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The Fourth Lismore Music Festival
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The Fourth Lismore Music Festival

Reviewed by George Fleeton © 2013

George Fleeton

George Fleeton

There is a Latin proverb which reads ‘Musica laetitia comes, medicina dolorum’.

This readily translates as: ‘music is a companion to joy and a medicine for pains’.

This was inscribed on the four-year-old Limerick-built harpsichord in use at the recent Lismore Music Festival in west Co. Waterford (June 01 and 02).

On a return visit to this event, which takes place in what must be the greenest part of Ireland, I found the music making to be of the highest quality, particularly in the three fringe events which I attended, and during the featured opera Mozart’s Nozze di Figaro/Marriage of Figaro (1786).

The business model used there (midday recitals and afternoon concerts, in various interesting venues, a short drive away from Lismore Castle, in whose farmyard the opera is staged) is so similar to our own Opera Fringe Festival in Downpatrick (which ran from 2002 to 2009), that I felt at home there immediately.

The entire cast and the 12-voice chorus of Figaro consisted of Irish-born and trained singers, a full team, and it was a pleasure to see Kerry baritone Gavan Ring come of age in the well-sung titular role of an excellent production of this opera.

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The Wingfields of Salterbridge House, on the river Blackwater, which had its origins in the 1750s, hosted a high noon Recital of music from Georgian Dublin, recreated for us on flute and on that inscribed harpsichord, in one of their four ground floor reception rooms which date from the nineteenth century.

Some of this music had not been heard since Handel’s time, and it was played for us off the original scoring, with informative comment along the way from Bill Dowdall (flute) and David Adams (harpsichord).

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The following day at noon, the Festival had adjourned to the South Hall of nearby Cappoquin House, an 18thcentury mansion and home to the Keane family, for a programme of arias and duets given by students mostly from the Cork School of Music, and it was most competently compèred by soprano Sandra Oman.

No summer music festival is complete without this kind of recital, young singers, whose nervousness was palpable, making largely familiar music and gaining priceless performance experience, with the overflow audience sitting behind them on the stairs, as had been the case in Salterbridge the previous day.

Tenor Dan Twomey, soprano Clair Adams and bass-baritone Robert Kennedy made a particularly strong impression from among a group of their peers, each of whom should have a bright career beckoning, though probably not in Ireland where the state of play in opera has left so much to be desired for too long.

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The Carlow Choral Society was present again this year, on the final afternoon of the Festival, to sing the Carl Czerny version of Mozart’s final but incomplete work, his Requiem (1791), in St Carthage’s 17th century Anglican Cathedral Lismore.

Czerny, born in the year Mozart died, and for many years Beethoven’s assistant, was Liszt’s teacher.

He transcribed the Mozart Requiem and arranged it for four-hand piano, in this performance the hands of Marco Zambelli and David Adams.

Soprano Kim Sheehan and mezzo Rachel Kelly (later to be seen as Susanna and Cherubino, respectively, inFigaro) were in very fine voice, but there was one high soprano – unnamed – at the very back of the chorus whose voice haunted the ear long after.

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What struck me most about Dieter Kaegi’s version of Figaro

on opening night was the amazing balance achieved between the 8-piece orchestra (tucked in stage left) and the cast of nine well directed singers who roamed comfortably back and forth across a vast open-air space without missing a beat or a note.

And that use of space – an old farm yard, with stable half-doors, hay lofts and balcony, huge stone horse trough –

defined this production, and its dramatic and comic credibility,  in ways difficult to achieve on the stage of a theatre.

Others pluses:  the singers all looked the correct age for their parts; the recitativi were spoken in English; there were one or two back-references to the 2012 Lismore production of Rossini’s Barber, plus the occasional ‘Oh, to be in Chatsworth’ aspiration; and there were swifts and swallows in the night sky, overflying two white doves in  a cage.

This was imaginative stuff, gamely exploiting the naturalness of the setting, and the expectations of the growing audiences for this most comprehensive of Irish summer music festivals.

The four couples in the complex narrative of Figaro were finely drawn by that full team of Irish singers; and so in the course of one mad evening, ending at midnight, we witnessed the four seasons of love and marriage –

the carefree springtime  of Cherubino and Barbarina,

the high summer of Figaro and his bride-to-be Susanna,

the cold autumnal wind of the Count and Countess’ relationship, and

the loveless winter of Bartolo and Marcellina.

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Of the multitude of recordings of this opera on the market, so many are so good but, for what it is worth, I keep returning to  the 1960 EMI edition  with Moffo, Schwarzkopf and Cossotto, and the London Philharmonia conducted by Giulini.

The dates for next year’s Lismore Music Festival are May 31 and June 01, 2014.

www.salterbridge-houseandgarden.com

www.cappoquinhouseandgardens.com

www.lismorecastle.com

www.lismoremusicfestival.com

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George Fleeton is producing and presenting two Summer Recitals in Downpatrick, on June 20 and June 27, featuring soprano Catherine Harper, mezzo Debra Stuart, tenor Eugene O’Hagan, baritone Donald Maxwell and pianist Elizabeth Bicker.

Full details on www.downartscentre.com

His Tribute to the Life and Voice of Maria Callas takes place in Calary Church of Ireland, off the road to Glendalough/just south of the Great Sugar Loaf Mountain, Co. Wicklow, on July 05 at 8.00pm, with soprano Norah King and pianist Anthony Byrne.

Full details from [email protected]