Monday 10 June 2019

Drive-by Shooting at Aldeburgh, or, A Refreshingly Comic New Opera

When was the last time you spent most of an opera laughing with pleasure? It certainly hasn't happened to me very often, which made Saturday night's ten minute mini-opera at the Aldeburgh Festival all the more a refreshing surprise.

Originally produced in Dublin the opera by John McIlduff (writer) and Brian Irvine (music) tells of a crime of passion among the Dublin elderly. Furious at her husband's affair with their neighbour Maureen (I think) at number thirteen - the precision adds to the comedy giving the listener a distinct sense of the environment in which these events are taking place - the aggrieved wife has resolved to "shoot the fecker in the pecker." She has purloined a gun kept by her husband originally used by his father in the GPO in 1916 and the prospect of prison holds no terrors - for health care will be better there!

These events are not, however, taking place on the Maltings stage, with orchestra in the pit, but instead the audience listens on headphones while an animation is projected onto the wall of the Hoffmann Building. The energetic, jazzy score is finely recorded by the RTE Concert Orchestra under Fergus Sheil, with the principal roles of aggrieved wife and friend sung with great character by Doreen Curran and Sylvia O'Brien.

The whole experience is enormous fun. In an age when opera, particularly modern opera, still has a tendency I think to take itself too seriously it's great to have a new piece that, at least from my perspective, seemed primarily designed to entertain. Yes there are historical and political touches - to the Easter Rising, and the economic plight of the contemporary Dublin elderly, but you don't need to know about either of these things (I know something about the former and really nothing about the latter) to enjoy this show. 

This would richly deserve pick up by other venues - perhaps the Barbican or the Edinburgh International Festival might take a look. Indeed, the beauty of this piece is its potential accessibility - all you need is a wall, the tech support and a bit of front of house management - it could be an ambassador for the genre in all sorts of unexpected places. Highly recommended.

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