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Michael Dervan - Irish Times

"Lismore has a lash at singing in the Rain!"

While at times vocals and instruments were hard to decipher under a barrage of rain, the singers at the Lismore Music Festival created a sense of solidarity ‘The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain,” says the song from My Fair Lady. It’s not true, of course. But the rain in Ireland does seem ready to fall anywhere and anytime. And last weekend it fell with a vengeance on the opening night of the Lismore Music Festival.

The festival’s big shows are its opera performances, given in a stable yard in the grounds of Lismore Castle. The festival covers the yard with a protective marquee, but leaves the stage end open to the elements, with a gap, clear to the skies and the clouds, that provides natural light at the start of a performance (the starting time is 8.30pm). On Saturday, it provided bucket-loads of water, too.

Wetting was one of the features of Dieter Kaegi’s production of Rossini’s Barber of Seville. The yard has a fountain that was used for games of splashing, was made to disgorge a mountain of suds at one point, and into which, when relatively suds-free, the Bartolo of Damon Nestor Ploumis later plunged with an almighty splash.

But the fact that singers sometimes had to run through or stand in the rain and sing was the least of the evening’s problems. Yes, it must have been uncomfortable for the performers. But the problem for the audience was the noise. There was no let-up to the barrage on the marquee, and that barrage, which somehow gave the impression of being in perpetual crescendo, often made both the singing and the instrumental accompaniment of the small ensemble, under the direction of harpsichordist David Adams, sound puny.

Kaegi had important action and singing take place on a balcony which, while it offered its own modicum of protection from the rain, was separated by open air from the audience under the marquee. This would have diminished the carrying power of the voices in the best of circumstances. In a heavy downpour, it was a case of no contest. The rain won every time.

The difficulties were so extreme that the singers only sounded at all normal when they were close up and singing straight on. The instrumental accompaniments were mostly hard to decipher beneath the noise of the weather. The performances in Lismore are bilingual. The arias are sung in Italian, the recitative in English. And the production was certainly ready for the weather, with a rake of rain-related jokes as well as umbrellas. Kaegi’s now trademark transport gag saw Owen Gilhooly’s Barber arrive on a scooter – earlier festivals have involved a sports car and a bicycle, so horses, donkeys and camels must surely follow – and comedic slapstick was the order of the day.

In those few moments when the voices were clearly to be heard, Pervin Chakar’s Rosina and Javier Abreu’s Almaviva sounded agile and effective. But the broader characterisations provided by Owen Gilhooly’s Barber and Ploumis’s Bartolo were more effective again. And the audience was clearly won over by Sandra Oman’s Berta, here a barmaid rather than a housekeeper, who, although she didn’t have much to sing, showed a doggedness and surliness that were completely weather-proof. It was one of those nights where cast and audience clearly understood that, come what may, we were all in it together, and solidarity could only make the evening a more pleasant experience.

The festival also offered a programme of piano duets at Salterbridge House in Cappoquin, played on a suitably domestic scale by Dearbhla and Finghin Collins. And St Carthage’s Cathedral in Lismore was the venue for that most secular-sounding of masses, Rossini’s Petite messe solennelle, with a forceful team of soloists (Sandra Oman, Máire Flavin, Anthony Kearns and John Molloy) and a much more pliable chorus bringing together members of Carlow Choral Society and the Dún Laoghaire Choral Society, with conductor Marco Zambelli sharing the piano and harmonium accompaniment with the ever-sensitive David Adams.

By Marc O’Sullivan, Irish Examiner, Wednesday, June 06, 2012

"Lismore Music Festival had much to contend with at the weekend"

The torrential rain on Saturday night would have led most promoters to cancel an event as ambitious as a new outdoor production of Gioachino Rossini’s The Barber of Seville in the courtyard at Lismore Castle, but the organisers shielded the audience and most of the performers from the elements with a strategically placed tent. Their courage paid rich dividends: for anyone who loves opera, the production was surely the highlight of the year. 

Rossini would surely have approved of the modern touches brought to this most playful of operas. There were cheers when the barber Figaro, played by Irish baritone Owen Gilhooley, arrived on a Vespa scooter, and much laughs when Javier Abreu, playing Count Almaviva, ran out with an umbrella. Damon Nestor Ploumis cannot have been much perturbed by the downpour: as Almaviva’s love rival Dr Bartolo, he was already required to fall face first into the fountain, around which much of the action was played out. 

Abreu was a lively performer. His singing was rich and expressive, and he played Almaviva with an infectious energy. The Turkish soprano Pervin Chakar was enchanting as Rosina, and her solo in the ‘singing lesson’ scene was riveting: many wondered how so diminutive a singer could be possessed of so powerful a voice. 

A special mention must go to the LMF Chamber Orchestra, whose presence added to the glamour of the production, and whose playing throughout was flawless. 

The Lismore Music Festival’s existence is a triumph in these times, and the sold-out production of The Barber of Seville serves to illustrate just how valued a presence it has become in the Irish music calendar.

Niall Carroll - RTE lyricfm, Monday 4th June 2012

The Lismore Music Festival is the premier music festival in Ireland

Dick O’Riordan, Classical Notes - Sunday Business Post

"This impressive achievement can only go from strength to strength"

“The arrival of Don Giovanni in Lismore Castle attracted opera fans from home and abroad, boosted by terrific reviews that Lismore Opera Festival received for its inaugural production of Carmen last year. The initial impression was recognition of the tremendous challenge a festival of this calibre represents. Staging an opera is a nerve-jangling experience in itself, but creating the entire ambience and infrastructure which surrounds it requires a near miracle. So bravo to Jennifer O’Connell & Dieter Kaegi, whose vision has established a festival with immense charm and wide appeal. This impressive achievement can only go from strength to strength”

RT (Opera Now)

"Italian arias and Kerry profanities"

The second year of the Lismore Music Festival, in a beautiful leafy part of west Waterford in Ireland, was if anything even more charmed than the first. The deluge will come, no doubt, but this year the place basked In Mediterranean temperatures (until the interval) to complement the tapassy pre-show grub and Sevillean flavour of Mozart's Don Giovanni.

