Eoin Dillon, the RTE National Symphony Orchestra and Translationsat the Galway Arts Festival.
Galway Arts Festival
What's in a name? The answer, in Shakespeare at least, is an illusory "nothing": a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet. Brian Friel's extraordinary Translations, which hits you afresh with the mastery of its ideas, humanity and subtle politics on each visit, harbours fewer illusions.
As the British Ordnance Survey of Ireland turns its attentions to Baile Beag in 1833, steadily mapping, renaming and anglicising every location, names are everything: steeped in meaning and memory that are gradually eroded and supplanted. Even the sweet smell in the air by Hugh (John Olohan) and Manus's (Charlie Bonner) hedge school suggests nothing as innocent as a rose, but the sickly threat of potato blight.
First staged by Field Day in 1980, Friel's play could be described as a historical drama, but only because it artfully refracts the past into the charged arena of the present. The competing identities of a nation, the urge to violently resist cultural imposition or to forge a way forward through adaptation and compromise are always living issues. One strange consequence of Ouroboros's site-specific tour, following last year's hugely adventurous tour of Friel's Making History, is a sense of taking the play too literally.
Where Making Historyactively distrusted the simplifying narrative of commemoration (as Friel's Hugh O'Neill insisted, "Don't embalm me in piety"), the 400th Flight of the Earls anniversary tour didn't quite seem alive to the irony. With Translations, touring to several big houses and castles, again in association with the OPW, the desire to perform against tenuously related historical backdrops is charming, but more than a little awkward. To judge by Oranmore Castle - admittedly the company's Plan B venue when Renville Woods proved unavailable - more can be lost than gained from a location indifferent to the needs of performance.
That's a shame, because Andrew Flynn's production certainly deserves to be seen - something the non-existent sightlines of a snug 16th century castle can make difficult for anyone beyond the second row. An otherwise moving and graceful production of one of Friel's finest plays, in which each member of an accomplished cast convey a thorough understanding of every ripple and nuance, the site-specific staging seems at best a novelty and at worst superfluous.
"A civilisation can be imprisoned in a linguistic contour which no longer matches the landscape of . . . fact," cautions Olohan's Hugh, forever intoxicated with language, learning and libations. It is a shrewd observation, ignored too long by his son Owen, whom Owen McDonnell plays with the right balance of pragmatism and perfidiousness, and Chris Moran's sincere Yolland. Yet facts, as inflexible as the battlements of a castle, can be imprisoning for the dramatic mind (historians have been nit-picking at Translations for years) and whatever musty atmospheres the Ouroboros locations will provide, it's still the haunting shape of language that makes this play truly transportative.
Until Sun at Galway Arts Festival, then touring nationally until Aug 31, including the Kilkenny Arts Festival, Aug 10-12.
Kelly, RTÉ NSO/Cavanagh
OffenbachOrpheus in the Underworld Overture; BizetMicaela's aria, Carmen; GounodJuliette's Waltz, Roméo et Juliette; LehárThe Merry Widow Overture; John WilliamsViolin theme, Schindler's List; KorngoldMarietta's Lied, Die tote Stadt; Mozart Der Hölle Rache, The Magic Flute; StraussThe Blue Danube.
This programme proved an effective blend of popular orchestral and vocal music. James Cavangh conducted the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra with a relaxed confidence that produced straightforward, unpretentious music-making - always pleasant to listen to and, apart from some over-weighty brass in Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld Overture, naturally shaped. Nevertheless, the two Viennese overtures, Lehár's The Merry Widowand Strauss's The Blue Danubewould have been even better with a bit more suavity of gesture and timing.
Several of these works included substantial orchestral solos, notably the Violin Themefrom John Williams's music for the film Schindler's List. The large audience's response to these solos, which were well taken by their various players, was warmly and gently appreciative; and that typified the atmosphere of the concert as a whole.
This was the first time I had heard the young soprano Katy Kelly. She sang four operatic arias, two French and two German. Her voice is strong and clear, with a technique that was well up to the virtuosity of "Juliette's Waltz" from Gounod's Roméo et Juliette.
In the French music in particular, there was some inconsistency in the relationship between musical line and declamation of words. That same matter was dealt with more persuasively in the German music; and it was good to hear Kelly present "Marietta's Lied" from Korngold's Die tote Stadtwith a just balance between the declamatory and the lyrical. All of this, plus her security throughout the Queen of the Night's famous coloratura aria, "Der Hölle Rache" from Mozart's The Magic Flut, suggested that Katy Kelly is a singer who could go quite a long way over the next few years.
It's far from cuff-linked pipers that most of us were reared, but Eoin Dillon raises the bar on the sartorial as well as the musical front these days. Kíla's self-confessed uilleann pipes psychologist envelops his instrument with paternalistic protectiveness, leading and driving tunes from the belly of a most beautiful beast. This gig was his second this month in the same venue, where he's forged a deserved reputation for serious tunesmithery since last year's release of his superb debut collection, The Third Twin. A strong start with Rachel's Reelsaw Dillon merging and emerging between bouzouki and fiddle with unerring ease, revealing the innate rhythmicality of his pipes, and hinting that he'd be just at home in The Big Easy's Preservation Hall as he would be at Oxegen or Milltown Malbay.
The stately pace of The Star of The Seaunderlined the soulfulness of Dillon's music, leaving the notes to tell their own tale without any overzealous decoration. Frank Tate's bouzouki and Steven Larkin's fiddle sandwiched the pipes with great subtlety, Tate's driving rhythms countering Larkin's fluid fiddle with unexpected grace.
Dillon's angular countenance was the ideal backdrop to one of his own favourites, The Length of Space, a tune ostensibly celebrating the instinctive essence of timing, while hotly pursuing an exotic, snake-charming melody line. Marcus McSpartacusgave him licence to swap pipes for whistle, and Baba Ganoushallowed pipes, guitar and bouzouki to stutter punch their way to a soaring, rakish crescendo that risked everything in its manic pursuit of only Dillon knows what.
The sole song contribution of the evening, from Des Cahalan, Lough Erin's Shorewas one of the few dud notes struck during a set that revelled in its own sleights of hand. Sombre and effortful, it almost broke the spell that Dillon had so carefully cast with his ragbag of original compositions.
A touch more stagecraft wouldn't go astray from this whiz kid quartet either, but Dillon's original voice is one that promises to bequeath much to a tradition that's always in need of replenishment.