The O2 venue seems an ideal location for the Lord of the Rings – massive enough to accommodate the huge screen and equally impressive massed RTÉ Concert Orchestra and combined chorus below it. The staff go above and beyond to ensure people’s comfort, as the masses fill the nearly sold out venue.
While Sméagol and Déagol struggle for the Ring on screen, much of the subtle sound being produced below is lost amidst shuffling as people take their seats, clearly unsure whether to follow concert of cinema etiquette. The clarinets manage to power through this mêlée with their bells up, demanding the audience settle to enjoy the drama to come.
The Lighting of the Beacons is one of the most epic, powerful moments of the trilogy and a passage free of dialogue, giving the orchestra a chance to truly shine. The performance easily stands up to the level of the original soundtrack, conductor David Reitz leading the ensemble so that the audience is swept up in the moment. Men can be heard in tears at Gandalf’s uttering, “hope is kindled”, underscored by racing strings and urgent brass.
The programme forward declares that the music score will ‘bear the narrative weight’, which unfortunately is never quite achieved. The volume of the movie audio is too high, meaning the orchestra isn’t given an opportunity to dominate the experience. The subtitles on the screen are an unnecessary annoyance as the music never reaches a level where it overpowers the rest, even when the brass join strings and percussion during the battle scenes. While at first the O2 seems to stand out as an ideal setting, and is certainly ideal for ticket sales, multiple dates in a smaller venue such as the Bord Gais Energy Theatre would have given the fantastic orchestra more ample opportunity to shine. There is, nonetheless, huge impact made by the live orchestra. Nuances easily missed in the film are more noticeable, such as the presence of the cimbalum, making the experience extremely enriching for die-hard fans.
At the dramatic peak of the night, the eruption of Mount Doom is visually stunning. As lava explodes from the mountain above in a shower of reds and oranges, there is mirroring in the golden flash of the cymbals from the orchestra below and percussionists move in a fury through their array of instruments. In these moments the chorus does itself proud also, coming together with the orchestra to get as close as they come to challenging the sound of the movie soundtrack. Boy soprano Brad Hennessy gives a fantastic performance here as earlier in the night, challenging many a seasoned performer in his confidence and quality of sound.
As ‘The End’ appears on screen many stand up to leave, forgetting the orchestra still working on stage. Clara Sanabras returns to the spotlight to sing Annie Lennox’s Into the West. Although the singer has appeared in the ‘Lord of the Rings in Concert’ CD, this rendition is weak, with sustained notes frequently bulging, keeping the audience from truly connecting with the powerful song.
It is fantastic to see the RTÉ Concert Orchestra using unusual avenues to attract an audience perhaps not accustomed to attending their concerts, filling a venue on a scale usually reserved for pop and rock concerts. The night was clearly a success, hopefully one to be repeated in the future.