Entertainment Music

Tuesday 20 February 2018

Review: Damon Albarn

Gorillaz The O2, Dublin John Meagher Tosca Gaiety Theatre, Dublin

Pat O'Kelly

THE last time Damon Albarn (above) played Ireland, he was with a reunited Blur for a fondly remembered nostalgia fest at Oxegen.

Fast forward 16 months and he has changed tack entirely, ostensibly fronting the cartoon band he devised a decade ago with quite a lot of help from his friends.

The animation, courtesy of Jamie Hewlett, provides the arresting visuals, but what's also notable is the sheer volume of people on stage with Albarn.

Two of English music's elder statesmen, The Clashs's guitarist Mick Jones and bassist Paul Simonon, are present all night.

The Fall's Mark E Smith pops up for one song. Rising rapper Kano is here too, as are Swedish experimentalists Little Dragon, rising Manchester singer Daley, a veritable brass band plus an all-female string section. The Happy Mondays' Shaun Ryder was also due to perform at this opening night of the European tour, but instead chose reality TV hell in 'I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!'

In lesser hands, marshalling such a large, disparate group could be disastrous, but Albarn seems emboldened by the challenge -- and for the most part, the sheer eclectism is difficult to resist. Straight up rap somehow sits comfortably alongside classic English rock. The tempo fluctuates all night and light and shade coexist happily.

The third and most recent Gorillaz album, 'Plastic Beach', dominates the opening part of the show with one of its standout songs, the gentle ballad 'Melancholy Hill' demonstrating what a fine songwriter Damon Albarn is.

Elsewhere, one of the standouts, 'Dare', finds a pre-recorded Ryder taking the vocals on the big screen while the musicians support. It's a trick that also brings rapper Snoop Dogg to the O2 at the beginning and end of the show.

Considering the amount of choreography involved there's no room for spontaneity and that's a shame because the Albarn of Blur thrived on it. But such quibbles hardly matter when Gorillaz's best-loved songs are aired.

'Feel Good Inc' and 'Clint Eastwood' will linger in the memories of all those present in this far-from-full arena.

OPERA Ireland has chosen Puccini's ever popular, if rather sordid, melodrama 'Tosca' as its final presentation at Dublin's Gaiety Theatre.

The company ceases operations with a justifiable feeling of nostalgia but hopefully a replacement body -- currently in formation -- will soon be up and running.

In association with Germany's Theater Lubeck, this production by Jakob Peters-Messer moves the action from 1800 to the present time.

This is all very well until Napoleon's victory at Marengo is announced and celebrated!

This may be a carping detail but the opening of Act I could easily be confused with some pantomime farce while chief of police Scarpia eats his supper off one of Act II's many utility chairs.

Act III's prison deprives Tosca of her suicidal leap from the Castel Sant Angelo's parapet. Her walk to the footlights is a complete anticlimax.

Fortunately musical matters are on a superior plateau with soprano Orla Boylan's interpretation something of a personal triumph.

A prey to jealously in Act I, her powerful sense of drama reaches its peak in Act II through her stunning confrontation with the lecherous Scarpia -- the totally malevolent baritone Dimitri Platanias. Her aria 'Vissi d'arte' is a truly emotional cri de coeur.

Orla Boylan's final scene with Marcelo Puente -- Tosca's artist lover Cavaradossi -- has an ecstatic poignancy in this gripping portrayal.

Platanias' tyrannical Scarpia continually exudes evil while Puente's youthful Cavaradossi will, no doubt, attain its potential in time.

With the RTE Concert Orchestra in the pit, conductor Gianluca Martinenghi extracts a bravura response from all concerned to make this a fitting swan song for Opera Ireland.

Irish Independent

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