Online culture: What’s on in a time of Covid-19?

Cahirciveen’s tenor voices, Carlow’s virtual reality and Irish National Opera

Gavan Ring and the Con Tempo Quartet performing at the ruins of Holy Cross Abbey, to be broadcast on Friday, July 31st. Cahersiveen Festival of Music and the Arts was cancelled this year because of Covid

Gavan Ring and the Con Tempo Quartet performing at the ruins of Holy Cross Abbey, to be broadcast on Friday, July 31st. Cahersiveen Festival of Music and the Arts was cancelled this year because of Covid

 

Just a Song at Twilight, in the historic surrounds of the ruins of Holy Cross Abbey in Cahirciveen, Co Kerry. It sounds magical: the voice of tenor Gavan Ring with the RTÉ Con Tempo Quartet, performing operatic favourites and beloved Irish songs.

This Friday night, July 31st, on its Facebook page (at 7.30pm), Cahersiveen Festival of Music and the Arts will broadcast a concert, after having had to postpone its 2020 festival this August bank holiday weekend due to Covid-19. The digital concert means locals in Cahirciveen, and followers and supporters around the globe, can experience a part of the 25-year-old festival.

“I’m humbled beyond words that Hugh [Horgan, chair of the festival] and the team have asked me to do this,” says Ring, who grew up in Cahirciveen and has featured regularly at the festival since he was 16.

“Cahersiveen Festival of Music and the Arts gave me some of the most formative and important early experiences in live performing. The town and the festival have supported me all the way through my career so, especially in the midst of all the upheaval and sorrow over the past few months. I’m just beside myself with happiness that I am coming home to do this and hopefully give people, both at home and abroad, a bit of a lift.”

Just a Song at Twilight is the unofficial name of the concert, echoing JL Molloy’s gorgeous Love’s Old Sweet Song on the programme, along with his Kerry Dance, plus Danny Boy and MacMurrough’s Macushla. Ring and the Con Tempo also perform Cielo e mar by Ponchielli from La Gioconda and L’alba separa dalla luce l’ombra by Tosti.

Through the lockdown Ring has been at home in Carlingford, Co Louth, with his wife, soprano Nicola Ring (previously Mulligan) and their two daughters. “I was supposed to giving my tenor debut season at the Glyndebourne Festival this summer but owing to Covid, I’m at home.” All his autumn work was cancelled too: two operas with Opera North in the UK, Verdi’s La Traviata and Iain Bell’s brand new opera Jack the Ripper: The Women of Whitechapel.

Ring’s next contract is for the 2020/2021 season at La Monnaie in Brussels, singing the role of Cecil in Bastarda – a project interspersing all four of Donizetti’s Tudor operas into two epic theatrical evenings.

Galway-based Con Tempo Quartet were, oddly enough, holidaying in Cahirciveen when Ring asked them to play, “so it was written in the stars that they were going to be a part of it. They are jaw-droppingly good!”

Filming the concert in the empty abbey was “nothing short of incredible”, says Ring. “Two feet away from us was the tomb of Daniel O’Connell’s parents. Apart from the natural beauty and idyllic atmosphere, the history in there is immense, which made it all the more special. Cahirciveen, like so many of the great parts of Kerry, is steeped in history, myth and folklore – to have been among all that makes the concert a night to remember.”

Carlow Arts Festival

“We are in a way capitalising on the lack of possibility of movement of artists at the moment,” says Carlow Arts Festival director Jo Mangan. The festival is “suddenly on a level playing field when it comes to putting together a programme of events online, digitally and through virtual reality in the home. Our relatively small size compared to international festivals with many multiples of our budget would normally be a disadvantage.”

Mangan has taken the opportunity of this year’s cancelled festival to embrace technology and rethink, reset and reinvent it, in a series of #SLICES.

Gavan Ring and the Con Tempo Quartet tune up in the ruins of Holy Cross Abbey.
Gavan Ring and the Con Tempo Quartet tune up in the ruins of Holy Cross Abbey.

The latest slice brings a virtual reality cinema to audiences in their own homes for From the Arctic to Australia, a programme of films curated by Camille Donegan and licensed exclusively to the festival. It’s hosted on Carlow Arts Festival’s YouTube channel, and accessible to all for the month of August.

This follows the festival’s VR strand in 2019, and producer Donegan has returned to pull together the 3D, 360 degree films, promising to bring the viewer on an international exploration and all the way to Mars, from the couch, on their smartphone.

For those who don’t have a VR headset, the festival has a simple, inexpensive cardboard VR viewer to order (€10 plus postage).

Says Mangan, “Through the medium of VR we are able to bring works such as the stunning Celestial Bodies made by Alexander Whitley Dance Company with Sadlers Wells and the Guardian into people’s homes, while we can hear the voice of Colin Farrell narrate the wonderful Gloomy Eyes. We are stretching the boundaries of what a festival can be, leaning into tech that expands our audience experience, and I believe the festival will emerge stronger than ever from the learnings of this time.”

Among the other films, viewers can become a puppet trapped in a stunningly offensive puppet show in Extravaganza; step into a taxi in Australia and be whisked away by a wise feathered friend in a surreal stop-motion adventure, in Passenger; have an experience inspired by the adventure of electronic music producer Molécule, capturing the sounds of the Arctic in minus-22.7 degrees; soar through space from the Moon to Mars and beyond with 2nd Step.

The festival’s digital edition features seven slices of projects and events the team thinks will connect audiences and artist from a distance, and as well as virtual reality cinema it includes newly commissioned work, the Artworks visual art exhibition, new interactive Digitally Native projects and a live one-hour special. carlowartsfestival.com

Irish National Opera

This week catch the final two episodes of Irish National Opera’s Seraglio, its new mini-series based on The Abduction from the Seraglio by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and created under lockdown. Directed by Caitríona McLaughlin with a cast headed by soprano Claudia Boyle and Peter Whelan conducting the Irish Chamber Orchestra, it’s on Tuesday and Thursday nights on irishnationalopera.ie Facebook and You Tube pages at 6pm.

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