It’s a co-production with two other leading companies, Garsington and Santa Fe, but Irish National Opera (INO) has more than hit the jackpot with its latest offering at Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, of Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier – the monumental work that in a modern interpretation is a sadly gentle reflection on the trials of ageing in a youth-obsessed culture.
And for those opera-watchers (as opposed to actual opera-goers) who enjoy nationalist nit-picking at a fine art dedicated to internationalism, three of the four lead roles are sung by Irish divas.
The plot is a sounding board for many of today’s cancel-culture obsessions: a toy boy hero (he’s 17, his lover, the field marshal’s cheating wife, is middle-aged).
The ‘villain’ is a lecherous oaf playing on his noble title to marry a nouveau riche merchant’s daughter while planning to betray her. The younger heroine, the innocent Sophie, dazzled as soon as she sets eyes on the dashing young Octavian, is still being forced to marry the pig-like Baron even though her father knows well what he’s condemning her to.
All ends happily of course except, deservedly, for the foul Baron, and absolutely undeservedly for the sad, unselfish Marschallin who bows out of the picture. This is, after all, billed as a comedy.
It’s the second foray into Strauss in a few years for Fergus Sheil as artistic director (and conductor) at INO, but after the triumphant Elektra at Kilkenny, and now this outrageously beautiful, glamorous production, he’s chosen well.
Mezzo Paula Murrihy sweeps gloriously through the trouser role of Octavian, with soprano Celine Byrne in soaring form as the beautiful Marschallin, and Claudia Boyle’s coloratura magnificence hauntingly lovely as Sophie.
Bass Andreas Bauer Kanabas is a comic treat as the Baron, and there is magnificent support in the feature roles, especially from mezzo Carolyn Holt, baritone Samuel Dale Johnson, soprano Rachel Croash and tenors César Cortés and Peter van Hulle.
Director Bruno Ravella revels in the complexity, losing no opportunity for sly mockery, with designer Gary McCann backing the interpretation with huge swirling scrolls of rococo motifs, and Malcolm Rippeth’s lighting echoing every mood change.
This is opera of a quality Ireland is coming to expect.
Pawdy lives in west Cork in the early 19th century. In the fateful year of 1798, his father took a pike from under the thatch, before his ”mouth was blasted open to each ear by a yeoman Red”. In retribution for his insurgence, Pawdy’s mother and sister were burned alive in the cottage.
Now, in the 21st century, Pawdy lives in Luther’s head, trying, Luther believes, to help him cope with an alien world. But with his medications, Pawdy doesn’t talk to him as much as he used to.
Luther is Pat Kinevane’s latest outsider in his list of heart-rending characters who live on the edge of society in his one-man plays.
Luther has schizophrenia, the voice in his head ensuring his isolation. That, and his devotion to his ailing father, who he devotedly visits daily in the nursing home. Until the day Indira, a tough lonely Dubliner, comes to work in the pharmacy, and treats him as a ”normal person”.
Now fortune has smiled on Indira; she has found love, even marriage. And she wants to set Luther up with her lonely friend Flossy after he’s finished his weekly act as an Elvis impersonator.
We meet Indira (Hilda Fay) only as a voice on the telephone just as we meet Luther’s tango instructor (José Miguel Jiminez) only on a tape machine. But Pawdy is always there.
The stagecraft Kinevane brings to these performances of tragic lives is unsurpassed. But somehow the back story fails to hang together. Still, as a performance it’s immaculate under Jim Culleton’s direction with choreography by Kristina Chaloir and Julian Brigatti, and music and sound by Denis Clohessy, lit by Pius McGrath.
King is a Fishamble production. It was at the Town Hall in Galway, and will tour sporadically around Ireland until June.