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Madness is at the core of this operatic love triangle





Edmea, National Opera House, Wexford until Oct 31, online at RTÉ Player

Wexford Festival Opera’s artistic director Rosetta Cucchi has made William Shakespeare her focus in this year’s programme, deferred from 2020. Alfredo Catalani’s infrequently performed opera Edmea is like a version of Ophelia’s mad scene from Hamlet, writ very large indeed. It is based on a play by Alexandre Dumas fils, with a libretto by Antonio Ghislanzoni and premiered in 1886 in Milan. It is here sung in Italian with English surtitles.

The story follows Edmea, an orphan peasant girl, who is secretly promised to the Count’s son Oberto. Aghast at this bad match, when Oberto is out of town, the Count marries Edmea off to a servant, Ulmo. This drives the girl mad and she throws herself into the river Elbe. In Act 2, she has lost her reason; she and Ulmo, living as brother and sister, join up with a team of travelling jesters. And Act 3 provides a happy ending, but with a major dash of sorrow. There are no court intrigues or social issues; the story is built entirely around affairs of the heart.

Director Julia Burbach fights to impose depth on this frothy set-up; she wins and loses. Set and costume designs by Cécile Trémolières are supremely playful. As Act 1 plays out on an upper level, the female chorus, all dressed as Edmea, perform her alter ego on the stage below. In this inverted reality space, the furniture is all stuck to the ceiling, adding more intrigue than meaning.

Things take off in Act 2, where soprano Anne Sophie Duprels gets into her ditzy stride as mad Edmea. Baritone Leon Kim as the servant Ulmo, who sacrifices himself so that Edmea might be happy, infuses every note with complex emotional depth. Tenor Luciano Ganci is a bit too strutting to be likeable as Oberto. He may win the heart of Edmea, but Ulmo wins the heart of the audience.

Conductor Francesco Cilluffo ensures the music, so melodious and pleasing, grounds this half-sad, half-happy story in a cheering lyrical setting. The chorus is superbly used dramatically, as dancers, jesters and revellers, adding great celebratory energy. But the night belongs to Duprels. Her memorable table-climbing Edmea in that wild yellow dress, and her soaring voice, make an indelible imprint on all the senses.

Funny and heartfelt trans family drama

Bang! Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin, until tonight

Leaving Cert student Kim (Maura Bird) comes out as a lesbian at her parents 25th anniversary party, banging a wok with a wooden spoon to amplify her moment. Later, when the guests have gone, her dad (Mark D’Aughton) also has an announcement: no longer able to hide their true identity, Adam declares herself to be a woman, naming herself Anna. Wife Marion (Gene Rooney), who knew her husband was depressed, is completely shocked. Alcoholic brother-in-law Declan (Simon O’Gorman), who has fallen off the wagon, goes a bit berserk. The young people, daughter Kim (Maura Bird) and Argentinian cleaner Alejandra (Alexandra Conlon), take it in their stride. Sort of.

Michelle Read’s new play is a funny and clever investigation into this most contemporary of subjects. Director Davey Kelleher gets terrific performances from all the cast; the delicate energy slips from serious drama into social comedy.

That fine line is surfed with great skill. Movement director Eddie Kay underpins the psychology with a pleasing physical dimension; repressed interior lives are twitching to get out. Fine writing about what each of us sees when we look in the mirror hits the thematic nail on the head. A bit overstuffed, a lot happens in a compressed timeframe, but this very enjoyable play finds the heartfelt depth inside each of these decent, struggling people.

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