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Online opera collection offers a rich tasting menu

20 Shots of Opera irishnationalopera.ie until Dec 2021: Forged by the pandemic, Irish National Opera’s filmed project would have been well worth doing any time


Letter from Beethoven: Tenor Gavan Ring in Mrs Streicher, part of Irish National Opera’s 20 Shots of Opera

Letter from Beethoven: Tenor Gavan Ring in Mrs Streicher, part of Irish National Opera’s 20 Shots of Opera

Letter from Beethoven: Tenor Gavan Ring in Mrs Streicher, part of Irish National Opera’s 20 Shots of Opera

Irish National Opera unleashed this smorgasbord online just before Christmas, where it got a bit lost among all the tinsel. It is a rapid canter through various contemporary musical styles, ranging from the avant-garde, through the richly melodious, to operetta.

It makes an excellent toe-dipper for anyone interested in a taste of contemporary opera, but nervous of commitment. Themes recur: technology features in seven; the environment and death feature in about five each; and Covid-19 is the direct focus of four.

The mini-operas range from six to ten minutes. There is plenty of wit and several are a complete hoot.

In Mrs Streicher, composer Gerald Barry creates a setting for a letter from Beethoven to his housekeeper complaining about his laundry missing a pair of stockings.

The Beethoven text is both crazed and tinged with genius; he equates the carrying of firewood with Christ carrying the cross. The score is comic minimalist tuba and tenor Gavan Ring gives it socks.

Composer Éna Brennan scores her own libretto in Rupture, a clever psychological piece where sunny soprano Rachel Goode is consistently thwarted by an internal self-sabotaging voice, sung by mezzo-soprano Sarah Richmond.

The two singers are similarly styled and the film cross fades between them. This is a neat piece, its intelligence underpinned by a knowing humour, expertly directed by Jo Mangan.

Verballing by composer David Coonan and librettist Dylan Coburn Gray employs a deft animation by Patrick Moynihan in an arresting piece about a garda being coached to defend herself against the accusation of leading a witness.

The black-and-white short film explores subtle workforce bullying, with shades of anti-Traveller racism. Soprano Amy Ní Fhearraigh sings the young garda role with escalating panic. Clever and punchy, this is also very funny. Director Caitriona McLaughlin pulls the piece together neatly. This is first-rate work visually, musically and dramatically.

Michael Gallen’s song of sound-sensitive grief, At a Loss, performed movingly by soprano Orla Boylan, is a more traditional and familiar aria type.

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Similarly, Alex Dowling’s composition to Mark O’Halloran’s libretto, Her Name, opens the emotional gates to a boy’s loss of his mother. It is sung by boy soprano Seán Hayden and directed by Hugh O’Conor. These two pieces are a reminder that classic arias have a direct route to the core of the psyche, with opera doing what it arguably does best: providing a gateway to deep emotion.

A highlight at the comedy end of the spectrum is Conor Mitchell’s pair of brassy Belfast sisters in A Message for Marty. Soprano Emma Nash sends an accusatory video to Marty, who has dumped her sister, mezzo-soprano Carolyn Dobbin, for an older woman.

Audacious black humour and over-the-top operatic emoting are enhanced by a rich dramatic score. Director Davey Kelleher harnesses the energy of high opera to the impulses of anarchy and is completely unafraid.

The Gift by composer Evangelia Rigaki with libretto by Marina Carr is a wry drama about a man who holds off death until his daughter returns from her travels. A meditation on father-daughter complexity is expertly delivered by actor Seán McGinley and mezzo-soprano Doreen Curran.

The score has churchy overtones with bell chimes; death comes with gentle musical dissonance. Director Jo Mangan shapes a weighty drama in minutes in one of the most theatrical of the pieces.

The series director is Hugh O’Conor, and the short films are mostly conducted by either INO director Fergus Sheil or INO associate Elaine Kelly.

Mini operas on this scale are not usually pragmatic for stage production. When the pandemic tide recedes, this will be one of the gems remaining on the shore.

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