62º Wexford Festival Opera: Act 5
by George Fleeton ©2013
Each year, these Recitals are invariably a highlight of my visit to Wexford, as a small number of the Festival’s leading singers take the opportunity to impress us in wider repertoires and in a bright and fairly intimate performance space
My own interest in this, wearing another hat, stems from promoting, producing and presenting such recitals of light classical music at various arts venues and festivals in Ireland.
None of the three recitalists (out of eight) on my agenda this year disappointed.
First off was Welsh tenor Aled Hall, with Janet Haney on piano.
Last here many years ago, one-time dairy farmer Hall, who spoke only Welsh until age 8, took us on a humorous journey through his musical life.
There was Handel, Britten, Lalo, and Rossini; Rodgers & Hammerstein and Gilbert & Sullivan; a tribute to Mario Lanza, and a couple of traditional songs in Welsh, all finely enunciated and projected, in an experienced and relaxed voice reminiscent of Richard Tauber, and earning a standing ovation, with an encore by Léhar.
Accompanied by Mairead Hurley, Irish soprano Claudia Boyle gave an energetic indeed effervescent performance of arias and songs, with a voice more secure than ever at the top and bottom of her range.
Her selection from Mozart, Schubert, Delibes and Donizetti all preceded a lightning costume change, before we were swung into songs by Thomas, Charpentier, Kern & Hammerstein, then rounding off with the ‘Spanish Lady’ and ‘Danny Boy’ (this latter recently touted, and not very convincingly, as ‘the ballad that bewitched the world’).
Then there was Lucia Cirillo, an Italian mezzo-soprano, also on a return visit to Wexford (with Andrea Grant on piano).
This young lady is a top drawer singing-actress: acting/re-acting, encountering/responding, scaling peaks/landing like a ballerina, and so comfortable in her music and in her voice that they resonate long afterwards in one’s head and memory.
And a rich programme of Mozart, Haydn, Schubert, and Tosti songs more than cemented that impression.
Back to Titanic
A new event, to this visitor, and generically entitled Irish Heritage at Wexford,this was one of two events, curated by Una Hunt, to highlight and to showcase the music of Ireland, north and south.
The Titanic recital, for piano and four voices, reminded us of music from the Edwardian period (essentially the first decade of the 20th century) but extended here to take in the Titanic and the Great War.
The idea was to recall the nostalgia and sentiment of the period, particularly its vaudeville entertainments.
So, for starters, we had ‘Macushla’ and ‘It’s a long way to Tipperary’, from tenor Ronan Busfield; two songs, by Wallace and Herbert (soprano Kelley Lonergan); two piano solos by Una Hunt; ‘Asleep in the Deep’ and ‘The Man on the Flying Trapeze’ sung by baritone Cormac Lawlor, and mezzo Laura Murphy sang ‘Will you love me in December …’ and ‘The Glow Worm’ – all well given in a welcome foregrounding of some lesser known Irish composers, from one hundred years ago, and their neglected works.
And well done to the young singers for finding their best voices at 11h00 on a damp and chilly morning.
Una Hunt’s advocacy of such music and the recordings which she has issued of forgotten treasures, is not only in line with Wexford’s broader operatic mission but is also an invaluable contribution to Ireland’s musical culture.
In 2014 the 63rd Wexford Festival Opera runs from October 22 until November 02.
The three main stage productions will be Salomé, Don Bucefalo, and Silent Night.
Salomé is a French opera, by Antoine Mariotte, based on Oscar Wilde’s tragedy of that name which he, Wilde, had written in French and which appeared on stage in Paris in 1896.
Mariotte, who died in 1944, delivered his opera in Lyon in 1908, three years after Richard Strauss’ better known work Salome.
This reminds me that, at the 2011 Venice Film Festival, in my interview with Al Pacino, he talked enthusiastically about having written, directed and acted in his own film Wilde Salome, based on the same core text (reviewed here, on Down News (¹)).
Don Bucefalo is an Italian opera by Antonio Cagnoni, his third.
It was first seen in the Verdi Conservatorio in Milan in 1847.
Cagnoni was just 19 at the time.
And finally Silent Night is an American opera which opened at Minnesota Opera exactly two years ago.
It deals with events on the Western Front during the first Christmas of the Great War (1914), with additional lyrics in German and in French.
The composer is Kevin Puts, whose core message seems to be: war is not sustainable when you come to know your enemy as a person.
So we expect to encounter the same anti-warscape of Sherriff’s play Journey’s End (1928), Remarque’s novel All Quiet on the Western Front (1929) and Kubrick’s film Paths of Glory (1957).
For earlier comments, on Wexford Festival Opera 2013, see