Words across the water


Opining has always been Ireland’s national sport. Arriving, it hits you head on, mouthy and contentious.

Taxi Driver 1: “I tell yous, this city – bozzing, absolutely bozzing! Will yous look over there – all that building. Magic. This country’s flying!”

Taxi Driver 2: “It’s atrocious. Will yous look at the flowers on that lampost. Three bullets to his spine, that boy. Wasn’t even the right guy. The city’s a disaster. All drogs. Nothing but drogs.”

But the sun is shining, Dublin is radiant with students, shoppers, buskers and street artists, and the buildings seem to shout “look at us, we’re a truly European city!”. At lovely Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, all glass and sparkle on the water’s edge, the noise in the foyer is deafening. Glasses clink, friends holler. It may be an opera first night, but everyone is here to celebrate each other and the sheer marvel of a fine Thursday night. Wide Open Opera – a terrific young company grown out of Ireland’s chaotic opera so-called rationalisation in past years, has an enviable reputation for quirky and new work: John Adams, Donnacha Dennehy, Gerald Barry. But tonight they present the conventional, Barber of Seville as a showcase for superb young Irish mezzo Tara Erraught in a cast full of young talent and character. Excellent, imaginative Fergus Shiel, conductor and artististic director conducts a measured, disciplined overture, and we’re off into world of shifting sets, slapstick, whizzing tempi and Rossini’s own magic.

It’s all great fun even though the production is erratic, but the singing is just great. Afterwards we gossip shamelessly about UK opera; I whine enviously about Dublin’s venues – so many theatres on so many scales – plan tomorrow’s auditions and walk back over cobbles, as ever cursing my unsuitable shoes, through the city’s glamorous dusk.

Next evening, classic drama at The Gate, the beautiful Georgian space which seems more elegant drawing room than theatre. We’re to see Edward Albee’s great play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? immortalised on film by history’s most famous wrangling thespians Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. This production, set true to its heritage in a clubby, claustrophobic campus sitting room, is brilliant; disturbing, smart and painfully funny. Mildly traumatised, I buy a glass of wine at the interval (it’s a long play). “Ah” says the barman “Yer a wise woman”.

From noisy affability to cool Nordic reserve – next day to Gothenburg for BNO’s collaboration with Peter Eötvös and the city’s symphony orchestra. A large party of exhausted-looking Chinese are checking in at the hotel accompanied by a virtuosic battery of high-tech luggage. At the concert hall, opera director Eva-Maria Melbye and BNO’s production team look similarly weary. The week has been tough, time is tight, a singer is sick, and space for staging is distinctly constrained. But Eötvös’s Senza Sangue to Alessandro Baricco’s eloquent eponymous story, is superb, with vocal lines of seamless clarity and orchestra writing which seems written in perfumed ink on gossamer paper. It is followed by Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle: Andrea Melath as the nervous most recent wife, Gabor Bretz as a Bluebeard less deranged and menacing than damaged, stricken, wounded by life. Bretz’s voice is extraordinary – syrup-dark, beautiful, flexible. With Melbye’s shivering tree-scape video and Odd Halstensen’s luminous lights, one seemed to hear the piece anew, not as a searing melodrama, but as a thought-provoking, probing dreamscape.

Next morning another taxi, another driver. His name is Ulf, and he is not cheerful. “They’re probably on strike” he says after lengthy silence. I think of quizzing him about Sweden’s national sport – what does he think? At 06.15, it’s probably best not to ask.

Mary Miller

May 2, 2016

Foto: Senza Sangue in Gothenburg

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