Vampirella

First Written for The Reviews Hub

Vampirella – Smock Alley, Dublin

Director: Conor Hanratty

Composer: Siobhan Cleary

Librettist: Katy Hayes

Conductor: Andrew Synnott

The world premiere of Opera Briefs 2017 production of Vampirella took place this evening in the main stage of Smock Alley Theatre. This work by composer Siobhan Cleary is the result of a creative partnership between the Royal Irish Academy of Music and The Lir National Academy of Dramatic Art at Trinity College Dublin.

Based on Angela Carter’s story this makes for an interesting and entertaining basis for an opera. As the somewhat unusual title suggests vampires feature heavily in this work. Set deep in the Carpathian Mountains The Count watches posthumously over his beloved daughter. His love outliving death. The young Countess meanwhile is consumed by loneliness, living in the shadows with only her Scottish Governess for company. In 1914 an English soldier called Hero seeks shelter in a desolate castle. Arriving on a bicycle in tweeds with a perfect upper class English accent his hunt for a cup of tea couldn’t be more out of place in this home of the undead. Soon he meets the beautiful Countess but is taken aback by her unusually sharp, pointy teeth and lengthy nails. When her pet cat scratches him she cannot resist the chance to drink.

Hero is presented as an innocent. He enters the stage from the right completely free of fear with a naïve sense of humour. Throughout the performance one waits to see whether he will retain this innocence and go onto survive or whether he will eventually be drawn into darkness. The final scene sees a change in tone that rounds of the opera on a sad and tragic note. Traditionally, in pantomime in particular, the characters representing good enter from stage right and those representing evil enter from stage left. This idea is used and played with in Vampirella when our protagonists take their places on the stage. The Count sits above the proceedings, only descending to the stage when he fears that his daughter will be lost to the charms of this invading Englishman.

Special applause should go to the orchestra who navigated the piece successfully from beginning to end while also managing to play in near darkness. They seemed to be both technically exact while supplementing and furthering the narrative without ever overpowering and obstructing the vocalists. The compact team worked well together in this tightly organised and plotted production. In line with this the stage is effectively utilised with simple props; a bicycle and a bed moving easily from one side to the other. Eight cloaked figures holding candles haunt the stage; singing, chanting, moving in unison.

This is an ideal opera to take place in the city that gave birth to Bram Stoker and that has been drawn year after year into tales of vampires. At the close of Vampirella one is left questioning who the real monsters are and can innocence survive in this world?

 

Heresy

First Written for The Reviews Hub

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Heresy is a remarkable electronic opera from dramaturg and composer Roger Doyle. In his first outing as composer Doyle has created a unique work that is inspired by the life and works of Renaissance figure Giordano Bruno. The Italian Dominican friar is best remembered for his cosmological theories which included, among other things that the Universe was infinite with no clear centre and he expanded upon the Copernican model with his belief in cosmic pluralism.

Although he was also a philosopher, mathematician and poet, it was his cosmological theories,  which contradicted some of the main teachings of the Church, that he is best remembered for and that, ultimately, resulted in his downfall. In the early 1590s, the Roman Inquisition arrested him for heresy. Bruno refused to recant. Eventually, he was executed in 1600 when he was burned at the stake.

In Heresy, we meet Bruno as he demonstrates his system of magic memory before the court of Henry III of France. This is followed by excerpts from his inquisition, the time he spent imprisoned and the night before his execution. The narrative gives the idea that with conviction and truth anything is possible. This is then reflected in the nature of the opera itself, which is revolutionary in its delivery. In bringing Ireland its first electronic opera, Doyle has also chosen to investigate the idea of opera itself. Doyle is the co-founder of META Production, which aims to explore new forms of opera. This ambitious work shows the best of new and explorative opera, with the use of electronic music rather that a live orchestra is a unique and daring.

There are moments of light relief and surrealist humour. Heresy has a wide variety of characters, everyone from London policemen, Elizabeth I, a French maid with pink hair, a janitor with a neat line in props and one-liners, and Henry King III of France. The singers are all accomplished, especially 14-year-old soprano Aimee Banks who plays the young Bruno. There are, however, a few moments when the music threatens to make the singers difficult to hear.

The staging is minimal. In the back centre stands a throne. At either side, scaffolding with metal ladders rises above the audience. Throughout, additional props are bought on during scene changes. With practice, this process should become smoother. On the back wall of the stage are large strip lights in bold colours – blues, reds, oranges, greens – which light up throughout to signal mood changes and narrative movement.

There are frequent costume changes. One that stands out is the red outfit of Cardinal Bellarmine, who is played by male soprano Robert Crowe. While holding a copy of The Catholic Times his red suit seems to shine. His matching red boots brand new. This contrasts with the plain black of Bruno, accessorised only with the chains that bind him. Other costumes reflect the cosmological nature of Bruno’s work; white, silver and gold.

For opera lovers and those with a keen interest in music, Heresy is a brilliant watch. It is also a good choice for those with less experience. The story is intriguing and the characters unexpected and surprising. It was this reviewer’s first experience of opera and is without a doubt a very positive one that has sparked a desire to seek out other examples of the genre.

Runs until 5 November 2016 | Image: contributed

Review Overview

The Reviews Hub 4*

Key Word: Theatrical