screw. Remarkably, the two institutions managed to choose to perform their operas on the same dates, January 15th, 17th, and 19th.

Britten features in the schedules of the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra and the Ulster Orchestra, but the most generous orchestral celebration of his centenary comes from the Irish Chamber Orchestra. Its March programme (on January 21st in Limerick and 23rd in Dublin) is directed from the viola by Isabelle van Keulen, and includes his Lachrymae, Simple Symphony, and Variations on a theme of Frank Bridge.

March looks like the busiest month for Britten celebrations, with performances of the Hymn to St Cecilia being toured by the BBC Singers under Fergus Sheil to Drogheda, Galway and Dublin (March 21st to 23rd). Then, students from the RIAM return to his work for three performances of the dramatic cantata Phaedra at The Lir in Dublin, from March 25th to 27th.

The West Cork Chamber Music Festival (June 28th to July 6th) won’t be short of Britten either, with performances of the three string quartets, the Third Suite for solo cello (by the hugely popular Natalie Clein), and the Rimbaud settings of Les illuminations from soprano Claire Booth with the ICO.

It’s most unusual to have a half dozen performances of two operas in Ireland in January, and the pattern of opera in 2013 looks like being as unusual as it has been over the past few years. NI Opera dips its foot into Wagner in February, with a new Oliver Mears production of Der fliegende Holländer at Belfast’s Grand Opera House (February 15th and 17th), featuring two Belfast singers in the lead roles, Bruno Caproni as the Dutchman, and Giselle Allen as Senta.

The company tours William Walton’s “extravaganza in one act” The Bear, again directed by Mears, from March 21st to 30th, and presents the Irish première of Gerald Barry’s The Importance of Being Earnest, directed by Anthony McDonald, in Derry, Belfast, Cork and Dublin in October and November, the Cork and Dublin performances benefiting from one of this year’s Arts Council production awards.

George Isaakian’s Moscow State Theatre production of Bizet’s Carmen comes to the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre from March 13th to 17th, with soprano Celine Byrne as Micaëla.

The theatre’s advertising calls this a “traditional production . . . with traditional sets and costumes”, although it also features elements that are anything but traditional. “The set designs will incorporate some of Picasso’s paintings, dedicated to Spain and the bullfight, and for the first time Carmen will be visualised through Picasso’s masterpieces.” This isn’t the first time that a show has made conflicting claims in an attempt to broaden its appeal.

Soprano Claudia Boyle returns to Lyric Opera, as Susanna in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro in February (at the NCH on February 16th and 17th), and as Violetta in Verdi’s La traviata in June, which is at the Gaiety Theatre on June 5th, 7th and 8th. Mozart’s Figaro is also scheduled for the Lismore Music Festival, which this year will run for over a week, from Friday, May 25th to Sunday, June 2nd.

The year will also bring two 20th-century operas new to Ireland. The Cork Opera House has got Arts Council funding to mount tango-king Astor Piazzolla’s María de Buenos Aires in June. And Opera Theatre Company, again with an Arts Council opera production award, steps up a gear for the Irish première of Berg’s Wozzeck with the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra in Collins Barracks in October.

Leeds-based Opera North, which has visited both Belfast and Dublin in recent years, is returning to the Grand Opera House in Belfast in March (on March 6th and 9th) but won’t be travelling south to Dublin. There will be two performances of Tim Albery’s production of Verdi’s Otello, and one each of Mozart’s La clemenza di Tito and a double bill of Poulenc’s Voix humaine and Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas.

The sole role in the Poulenc is taken by Lesley Garrett, marking what must be the singer’s first stage role in Ireland since she first appeared here in Handel’s Orlando at the Wexford Festival in 1980. She’s been here many times since then, of course, just not in an actual opera.

Barry’s Earnest, which is also due productions in Nancy (opening on St Patrick’s Day), London (dates to be announced) and New York (2014), is not the only 21st-century Irish opera to watch out for. Ian Wilson’s Minsk premières in German in March (Heilbronn, March 3rd, 6th, 21st and 22nd). Siobhán Cleary’s Jack Ashore gets its première from Boston Metro Opera on June 20th and continues until June 29th). And Raymond Deane’s new The Alma Fetish gets a concert performance at the NCH on September 17th.

Barry’s The Triumph of Beauty and Deceit, originally a television opera premièred on Channel 4 in 1994, is in a double bill with the work which sparked it, Handel’s Il trionfo de Tempo e del Disinganno, at the Handel Festival in the Badisches Staatstheater in Karlsruhe from February 10th to 23rd.

There was opera, too, well, what used to be called bleeding chunks of it, from the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra under Swiss guest conductor Matthias Bamert on Friday.

It was an all-Wagner affair to mark the bicentenary of the composer’s birth, with Miriam Murphy commanding and resplendent in the Wesendonck Lieder and the Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde, three more overtures (Rienzi, Tannhäuser, and Die Meistersinger) and the most famous moment from the Ring, the Ride of the Valkyries.

Bamert is a cool and measured Wagnerian, and, on the evidence of this concert, also a rather dull one. The only aspect of the music-making that really took flight was Murphy’s singing, the voice pouring out with glorious penetration and fullness.

At the same time, every word was communicated with point and clarity. It was as if she was born to sing this music.

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