Opera frolics woo hardy crowd


" WOMEN ARE Like That, They're All the Same, or The School for Lovers," translated Opera in the Open narrator Ted Courtney for the packed amphitheatre at Dublin's Wood Quay. Those are some of the alternative names for one of Mozart's best-loved works. "Most operas have silly stories, but not this one. It just has a silly name," he told the crowd gathered yesterday lunchtime to hear a free airing of Cosi fan Tutte.

Mid-way through, a bird flying overhead decorated the stage with large splats of goo, narrowly avoiding singers Elizabeth Ryan and Mary Flaherty. It wasn't a reflection of their fine performance - more a reminder of the perils of performing events like these outdoors.

Otherwise, the stage and the crowd stayed thankfully dry. "If it rains, unfortunately with Opera in the Open, there's nothing we can do except cancel," said Jack Gilligan, the Dublin City Council arts officer who has organised the event for each of the nine years it has been running outside Civic Offices.

In the early years, it was possible to move the performance inside, which can fit around 200 people, but the event now attracts at least three times that number, even on an ominously grey afternoon.

Yesterday, around 700 people brought fold-up chairs, sandwiches and young children to what was the first of this year's five free Thursday lunchtime operas.

"It's a great start. Given half the chance, there's a huge appetite for opera out there," said Gilligan. "When we started there was this question about whether there was an audience for opera. A lot of people said it was a minority interest, but I think we've proven that not to be the case."

Gilligan hopes that Opera in the Open, which this year includes performances of Puccini's La Boheme, Donizetti's Don Pasqualeand Rossini's The Barber of Seville, will attract people who didn't know they liked opera.

"I'm really keen to get people here who feel opera isn't relevant to them or don't know a lot about it. It's done in a light-hearted way. There's nothing fussy or formal," he said.

As the narrator, Courtney tells the story of the two sisters, Fiordiligi and Dorabella, who are heartbroken when the loves of their lives, Guglielmo and Ferrando, apparently leave town. A mischief-making wager and a couple of fright wigs later, and the two men disguise themselves as lovesick Albanians, who seduce the sisters and prove their love to be fickle.

"Oh my heart has been so broken, it feels like a sword has pierced through it . . . " Courtney translates, with plenty of cynical eye-rolling.

"Now this is all going to change, so enjoy this farce while it lasts," he tells the audience.

The women become captured in such joyous thrall to their new men that they abandon their spectacles, let down their hair and flirt with the audience - "the brazen hussies!"

Attending the event for the ninth year, opera lover Barbara Murphy had travelled from Arklow, Co Wicklow, with her 13-year-old triplets, Henry, Alice and George.

"Normally I bring all of my seven children. It gives the children a taste for opera and it's great that it's free. We had a lovely time," she said.

"I really applaud the council for putting it on," said Elizabeth McNamara, from Dublin, here for her fourth year. "When you think of all of the things that can go wrong, but didn't . . . "

"Apart from the tent," chipped in Jenny Webb, on holiday from South Africa, referring to a hairy moment when a gust of wind nearly caused a canopy to collapse on top of keyboard player David Wray.

Delyth Parks, who lives in Dublin, is "more of a theatre goer" but said she enjoyed her first experience of Opera in the Open.

"For me, it's a great use of public money," said singer Nyle Wolfe, who played the role of Don Alfonso. "Opera was written to be enjoyed."

Opera in the Open is at 1pm behind Dublin's Civic Offices, Woodquay, every Thursday in August and on Thursday September 4th. See www.dublincity.ie/recreationandculture