Tuesday, 11 December 2012

The Gloaming at the Empire

Another new experience for me this week, courtesy of Moving On Music

The Gloaming is described as a "newly minted collective of five remarkable musicians poised to become a vital force in Irish music. Navigating between the contemporary and traditional genres, their creativity trumps predictability – with music that is haunting and beautiful in equal measure".

I can count on one hand the amount of times I have heard live traditional Irish music. Twice after a funeral, once in Madden's where I was drinking not listening and once in a theatre show.  Other experiences include Riverdance on Eurovision and the token working class Irish dance in Titanic with Kate Winslett.  I'm not a big fan of uilleann pipes (they sound like stylophones) and my experience of tin whistles is kids murdering Greensleeves. As you can probably tell, I'm not the best person to review the event in any intelligent or knowledgeable way.

However unlikely it may seem, I'm delighted to say I enjoyed the gig.  Not only did I enjoy it but I am going to buy The Gloaming's CD when it is released in a couple of months. I won't say I'm now a fan of Irish music because that would not be true, but there was enough in the Gloaming's music to redefine my perceptions of what Irish music is.  No tin whistles, but a Grand piano, guitar, 2 fiddles and a shruti box. The music sounded ancient and enduring but Thomas Bartlett's piano, in particular added a contemporary edge.      

The ebb and flow of the music is something I really liked.  I guess I'm used to one tune finishing before another is played, but the seamless transition from songs focusing on Ó Lionáird's haunting vocals to the catchy rhythm of Martin Hayes' fiddle playing ensured a depth I never knew existed in Irish music.
From beautiful melancholy songs sang in Irish to fiddle-dee-dee reels, the colour of the music energised the room and provided real interest even to new attenders like me.

I particularly enjoyed the effect the music had on the audience. One older man standing in front of me swayed and bounced to every single beat the band played. His bobbing about like the floor was on fire seemed funny, but in this context it was my not bobbing about that was unusual.  The foot tapping on the floor started out very quietly until eventually the whole room was vibrating to the beat of hundreds of feet.

It was how the music made me feel that I didn't expect.  This was not a room full of people listening to a band play music, this was a community of friends joined in listening to the the history of the music, the stories being told and feeling the emotions being played.

Next time, I might just join in with the bobbing about...

Sunday, 2 December 2012

The Magic Flute at the Grand Opera House

Last night I ventured out into the freezing cold night to attend my first ever opera for adults.  I have been to two childrens' operas this year - NI Opera's Noye's Fludde and Scottish Opera's Elephant Angel.  You can read what I thought about them here:  Noye's Fludde and here: The Elephant Angel.  

I thought it was about time I tried an adult opera.  I chose The Magic Flute for a few reasons.  It was produced by Scottish Opera whose last production I had seen, it was sung in English and it had dialogue as well as singing (I now know this to be Singspiel style).  I also noted an 'Opera Unwrapped' event the night before which made the production even more accessible to me.  

Opera Unwrapped is a great tactic for bringing in new attenders.  Opera is an artform that is stereotyped as foreign, elitist and for the wealthy.  Given this stereotype, it can be intimidating attending an opera for the first time.  This informal event is a great idea and it really added to my understanding and enjoyment of the full production.  

The story is about a young prince who is asked to rescue the Queen of the Night's daughter who has been abducted.  Other themes are also clear; religion, the path to enlightenment, masonic ritual and the number 3, but I engaged most with the magical love story. 

I have to say the fabulous set and costumes blew me away.  Opera really does do it bigger, better, brasher and bolder.  The beautiful industrial serpent was stunning. When I think of how long it must have taken to make him, I only wish he could have been kept on stage longer. The set itself was in Victoriana steampunk style.  Industrial looking with wheels and cogs, you'd be forgiven for thinking the whole tale took place inside a watch.  I loved the scientific feel of the set, the dual levels of the set allowing bearded men in the gallery to look down on the action below, just like the old operating theatres where students looked down on the surgeon at work.  The chorus included nurses, and men with top hats with head lamps in them, reminiscent of both coal miners and scientists. 

As a non opera goer and a terrible singer I can't say anything technical about the singing except to say that it all sounded perfect to me.  Acting wise however, I did have my favourites.  Papageno, clearly the star of the show gave an assured performance, his character driving the energy of a lot of the scenes.  His timing was impeccable and I really enjoyed the ever present twinkle in his eye.  The three Ladies were very entertaining, given playful direction for some of the wittiest scenes.  The Queen of the Night's costume was stunning.  I thought Mari Moriya really lived up to the drama of the character using her costume and body shape to accent the meaning of her words.  Of course a special mention must go to the orchestra, their beautiful understated accompaniment accentuating the larger than life characters on the stage.   

As a mix of pantomime, theatre, opera and musical theatre this production really caught my attention.  As a lover of epic fiction, ancient mythology, science fiction and fantasy, fairytales and polished production values, this opera really spoke to my love of fantastical adventures.

It may have been the last night of the tour for this production, but for me it's the start of a long and epic romance with opera.


The Picture of Dorian Gray at the Abbey

A couple of weeks ago, we decided to head off to Dublin to see our friend Charlotte in The Picture of Dorian Gray at the Abbey.  I'd never been in the Abbey before so I was excited to see what all the fuss was about.  On first glance the Abbey is nothing special.  It's just another building on a Dublin street.  Inside the staff were friendly and the auditorium was comfortable.  But what is different about the Abbey is the feeling that you are part of something special. The importance of the Abbey in Dublin's cultural history is obvious as soon as you enter the door. There's a distinct sense of history that I feel mostly in ancient churches and at Holy wells.  Never before have I felt it in a theatre.

I really enjoyed the visual effects used in the production, from the amazing costumes, the stripped back set and the lighting.  But by far the highlight of this show is the acting ability of the whole cast. Tom Canton as Dorian was a revelation.  I could not believe my eyes when I read that this was his debut, not just on the Abbey stage but as a professional actor.  I followed his Dorian in his gradual descent into madness.  This was a strong performance from a man who will become, I think, a great actor.

Even I felt corrupted by Jasper Britton's performance as the gleefully decadent and immoral Lord Henry, and I thought Frank McCusker's Basil was a work of understated genius. Charlotte McCurry's Sybil was played to fragile perfection - her place always in the background, her sobbing heard but ignored, her love cruelly dismissed.  I mostly enjoyed the chorus which served to highlight Dorian's fall from morality, and echoed his inner most thoughts, but I felt that their interruptions slightly distracted from the action at times.

All in all, a mostly strong production in a stunning venue.  I'll certainly be back.