Wednesday 23 May 2018

New opera body is on song with fantastic 'Figaro'

Review: Marriage of Figaro, Gaiety Theatre, until tonight

The Marriage of Figaro
The Marriage of Figaro

Katy Hayes

The inaugural production of Irish National Opera fulfils the company's remit perfectly. The objective includes creating fully staged orchestral operas from the established repertoire in which Irish singers who've made a name for themselves around the world can return home to perform for Irish audiences. The Marriage of Figaro by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is an excellent choice; it's an enduring crowd pleaser and has plenty of break-out potential as well as a sumptuous score and terrific male and female parts.

The story concerns Figaro and Susanna, a pair of servants who are about to be married. But Susanna has attracted the amorous attentions of the boss, Count Almavina. As a moderniser, he has revoked the droit de seigneur practice, but is regretting it in Susanna's case. The chorus keeps singing about what a great fellow he is for not exercising the feudal right to deflower the maidens in advance of their weddings. He is one of classical opera's great sex pests, though in this case, the women all run rings around him. First performed in 1786, it is a testament to how long the gender wars have been raging on the European stage.

Francis O'Connor's set is versatile and clever. What looks like a doll's house in the first act is finally placed upstage and perspective renders it the correct size behind a forest of flown-in pine trees. O'Connor's costumes are sumptuous and 1960s. A huge portrait of Mozart hangs on the back wall, occasionally gaining more prominence in Paul Keogan's sensitive lighting. Tara Erraught (pictured above with Jonathan Lemalu who sings Figaro) is delightful as Susanna, her singing simultaneously powerful and gentle; her acting is funny and versatile, with brilliantly expressive eyes and a mobility of features. Máire Flavin sings the Countess Almaviva, and her refined stage presence suits this part perfectly. By soprano alchemy, she manages to single-handedly alter the tone of proceedings from farcical to poignant. The Count, in Ben McAteer's authoritative baritone, uses his height to great advantage and makes for a charming villain, as he bumbles about getting outwitted by all.

Patrick Mason directs the performances with tremendous attention to detail. The singers are very physically busy, with much complexity in the interactions. But the solo arias are given plenty of space and stillness. The groping intimacies are well played. There is rough and tumble, as though the opera has had an injection of youth-theatre knockabout; singers end up flat on the stage occasionally. Soprano Aoife Miskelly, playing the teenage boy Cherubino, gets a big laugh when her voice breaks. Bass Graeme Danby as Bartolo gets so carried away at one point, he leaves the ground.

Conductor Peter Whelan's command is perfectly pitched, with the orchestra's comic timing occasionally uncannily well-judged, getting laughs all on its own. This is a packed evening's first-rate entertainment; it runs the full three hours and 20, with every minute well spent.

BOOK IT NOW

1  THE PLOUGH AND THE STARS

Gaiety Theatre, April 24 — May 5

This Abbey Theatre and Lyric Hammersmith production of the Seán O’Casey classic was seen in the Abbey in 2016. A modern-day set version, it makes the horrors of war seem very immediate indeed.

2  PILGRIM

Smock Alley Theatre, April 23 —  May 5

Written by Philip Doherty, performed by Rex Ryan and directed by Aoife Spillane-Hinks. Set in a WWI refugee camp in Newfoundland with folks from all cultures, Irishman Christy goes on a journey of self-discovery.

3 MAZ & BRICKS

Theatre Royal, Waterford, April 24

Eva O’Connor’s topical two-hander stars herself and Stephen Jones. An unlikely pair meet up as one travels to an 8th amendment protest rally. Tour includes: Drogheda, April 26; Castlebar, April 30.

 

Taking Beckett in unpredictable direction

Review: Here all Night, dates nationwide until April 28

Gare St Lazare present a multifaceted show based on and inspired by a variety of texts by Samuel Beckett. It is a strange and impressionistic piece that takes the audience in unpredictable directions.

Brian O'Doherty's enigmatic installation Hello, Sam Rope Drawing #126 provides the main visual focus point. It is like an embalmed body suspended without visible support in a rectangular space created by taut rope. In its original incarnation at the National Gallery of Ireland in 2011, the piece had an audio component. Now the audio part is replaced by the live performances of actor, singers and musicians.

Actor Conor Lovett delivers the Beckett texts in commanding fashion, mining the playful phrasing for its madness and wit. A memorable section about domestic servants has the tumbling obsessiveness that is a trademark of Beckett's prose. A highlight is an anti-romantic encounter between Moll and Macmann, two older people who are borderline impotent, excerpted from the novel Malone Dies. There is a perplexing section derived from The Unnamable, a very complex and unreachable Beckett text which is difficult to wrap your head around on the page, and no easier here, despite Lovett's sympathetic delivery. Singer Melanie Pappenheim leads a six-woman chorus through haunting songs that are quite catchy in their ethereal way. There are three musicians, Christopher Allan on cello, James Longford on piano, and Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh on a hardanger d'amore (a form of viola).

The music, some of it by Beckett, some composed by Paul Clark, is edgy and surprising. Ó Raghallaigh's own complex work is spectacular.

Director Judy Hegarty Lovett shapes this esoteric grab-bag into a homage to Beckett's enduring influence, but the individual parts remain in the consciousness more compellingly than the whole.

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