Entertainment Music

Thursday 27 June 2019

The ecstasy of grief

  • Review: Orfeo ed Euridice, Town Hall Theatre, Galway, Until July 29
The cast of Orfeo ed Euridice. Photo: Patrick Redmond
The cast of Orfeo ed Euridice. Photo: Patrick Redmond

Katy Hayes

Irish National Opera's production of Orfeo ed Euridice fits snugly on to the stage of the Town Hall Theatre in Galway. With the orchestra pit high and visible, all the elements in the production - dancers, singers, musicians, design - feel in perfect harmony. Director Emma Martin creates the sublime out of grief in this very pretty, empathy-inducing extravaganza.

Christoph Willibald Von Gluck's opera premièred in Vienna in 1762 during the Enlightenment, when scientific enquiry was gaining ground and the world was nurturing the ideas behind democracy. Heady intellectual times; in the midst of this, Gluck was creating the musical template for romantic grief.

The show opens with the funeral of Euridice (Sarah Power), her husband Orfeo singing his heartbreak. Orfeo is often sung by a female, with mezzo-soprano Sharon Carty here giving a mesmerising performance. As is often the case with so-called "trouser roles", the gender of the performer slips from the audience's consciousness and it becomes logical that this is a man singing about his dead wife, even though we know we are looking at a woman. As per the Greek origin story, Orfeo is offered the opportunity to go to the underworld and fetch Euridice back by the spirit Amore (Emma Nash); he is given the capricious instruction that he must not look at her.

Traditionally, Gluck's opera has a substantial dance element, and that is brought to the fore here. Martin's clever choreography adds a layer of physical exposition to the story which beautifully amplifies the thin libretto. The mourners at the funeral are unpredictable, turning Euridice's pink funeral wreath into a hula hoop. Traditionally, the opera has a happy ending. Here, the story ends tragically and the "happy" finale is tagged on in a tone of jaunty irony. On the night I saw the show, there was far too much dry ice used over the dance of the Furies in Act 2; the performers were annoyingly obscured by it.

The Irish Baroque Orchestra brings out the rich textures in Gluck's score to cradle Orfeo's grief. Conductor Peter Whelan's timing is perfect and has plenty of personality.

Design by Sabine Dargent is high-romanticism, with walls of ruffled pink drapes and floating flower petals; the black coffin in Act 1 has a bold pink frill. Visually, we are out of the baroque and well into the rococo. A hanging effigy of the Hades guard dog Cerberus provides a satisfying ghoulish contrast.

Catherine Fay's costumes are terrific; the funereal blacks and deft use of veils during the opening turn to whites and creams as we enter paradise. And Euridice's dress is simply stunning and wonderfully integrated into the entrapment of Orfeo.

A highlight of the show is the duet between Carty and Power in Act 3, as Orfeo struggles to avoid looking at his dead wife. But finally the show belongs to Carty who sings Orfeo with a deep and commanding grief. Wish that we might all be mourned so.

Book it now...

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Martin McDonagh’s black comedy from 1997 about two brothers locked in an escalating sibling conflict involving Virgin Mary figurines gets a revival under the direction of the Everyman’s artistic director, Julie Kelleher.

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Deep, thought-provoking family drama a must-see

Review: Come On Home, Peacock Theatre, until August 4

Phillip McMahon is best known as a hip theatrical innovator with an interest in music and movement and a penchant for club and event theatre. So it is a surprise to see his latest work, a family drama that is peopled with damaged men like those of Tom Murphy's plays or the difficult troubled women of Marina Carr's drama. This is an old-fashioned play, happening in real time, in the meticulously upholstered and wallpapered sitting room of Colin Richmond's atmospheric set.

Michael (Billy Carter) has returned from gay exile in London to his small-town Irish home. He had been told by his father not to come back until his parents were dead, so he now shows up for the second parental funeral, that of his mother. His two brothers have remained in the area, both have local partners, one expecting a baby. The three brothers simmer with resentment. Michael was the father's favourite, inciting jealousy in the others until it transpired he was gay and he was banished him.

Complicating matters, the local priest, Father Cleary (Seán O'Callaghan), who knew and loved Michael when they were together in the seminary as young men, has got himself posted to the area. Michael was ejected from the seminary, not for being gay, but for being "too gay".

Director Rachel O'Riordan steers the emotional rollercoaster with fine judgment. Des Nealon does a wonderful turn as the older money-grubbing priest, Father Seamus. Aislín McGuckin, in a sophisticated performance, undercuts the hard edges of sister-in-law Martina with subtle softness. Declan Conlon as Brian is a powder-keg of bottled-up hurt and resentment; violence hovers all around him.

McMahon's writing is artful and full of clever lines. This is a play about the Catholic church and the damage it has done to Irish men; how it created and colluded with homophobia; how it fostered an atmosphere where child abusers were protected. Deep and thought-provoking and very moving, a must see for theatre worshippers and God worshippers alike.

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