Sunday 15 December 2019

Opera's terrific Tara Erraught triumphs once again

Christmas comes early with Rossini's joyous opera, says Emer O'Kelly

Tara Erraught
Tara Erraught

Emer O'Kelly

It's nothing new for Tara Erraught to sing Rossini's La Cenerentola. So far, she has sung the lead mezzo role in 30 different productions across the world's operatic capitals. Next spring she will sing it on what many people consider the operatic pinnacle of the New York Metropolitan (although it will not be her first time on that stage.)

And this week, she has been electrifying opera lovers on the stage of the Bord Gais Energy Theatre in Dublin in an Irish National Opera production directed by Orpha Phelan. Given Phelan's mischievous, glowing and superbly child-like interpretation of the piece, this may well prove to have been Erraught's favourite.

As the story of Cinderella, with a philosopher tutor with magical powers rather than a fairy godmother, and two pretty, manipulative rather than ugly sisters, as well as a down-on-his-luck baron rather than a wicked stepmother, the story has wonderful resonances for today's world of self-aggrandisement and relentless social climbing.

Nor is Angelina, la Cenerentola, an insipid weakling. She fights back from a standpoint of moral integrity, as well as resentment at the unfairness of her life. Tough cookie, our Angelina.

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And Erraught's glorious coloratura seems to sway through every nuance of the score with a subtle variation of emotional tone that holds attention for every note which in the hands of a less aware star might seem to lack variety.

Add Phelan's interpretation to that, along with Fergus Sheil's meticulous conducting of Rossini's romantic score, and you have a perfect backdrop to have some fun. And this the trio do: La Cenerentola is a fairy tale, and we're treated to the full pantomime effect by designer Nicky Shaw.

The chorus are pantomime characters; Puss in Boots prowling the palace as the prince woos Angelina, with Goldilocks, Hansel and Gretel, Pinocchio and Peter Pan crowding round while Red Riding Hood watches wide-eyed as Sleeping Beauty wakes in the arms of her prince. It's pure delight, as the action unfolds in a rickety pantomime kitchen, worthy of every Jack and the Beanstalk in every parish hall, while the gallery of the palace is created by a perspective of giant books of fairytales (dominated mischievously by such Irish giants as Yeats and Wilde.)

But the crowning mischief is a life-size "cut-out" of carriage and ponies dragged across the stage. Angelina steps through a door panel, and opens a "window" to be pulled off to the ball with an impish grin on her face. It's doubly funny when one thinks of the fortunes spent on the same transformation scene in conventional pantomimes of Cinderella.

And as is common in such a wondrously accomplished lead line-up, the support is faultless, with bass-baritone David Ostrek particularly impressive in his dominance as the wonder-worker Alidoro, Riccardo Novaro in the comic lead of Dandini, and Rachel Croash also gloriously funny as Clorinda and Niamh O'Sullivan an equally spiteful sisterly side-kick as Tisbe.

Andrew Owens is a heartfelt and languishing tenor as the prince, and bass Graeme Danby completes the cast as the Baron.

And finally, there's gleeful and perfectly timed choreography from Muirne Bloomer.

It's a total triumph for Fergus Sheil and Irish National Opera; and even if you are someone who resents the invasion of Christmas as early as November, you start sniffing around for the scent of mince-pies.

That may not have been the intention; but it was noticeable that there were quite a few small opera goers who left the theatre with definite stars in their eyes. Maybe Santa Claus will receive a few letters asking for singing lessons.

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