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Opera: Erraught and Ní Fhearraigh lift the spirits in fearful times


Tara Erraught

Tara Erraught

Tara Erraught

At the end of Irish National Opera's Mezzo Masterpieces recital last Sunday, streamed live from the elegant surroundings of St Patrick's Hall at Dublin Castle, you waited for the place to erupt and the roof to fly off.

Instead, there was a strange and decorous silence as the Irish National Opera's orchestra - spaced out, masked in black and seated as though taking part in a mysterious rite from the Renaissance period - quietly applauded their conductor and soloists.

It looked like a scene from a concert during the Black Death. Watching from home - deprived by Covid of participation - you didn't know whether to cry or applaud in the silence of your living room. (I did both.)

It was almost tragic, after more than an hour in which one of our most acclaimed international stars, the mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught, gave of her glorious bel canto best with two Bellini arias and four from her Rossini repertoire. (Those who saw her performance earlier in the year in La Cenerentola, which she is scheduled to sing at the New York Met when times come back to normal, are unlikely to forget it.)

Not least among Erraught's remarkable talents is her ability to inhabit not just the soul of the music, but the soul of the character.

Dressed in black velvet studded with diamante epaulettes, her face in close-up brought to vivid life the vengeful torment of Romeo in the trouser role of the tragic hero in Bellini's I Capuleti e i Montecchi, and going through the late 'addition' aria for Rosina from The Barber of Seville (A, se e Ver), and Bel Raggio lusinghier from Rossini's Semiramide, in which the desolate heroine has a brief moment of deluded joy, while in Assisa a pie d'un Salice from Otello we had Desdemona's dying protestation of fidelity.

Erraught's final offering was the joyous mischief of Tanti Affetti from La Donna del Lago (The Lady of the Lake) when the heroine Elena has saved everyone in sight, and been united with King James V, whom she had believed to be the rebel lord Uberto.

She moved effortlessly from one lyrical emotion to another, encompassing fear, tragedy, tremulous hope and fairy-tale joy, in a true spirit-lifting gift for our fearful times.

The programme offered an additional gift with the young soprano Amy Ní Fhearraigh, one of the first members of INO's ABL Studio academy for gifted young singers, who was extraordinarily and impressively mature in Puccini's They call me Mimi from La Boheme, followed by Io son l'Umile Ancella from Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur.

The studio was to have toured countrywide venues this autumn, only to have the tour abandoned when restrictions kicked in, but it is hoped to reinstate it at a later date.

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Mezzo Masterpieces is a series of three recitals from INO in collaboration with the Office of Public Works. The first featured Sharon Carty, and the final will feature Paula Murrihy, which has been rescheduled to December 10 from Kilkenny Castle, conducted by Peter Whelan.

INO artistic director Fergus Sheil was the conductor on Sunday night, and his astute deference to the voice and subtle balance with the musicians preserved the romantic passion from start to finish.

The recital was introduced by INO's general manager Diego Fasciati, who emphasised the company's debt to the Arts Council as its principal funder. But it should never be forgotten that for 'Arts Council' should always be read 'taxpayer'. And, certainly, the taxpayer can be well satisfied with the use being made of its money by INO.

The Erraught/Ní Fhearraigh recital can still be viewed for another week by purchasing tickets on the INO website.

Find Irish National Opera Mezzo Masterpieces at www.irishnationalopera.ie

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