RECENTLY, I have been having a lot of fun as Opera Ambassador for the Everyman Theatre. As a result of this role I am frequently asked “what is it that, particularly, draws me to opera?”
For me, one of the things that makes opera special, is that, by its nature, it tends to be very ‘full on’, maybe a little like Vegas on steroids! As a result, when venue and budget allow, you may have a full orchestra, an incredible set, costumes and lighting, a chorus of perhaps 100 strong, not to mention the principal singers.
What I particularly love though about John O’Brien’s work is that, even though he may be limited by space and funding, he is never limited by imagination, in particular he never forgets the ‘Vegas punch’, thus his productions are always rich, multi-textured, dynamic and with a surprise element thrown in.
John also has this wonderful, calm confidence in his work, ensuring that his music is accessible to most people; a quality that John shares with many great composers like Verdi, Rossini and Donizetti.
In contrast, it seems to me that other contemporary composers may strive, above all else, to be different; this can be interesting but often produces work lacking in wide appeal.
Much damage can also be caused to opera (as an art form) by ‘opera-snobs’, yet not so long ago opera music in Cork was played regularly, in and outside of homes, and was much loved all over the city, just as opera should be.
I would very much love if opera could, once again, became part of the fabric of this city, in this I am very much looking forward to the concert performance of John’s new opera Deirdre and the Sons of Usna at the Everyman this coming Tuesday. Like most operas, Deirdre involves lust, corruption, betrayal and death… so maybe if you just think along the lines of Game of Thrones!
Deirdre will also be all the better for the fact that John’s partner Éadaoin O’Donoghue is working as his librettist. In opera the composer and librettist must nearly ‘dance’ through the process of creation, as if they were one being, words and music must interlace as one. The relationship between the two is absolutely crucial.
Personally, I love that John generally presents his new work at the Everyman Theatre; not only is the Everyman unique in terms of its structure and its place in Cork history, the current team are extremely professional, talented and brave and are supported by some extraordinary “front of house” volunteers.
I love change. I love to see Cork grow and develop. I am thus thrilled to see so many young people, from so many different parts of the world, come to Cork to make this city their home. But making any city a home is never just about a job, or a house, it is also about the people we meet, the schools, the sports facilities, the restaurants, how we treat each other, our history and our culture. But culture cannot be stagnant, we must support it to ensure that it grows and develops.
In opera we are lucky to have a whole new generation of opera singers, hard working and energetic. There is no longer space for an opera singer robotically standing on stage while laboriously droning out a big aria (as they say in the industry delivering “a park and bark”); now you get a Chris Hemsworth lookalike singing that aria while simultaneously performing some kind of James Bond maneuver from the rafters! But it’s not all about showmanship… when good opera is performed the artist’s voice is better than any musical instrument because, by its nature, you can identify the humanity of the sound; each artist is unique. The result is that you can hear the same opera 100 times, played by 100 different leading artists and sometimes it will be less than you expect, often it will be more, but each time it will be something that is slightly new and it will carry its own peculiar identity. So while opera absolutely should be entertaining, it is the weight of humanity in a voice that can literally transport or move us, so that we feel something in a very visceral way.
I would encourage anyone who has an interest in theatre or in music to try opera but also to remember that you may not like the first few operas you go to.
I certainly don’t like every opera that I see or hear (and I don’t expect to) but nor do I like or expect to like every movie that I see. So check out John’s production on Tuesday. True you may not like it but on the other hand you may well find something that you will eventually love.
Deirdre and The Sons of Usna — A Concert Performance, runs at The Everyman, presented by John O’Brien, tomorrow, Tuesday January 28, 8pm, tickets €30, Concession €25, Students €15. Book on www.everymancork.com