Entertainment Theatre & Arts

Saturday 15 December 2018

Operatic high true to the spirit of Tolstoy

  • Risurrezione, Wexford Festival Opera
  • The Good Father, Viking Theatre, Clontarf
Soprano Anne Sophie Duprels and tenor Gerard Schneider in 'Resurrezione'
Soprano Anne Sophie Duprels and tenor Gerard Schneider in 'Resurrezione'
Rachel O'Byrne and Liam Heslin in 'The Good Father'. Photo: Ste Murray

Emer O'Kelly

It would seem to have become de rigueur to say it is unfair to Franco Alfano to record his composing legacy mainly being as the man who completed Puccini's Turandot; of course by mentioning it, we are perpetuating it.

But what is so wrong with that if the score for his Risurrezione, composed 20 years before he undertook the completion of Turandot, is in the same powerfully melodic and romantic stream as the work of the master of romance?

Directing it as the final of Wexford Festival Opera's three main works this year, Rosetta Cucchi plays it for all the doomed romance it's got - and that's plenty.

This is reflected in conductor Francesco Culliffo's surging and mellifluous approach.

The story of Tolstoy's last heroic novel is played out by soprano Anne Sophie Duprels as Katiusha - an innocent orphan, who loses her virginity to her guardian's dashing nephew. She becomes pregnant only to have the baby die, then suffers the 19th century's inevitable subsequent descent into degradation and despair, prostitution, false accusations and a ten year exile to Siberia - where she regains self-respect and redemption, if not happiness.

Duprels is searingly moving - especially in Act Three, set in a Moscow gaol in which she awaits deportation, while tenor Gerard Schneider's Prince Dimitri, the source of both her misery and former joy, offers to make reparation for his betrayal. They are supported splendidly by baritone Charles Rice as Simonson, Katiusha's companion in misery and ultimately her saviour.

As always, the Festival Opera Chorus under master Errol Girdlestone does sterling work, as do those singing the minor roles. It is always gratifying to be able to expect good acting on the operatic stage, a requirement seldom betrayed these days - far from the sight of serried ranks of unmoving village maidens of uncertain years, once a perennial feature.

Tiziano Santi's set design is a perfect evocation of everything from hellish prison to the wastes of Siberia, well worth the slight wait required for scene changing. Claudia Pernigotti's costumes retain the unrelenting bleakness.


There Is more to fatherhood than biology.

Somewhere in his confused and sad soul in The Good Father, Tim knows this: to live your life for a child is the supreme achievement in his book.

We meet him on New Year's Eve, drunk and miserable, having been told his "equipment" is compromised and he will never have the opportunity to do so. Jane, who invades his space at the same party, is equally drunk - having just been dumped at the age of 33 by her boyfriend of eight years, and just after organising the wedding.

"What are you doing for sex tonight?" she asks. When the apparently miraculous inevitable happens, the two take tentative steps towards compromise, in the hope of love.

There have been two previous productions of Christian O'Reilly's 2002 debut play to my knowledge, with Derbhle Crotty and Aidan Kelly creating the roles initially (for Druid), so a new cast has large shoes to fill.

In the Rise production at the Viking in Clontarf, the shoes fit perfectly: Rachel O'Byrne and Liam Heslin, under Aonghus Og McAnally's sensitive and powerful direction, never put a foot wrong.

The pair deliver the caustic dialogue with an intense simplicity and a kind of bewildered veracity as Jane and Tim find their way through tragedy to reach a level of understanding that almost, but happily not quite, transcends passion.

O'Reilly's dialogue is perfectly pitched between working-class slight chip-on-shoulder (Tim) and the fluent superiority of the middle- class Jane.

He also understands human need in all its varieties, knowing how to paint it with a longing that envelops an audience (at least an audience prepared to listen instead of cackle, as unfortunately happened on opening night in Clontarf - that was as well as joining in when O'Byrne, in character, tearfully and tunelessly sang Ring of Fire.)

The Good Father, with its wry clarity and ultimately upbeat message is ostensibly a simple piece; but its second revival proves its durability, and it is deservedly liable to remain in the canon for a long time to come.

If future productions match that of Rise, it will be well served.

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