RIAM Opera at the Samuel Beckett Theatre, Trinity College Dublin, 13 January 2015
The annual public opera production by students of the Royal Irish Academy of Music every January has become a regular highlight of Dublin’s otherwise limited operatic calendar, and this year’s show is no exception. Ormindo (1644), by Francesco Cavalli – receiving its Irish premiere – is an imaginative choice for the Academy’s second production of a full-length Baroque opera, and a welcome reminder that there is more to early music theatre than Monteverdi, Purcell and Handel. Prolific and popular in his own lifetime, Cavalli’s work is now only slowly making its way back into the operatic repertoire; the last time a work of his was seen in Ireland was back in 2001 when Opera Theatre Company staged Erismena.
This production reunites the directing team of Ben Barnes and Libby Seward, responsible for OTC’s Monteverdi Orfeo. The love-crazed story, originally set in a fantasy-land Casablanca, is reimagined in the glamorous era of early Hollywood. Recreating the soundstage of a 1930s film studio, the production risks complicating an already mad scenario by forming a double reality of life imitating art, or vice versa, with the characters in the opera appearing as on- and off-screen participants in a film called ‘Ormindo’. The Italian libretto is retained but looking up to read the surtitles means entering the parallel universe of the love-triangle of actors ‘Tyrone’ (Ormindo – Andrew Gavin), ‘Happy’ (Amida – Seán Boylan) and ‘Gloria’ (Erisbe – Margaret Bridge). Thanks to the flexible morality of 1640s Venetian theatre, the more outrageous aspects of the text ironically receive the most accurate translations! The music, expertly directed from the harpsichord by David Adams, is sung well throughout by all the cast, with fine, intelligent performances from Gavin, Boylan and Margaret Bridge. Sarah Brady excels in the other principal role of Sicle (‘Faye’): this character, with her grieving laments and witty interventions, is a gift to any lyric soprano, and Brady sings it beautifully. Opera of this early vintage employs a wider variety of voice types than later conventions allow, and here provides opportunities to countertenor Eoin Conway – with his brilliant, if severe account of Nerillo – and tenor Richard Bridge, who takes on the cross-dressing nurse role of Erice (‘Rita’) with robust directness. The costume and set design, by students of the Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Dún Laoghaire, provide vivid colour and imagination to this surprising, quirky opera which, if nothing else, celebrates the triumph of wit, love and art.
Cavalli: Ormindo, with original libretto by Giovanni Faustini