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?


The Fairy Queen

First Written for The Reviews Hub

The Fairy Queen – Samuel Beckett Theatre, Dublin

Composer: Henry Purcell

Director: Conor Hanratty

Conductor: David Adams

The Royal Irish Academy of Music, in collaboration with Design for Stage and Screen at IADT, Dun Laoghaire, opened their interpretation of Henry Purcell’s semi-opera The Fairy Queen to a full house. The Fairy Queen sets out to recreate Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, so viewers can expect star crossed lovers, magic, humour and moments of sincerity and sadness.

At first the characters enter the stage at odds with one another. Oberon and Titania are fighting, bringing discord to fairy world, Hermia and Lysander have run away from Athens so that they can be together but their love is interrupted by the arrival of Helena and Demetrius. In the middle of all this is a rather drunk and lost Bottom, looking for his friends so they can begin rehearsing a play. In the magic of the forest will all right itself?

The stage is large and dark. Four large steps lead up to the centre. Gold lighting hangs in beaded chains from the ceiling, separating the orchestra from the main action. The orchestra are slightly behind the stage and a level lower, but still visible to the audience. They do not seem to miss a beat and are close to flawless, making it a pleasure to listen to. Either side of the stage are two raised sections that are used throughout, for example in denoting who are young lovers are pairing with. At times the actors are able to make use of the fire escape and main seating area for performance purposes. This shows an excellent ability to adapt to a performance space. In future productions additional lighting and props might be used for further effect. Further there is scope to play up the comedy elements. There are humorous interludes however these can be maximised for greater effect. Bottom, Puck, played by Philip Keegan, and Caper, played by Hannah O’Brien have perhaps the funniest moments with O’Brien managing to make the audience chuckle with a scene involving just a dustpan and brush.

Particular focus was given to the costumes, to the extent that the performers appeared to be wearing matching nail varnish. The fairies wear soft pastel colours, the king and queen however wear much brighter blues, silvers and golds. Additionally headdresses are used throughout to denote status and narrative movement. For example Titania begins The Fairy Queen wearing a crown of ice, by the end summer has come and warmer colours, brighter lights and a gold headdress take centre stage. Glitter and make up are expertly used to add to otherworldly, ethereal sense that the actors are from another, less mortal world.

Props are used sparingly but successfully. Gold lighting, smoke, petals, paper fans and purple lamps help to give atmosphere and make use of the large stage. Further additional props are used during the final scene to reflect the emotional changes that are occurring on stage.

Bass-Baritone Robert McAllister gave a standout performance as Bottom. Bottom usually gets the best plot lines, from falling in love with the queen of the fairies, to growing ass’s ears to waking up thinking that it is all a dream, which gives the actor plenty of room to show their ability. However McAllister truly gives a stellar performance; his powerful voice reaching across the theatre. Importantly all of the singers project their voices well and remarkably do not use (and do not need to use) microphones. Soprano Florence Khei Kuan Chong, who played the fairy Moth, gave a sterling performance, and fellow soprano Clodagh Kinsella, who played Titania also excelled. Both Kuan Chong and Kinsella were given a chance to shine in the second half.

This is a distinguished performance of Purcell’s semi-opera that will appeal to opera and music lovers, as well as those who are new to the genre. The plot is relatively easy to follow and the audience can be carried away by the music and fun and games happening on stage. This is a bright start to innovative theatre this year.

Runs until 14 January 2017 | Image: Mark Stedman

Review Overview

The Reviews Hub Score: 4*

Key Word: Vibrant