As last year, the opera took place in the stable yard of Lismore Castle. Dieter Kaegi, usually an implacable Swiss modernist director, again showed his mellow side with a crowd-pleasing production that caused a touch of delighted outrage by way of a few bold words and contemporary dress, along with this year's momentous coup de théátre: a lovely horse (equipped with earplugs) for Zerlina's entrance. But nothing Kaegi does is stupid, and nor was this: fast and furious, done with terrific energy and edited for impetus, with Italian arias and Kerry profanities for the recitatives, the humour intentionally broad and with a saturnine villain of Murder in the Red Barn proportions at its centre (despite the usual lack of an identifiable crime).
Things had been relocated to Ireland, with the Don (Andrew Ashwin) an Ascendancy toff taking unpardonable liberties with colleens of all classes, including a Zerlina who seemed to have emerged from My Big Fat Knacker Wedding.

After a scratchy overture from David Adams's eight-piece LMF Chamber Orchestra, whose nature as klezmer band had been wisely rethought (but was still a bit sax-heavy), things evened out and muddled along until Cara O'Sullivan (Anna) set a fire with 'Or sai': a note of real desperation and passion, and sung with complete commitment. A series of nice touches, later: Zerlina wrapping Masetto round her finger with 'Batti, batti', Giovanni's serenade bringing girls to the windows like moths to a flame, Anthony Kearns's beautifully-spun 'Il mio tesoro', a moment of still beauty in the turmoil. A lot of good energy here thanks to a distinguished cast (Fiona Murphy as derided Elvira and John Molloy the gobby Leporello).

The band became quite elegant and then fairly scary in the graveyard scene with Cora Venus Lunny's spooky fiddle scrapings and glissandos, but this is still the department that needs most attention.

Review by Lauren Mulvihill

As someone who has never attended and ordinarily wouldn’t express a wish to attend an opera, it’s fairly easy to see why I arrived at the performance of Rossini’s “the Barber of Seville” on the 1st of June with relatively low expectations of how I would enjoy the show. Like most uncultured people of my age, I had decided beforehand that I was likely to be bored stiff listening to arias and harpsichords while not understanding a word of the Italian lyrics. But I’m extremely glad to say-and this is something I rarely enjoy admitting to-that my closed-minded expectations disappeared entirely as soon as I sat down.

The Barber of Seville as we now know it was written in 1773 by French playwright Pierre Beaumarchais and composed by Gioachino Rossini. It is the first in a trilogy of plays by Beaumarchais, and takes place in Seville, Spain. It opens with us discovering that Count Almaviva has fallen in love with a girl named Rosina, and enlists the help of the Barber of the play’s title, Figaro, to win her over. But the Count and Figaro have a problem: Rosina’s guardian and villain of the show, Dr. Bartolo, also wants to marry Rosina, so Count Almaviva must be clever in order to marry Rosina himself.

Before talking about the opera itself, I first of all need to compliment the staging. The opera took place in a marquee, which had been set in front of what I presume to be old stables in the gardens of Lismore Castle, which is an undeniably beautiful place anyway. If I had seen the crumbling walls and stone courtyard with its water fountain- and also the natural light of the evening, which was used brilliantly to document the time passing, either intentionally or otherwise-in any other setting, I would have sworn to you that we were actually in a small Spanish village, rather than a castle courtyard in Ireland (although it has to be said I wouldn’t mind going to either place).

The orchestra, who had been placed into a corner and were referenced to by the characters in the opera quite a few times to good effect, was quite small and only consisted of about six people. But this worked much better than it would have with a larger orchestra, as the violins, cellos, harpsichord and flutes’ gave the opera’s music a romantic quality that complimented the story well.

The play itself was excellently performed. According to my programme, Pervin Chakar, who played Rosina, is a “mezzo soprano” singer, which means she has a lower range than that of a soprano singer, but I was still genuinely surprised that any glass in the area didn’t shatter when she hit her highest notes. Owen Gilhooly (Figaro) Javier Abreu (Almaviva) and Damon Nester Ploumis (Dr. Bartolo) were also all brilliant leading men, as were the cast of secondary and tertiary characters that appeared throughout the opera. The director’s eye for detail could also be seen when Bartolo entered reading what I saw was a Spanish newspaper!

The Barber of Seville is a comic opera, but since I’m guessing the vast majority of the audience didn’t speak Italian, most of its comedy was physical. I was immensely impressed that the actors managed to do all the energetic movements and jumping around that physical comedy requires while all the while their voices remained at a consistently high standard, not faltering once. It’s hard to make an audience laugh so much when they can’t understand a word of what you’re saying, but they managed it.

Also in attendance was President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, who as a poet and former Minister for Arts and Culture is well known to enjoy these kind of events. Before the opera began, he gave a speech telling us how wonderful the opera was and told the students in the audience how it’s important for young people to enjoy the arts in every form. He also threw in a few sentences as Gaielge, and must have been pleased when they fitted the language into the opera, too (Bartolo counted napkins as haon, dó, trí, ceathair…)!

Finally, I want to congratulate everyone involved in the opera-the director, musicians, actors and stage assistants-for putting on such a good show and thank Lismore Music Festival for inviting the Árd Scoil students to attend. I think it’s safe to say we all had a fantastic night!