For this second online concert of ‘Mezzo Masterpieces’, Irish National Opera presents Tara Erraught and 2018 PlecPick Amy Ní Fhearraigh, with a much-enlarged INO Orchestra led by Sarah Sew, spread across St Patrick’s Hall in Dublin Castle and conducted by Fergus Sheil. The early 19th-century ‘bel canto’ operas of Bellini and Rossini have been central to Erraught’s work from the very beginning of her career, and it is this music that dominates tonight’s programme.

Famously sped into the limelight at Bavarian State Opera in 2011 when Erraught had five days in which to learn the cross-dress role of Romeo in Bellini’s ‘I Capuleti e i Montecchi’ [‘Capulets & Montagues’], it is with this opera that the concert opens. The resonant acoustic of St Patrick’s Hall gives the orchestra a livelier and looser sound than it would from a theatre pit, and Sheil leads a snappy performance of the opera’s overture, before Tara Erraught comes to the floor to give a finely-characterised account of the first-act aria Se Romeo t’uccise un figlio (‘if Romeo killed your son…’).

She follows this with music also associated with ‘I Capuleti e i Montecchi’ – Giulietta’s aria O quante volte – but heard here in its initial version, as first composed by Bellini for his student opera ‘Adelson e Salvini’. Hearing the original aria Dopo l’oscuro nembo (‘once the storm had passed’), you can tell why Bellini recycled it, and its story – set in 17th-century Ireland – makes a good match for the surroundings of Dublin Castle. This beautifully tragic aria is sung with exquisite tenderness, Erraught spinning the music’s expressive lines with telling clarity.

As Rosina in Wide Open Opera’s 2016 production of Rossini’s ‘Il Barbiere di Siviglia’, (for which we interviewed her here) Erraught made a point of including the aria Ah, se è ver (‘Ah, if it’s true…’), often cut from modern productions, and she sings it again now. Her championing of this aria is well-justified, and she gives a vivid account of it, with a fine sense of line and brilliant coloratura.

Tara Erraught, singing material which she has been associated throughout her career, is now joined by soprano Amy Ní Fhearraigh, who contrasts this by presenting music we’ve not heard from her before, verismo arias by Puccini and Cilea. If having to listen to this concert online wasn’t difficult enough already, it is now very frustrating not to be able to hear this singer and the ensemble live as, on the evidence of what is filmed and recorded, Ní Fhearraigh has turned a significant corner, and is delivering on her early promise.

Singing Sì, mi chiamano Mimì (‘they call me Mimi…’) from Puccini’s ‘La Bohème’, she fluently brings across the character with an understated simplicity, her rich voice soaring above the orchestra seemingly without effort. She retains this intensity and focus for Io son l’umile ancella (‘I’m but the humble servant’, from Cilea’s ‘Adriana Lecouvreur’), whilst adding an extra spark to match the texture of sound from the ensemble. Always a singer to watch, hopefully one day we can look forward to seeing Amy Ní Fhearraigh performing these roles on stage.

Erraught returns, finishing the concert with three highlights of the bel canto repertoire, basking in the opulence of Rossini’s ‘Semiramide’ with Bel raggio lusinghier (‘A pleasing ray of hope…’) before turning to the great Willow Song from Rossini’s ‘Otello’. With the harp introduction finely played by Dianne Marshall, Erraught sings this powerful aria beautifully, projecting its dark sense of tragedy with care and gravitas. To contrast, she brings the concert to a close with the rapturous energy of Tanti affetti (‘So many emotions’) from Rossini’s ‘La Donna del Lago’. As ever, her singing is refined and well-controlled, contrasting moments of repose with gleeful energy as she relishes the rush of the closing bars. This is bel canto singing of a high order, performed by one of our finest performers, and there is much to enjoy. The only thing missing is the fact that this material was designed above all to be shared in crowded theatres, to be met with rapturous applause, and one can only hope that this programme could be repeated when that is again possible.

Tickets to view this concert are available up to 21 November at this link

For information about this series see

Images by Pat Redmond