Reviewed today: Micheal Collinsin Cork Opera House and Badke String Quartet inDublin Castle

Michael Collins

Cork Opera House

The heroics of staging, singing and choreography in this officially final and fully-formed production of Bryan Flynn’s Michael Collinsat the Opera House are such as to suggest nothing less than the Battle Hymn of the Almost Republic.

Subtlety is not high among Flynn’s theatrical attributes and while earlier work has been effective without it, in this case the absence means that the central characters take on not so much a cardboard identity as a concrete one. Concrete in the monumental sense: there is no way in which the leading players can attempt shadings in these massive personalities. Although it may be unfair to offer such a criticism, given the magnitude of the task Flynn has set himself with this history (itself shaded here and there, it must be said), his vision, and version, might have coincided more convincingly if he had been able to reduce his involvement. Responsibility for the music, libretto, direction and set design is a commitment which overwhelms both narrative and likelihood; context is provided by the insertion of scenes from the 1916 Abbey Theatre production of Cathleen ni Houlihanand by unwieldy back-projections of newspaper commentary. Arrangements and orchestration by David Wray under the musical direction off David Hayes can’t soften the sometimes excruciating rhyming structures of songs which carry not so much melody as messages, mild as a blood-sacrifice.

What survives, however, is the heroic: a set which moves almost as often as the large cast, a choreographic design which is visually compelling, an accomplished and extremely well-trained chorus, lighting by Michael Hurley in a blend of disco and science fiction, volcanic fissures of dry ice erupting throughout the performance and, above all, the extraordinarily resilient singing of the main characters.

There is both physical and vocal heroism in Killian Donnelly’s Collins (a role he shares with Eoin Cannon), his voice overcoming the occasionally referential score and his presence secure enough to evade the pastiche. Equally Derek Collins offers a sturdy Harry Boland and Irene Warren overcomes the strident demands imposed on her Kitty Kiernan.

Yet this level of sound, the apparently total conviction of the cast, the swinging lights, the vigour and vivacity of the choruses, the repetitive insistence of the music, the uses of the capacity and capabilities of the stage itself – all these elements together have an excitement which engrosses and enchants the audience. Until Apr 4 MARY LELAND

Badke String Quartet

Coach House, Dublin Castle

Haydn– Quartet in D Op 76 No 5.

Ian Wilson– Quartet No 1 (Winter’s Edge).

Schumann– Quartet in A Op 41 No 3.

If anyone had any doubt about the contribution of Music Network’s touring programmes to Irish musical life, the Badke Quartet’s 11-stop tour has some of the answers. Music Network has always encouraged performers to include Irish works in their programmes. And Ian Wilson, currently the most prolific Irish composer of string quartets, has benefitted greatly from this policy.

His First String Quartet, Winter’s Edge, commissioned for, as well as premiered, toured and recorded by the RTÉ Vanbrugh Quartet, has been taken up by a number of quartets’ Network tours. By the time the Badkes have finished, Winter’s Edgewill have achieved some 40 performances in Ireland since its 1993 premiere.

The quartet, inspired by “the idea of Redemption as exemplified in the life of St Paul” is gesturally strong, and imaginatively resourceful in its handling of string quartet colours and textures. The Badkes delivered it with focused energy and lyricism, with Eniko Magyar’s long viola solo near the start being particularly memorable. And yet, every time I hear the piece, I stumble at the extended evocation of part of the Danse sacralefrom Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. The borrowing does not explain itself, and it’s just too large to ignore.

Schumann’s Quartet in A, Op 41 No 3, is a piece that’s experienced a quite extraordinary blossoming in popularity. Its appearance in concert programmes used to be sporadic, but since 2001 it’s been heard in Ireland every year.

Schumann is one of those composers, like Boccherini, who seems to repeat certain ideas simply because he likes them so much. At times he even gets locked in to what can seem like obsessive patterns. But the ideas in this particular quartet are so individual, so strong, so piercingly memorable that the sense of indulgence never seems misplaced. The Badke Quartet’s performance was fully sympathetic.

The Badkes also know how to make Haydn sound rich and full without ever trespassing into areas of romantic expression that could undermine the style or scale of the music.

In the Quartet in D, Op 76 No 5, there were some infelicities of intonation which sounded like warming-up problems. But there were felicities in abundance, too. The Badkes are all prepared to spend time in each other’s shadows, so that even Haydn’s biggest gestures – like the extraordinary outburst of energy in the slow movement – were captured without any sense of forcing. On tour until Apr 4 MICHAEL DERVAN