Opera Theatre Company presents ‘Dubliners’ at Samuel Beckett Theatre, on 9 November 2017
Finally released from the grip of the Joyce Estate, it is good to see the works of James Joyce beginning to take wing and spread beyond their textual boundaries. After a couple of music-theatre adaptations of the most famous of the Dubliners stories, ‘The Dead’, in recent years, tonight sees possibly the first fully Joycean operas, with a pair of short works based on two other Dublin tales: ‘Counterparts’ and ‘The Boarding House’. With libretto by playwright and actor Arthur Riordan and music composed by Andrew Synnott, these operas were first seen at the Wexford Festival last month, and attracted a real buzz, so unsurprisingly there isn’t a spare seat to be had tonight.
Like the stories, both music and staging are slyly understated and pungently atmospheric, updating Joyce’s late Victorian setting to a Dublin sometime in the 1950s or 60s. ‘Counterparts’, a study in alcohol-fuelled male rage, takes us from office drudgery to the social rivalry of pub life and winds up in violent domesticity, all part of the hellish life of Farrington.
Sung with dark conviction by baritone Cormac Lawlor, Farrington’s saga is set on its way by the confrontation with his boss Alleyne (Andrew Gavin, in immaculate form). The inequality of their exchange finds its tragic mirror at the story’s sorry end, as Farrington, drunk and broke, lays into his little son Tom (Emma Nash). The music—wistful, sharp and dream-like by turns—drops nostalgic hints and intimations of slipping time and lives passed over.
‘The Boarding House’ finds another moment of incidental drama in the everyday, with Mrs Mooney (Anna Jeffers) watching over the guests and tenants that make up her clientele with a calculating eye. Tenor Andrew Gavin is the prone male here, as Bob, whose idle liaison with Mooney’s daughter Polly (Emma Nash) is made a one-way track to marriage. A story of unspoken gestures, careful observations, and undertakings behind closed doors, its silence is taken over by Polly’s brother Jack (David Howes), who becomes the opera’s canny narrator.
Synnott’s jaunty and conversational way with the music (played cleanly throughout by the composer at the piano, plus string quartet) is a good match for the gentle wit of Riordan’s (and Joyce’s) words. The watchful mood breaks into moments of delightful, even melismatic, reverie, sung beautifully by Nash. Dispatched with a cool sense of distant contemplation, these are Irish operas to savour. Marking Opera Theatre Company’s last official production before it becomes absorbed into the new Irish National Opera, we hope this is not the last we see of these works.
Dubliners: two one-act operas ‘Counterparts’ & ‘The Boarding House’
Co-production by Opera Theatre Company and Wexford Festival Opera
Music by Andrew Synnott; Libretto by Arthur Riordan
Director: Annabelle Comyn; Set Designer: Paul O’Mahoney; Costume Designer: Joan O’Clery; Lighting Designer: Rory Beaton; Musical Director: Andrew Synnott
‘Counterparts’ Cast: Cormac Lawlor (Farrington); Andrew Gavin (Alleyne/O’Halloran); Emma Nash (Mrs Delacour/Barmaid/Tom); Anna Jeffers (Weathers); Peter O’Donohue (Higgins); David Howes (Flynn)
‘The Boarding House’ Cast: Emma Nash (Polly); Anna Jeffers (Mrs Mooney); Andrew Gavin (Bob); David Howes (Jack); Artiste 1 (Peter O’Donohue); Artiste 2 (Cormac Lawlor)
Production images by Ros Kavanagh