Opera in Ireland: State of Play – Part 3
Lyric Opera Productions: Aida
Opera Theatre Company: Così fan Tutte
Scottish Opera: The Magic Flute
The Met:Live in HD: La Clemenza di Tito
After his historical drama Don Carlos (Paris, 1867), the grandest of his grand operas, Verdi wanted to rest and work at his farm, Sant’Agata, near Busseto, with his second wife La Strepponi..
He was 54 and had composed twenty-five operas in twenty-eight years.
But his po’ di riposo only lasted about four years, until his Egyptian tragedy Aida opened in Cairo in 1871, Verdi not present however.
After that he did manage to take a long rest – over fifteen years – during which period Wagner, and lots of their musician friends, died.
But Verdi was to produce two more fabulous but very different operas in his seventies, and only then, in 1893, was the 35-year-old Puccini allowed, and expected, to step into his shoes and take opera on its final journey into the 20th century, where it withered when WW1 changed the world and its classical tastes for ever, and the rage was for consumerist movies, radio, jazz and cars.
To paraphrase Paul to Corinthians: and now abideth Mozart, Wagner, Verdi, these three: but the greatest of these was Verdi.
Lyric Opera Productions had presented Aida in Dublin’s National Concert Hall (NCH) on two previous occasions, in 1999 and in 2004.
This year, and for the first time since the company was established seventeen years ago, it took to the stage of the Gaiety Theatre, diagonally across St Stephen’s Green from the NCH, thanks to some public sector funding not previously available to it.
Lyric Opera’s hallmark mission statement has remained the same: to ensure that Ireland’s own extraordinary artists have a platform on which to display their unique talents in their own country.
So lots of work then, at this Aida, for set, costume and lighting designers, choreographer, chorus master and the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, while most prominent among the Irish singers was Imelda Drumm (Amneris, daughter of the King of Egypt), recently seen and heard as Azucena and Brangӓne.
This Aida (November 14) was given in a traditional proscenium theatre, its enclosing arch dominated by two immense, obliquely positioned walls of multiple, miniature egg-box-style pyramids, and this presented some sightline difficulties for members of the audience in the boxes and at the extremes of the dress, grand and upper circles.
However, people sitting within my hearing range were somewhat placated finally by the huge black scrim moon descending ever so slowly to snuff the life from the two protagonists, buried alive – a magical design touch.
Certainly a grand opera, Aida contradicts the definition by being essentially a chamber piece for three principals.
This production struggled to get that balance right; it was underpowered, quite flatly sung in places, with some dodgy dancing and a rather stiffly marked-off chorus.
Although the chemistry between the principals – their torn emotions, the shifting ground beneath their respective aspirations of love, military glory, recognition and identity – did lack dramatic conviction, it was still a production to admire: ambitious, eye-catching, and generally well cast (a Canadian Aida, Yannick-Muriel Noah, and an American Radamès, Michael Wade Lee) supported by robust orchestral playing and the ever dependable Imelda Drumm.
Don’t get me wrong: Aida is a very enjoyable opera, but the characters are not flesh and blood, not truly Verdian, yet the emotions these cardboard cut-outs express are so human, so universal and set to such convincing music – Verdi on cruise control – that the problems of balance this poses for any production can be formidable.
For, while the pomp and circumstance of Aida
are unparalleled anywhere in Italian opera, it is the more gentle moments, the pathos and the romanzas that you want to take home with you.
Two further productions from LOP in 2013 are revivals of Mozart’s
Le Nozze di Figaro (NCH, February 16 and 17) and Verdi’s
La Traviata (Gaiety Theatre, from June 05), but check the details on www.lyricoperaproductions.com
Così fan tutte
The Magic Flute
La Clemenza di Tito
To be able to see Mozart’s last three full-length operas, in the course of seven days, was a rare privilege.
The more I have studied Mozart’s operas in the last 18 years, the more convinced I have become that he anticipated his death, in 1791; he was a man in a hurry, stressed and anxious, desperate to be recognised and to get written down the music that was all ready, already in his head.
In the final five months of his life, he had composed the motet Ave Verum corpus, and his haunted Clarinet Concerto.
On his desk at that same time lay the autographs of Tito, the Flute and the Requiem, while Cosi is lies a little further back in his output (early 1790).
In Part 4 of this series – on the state of play in opera in Ireland – I shall be commenting on recent productions of Mozart’s ultimate operas and arguing that, when properly produced, La Clemenza di Tito may be his greatest.
George Fleeton writes independently on arts and culture in Ireland, north and south.
His Recitals of light classical, popular and sacred music will be presented at various venues in Downpatrick in February and March 2013, and full details will be published shortly on DownNews.