Lend me a tenor, and a so­prano too, if you have one go­ing spare

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - News - Emer O’Kelly Emer O’Kelly is the Sun­day In­de­pen­dent Drama critic

‘TO lose one tenor may be re­garded as a mis­for­tune; to lose a so­prano as well may be con­sid­ered care­less­ness.”

Per­haps singers as­so­ci­ated with Verdi’s Aida will hence­forth re­fer to it as “the Egyp­tian opera” for fear of call­ing down a curse on the pro­duc­tion.

You couldn’t in­vent the dis­as­ters which hap­pened last week to the Irish Na­tional Opera (INO). Un­der its artis­tic direc­tor Fer­gus Sheil, INO seemed set to con­tinue its storm­ing progress with its big­gest un­der­tak­ing to date — an am­bi­tious ver­sion of Aida at the Bord Gais En­ergy Theatre in Dublin.

The first per­for­mance, we are re­li­ably in­formed, went off splen­didly as ex­pected.

But last Tues­day, dis­as­ter struck. Tenor Gwyn Hughes Jones be­came ill — too ill to sing the lead role of Radames on the night. Would the com­pany be forced to can­cel the per­for­mance? Would they heck. The show must go on!

One can only imag­ine the ded­i­ca­tion and de­ter­mi­na­tion in­volved — es­pe­cially when you re­alise that he did not have an un­der­study.

But at lunchtime, the Ital­ian tenor, Ste­fano La Colla, a Verdi vet­eran, an­swered the call and touched down in Dublin on a flight from Mi­lan. He walked the stage with direc­tor Michael Bark­erCaven and de­signer Joe Vanek in or­der to mem­o­rise the phys­i­cal haz­ards which might —lit­er­ally — trip him up that evening.

And af­ter that there was a dash into town to Louis Copeland, who opened his en­tire stock to the stricken com­pany to pro­vide “suit­ings” fit­ted to a re­turn­ing war hero. (For­tu­nately, this Aida was de­signed in modern dress.)

Com­pany ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor Diego Fas­ciati ex­plained the cri­sis to the au­di­ence be­fore cur­tainup, lead­ing to a hugely warm wel­come for La Colla, who per­formed glo­ri­ously and would have de­served the wel­come even if fully re­hearsed. But more was to come. So­prano Orla Boy­lan was singing a mag­nif­i­cently full and heart­felt Aida for acts one and two. But af­ter the in­ter­val, Fas­ciati ap­peared again, to an­nounce that Orla Boy­lan was ill, and had PAS­SION: Clock­wise from above, a stand­ing ova­tion for Orla Boy­lan, Gwyn Hughes Jones, Ste­fano La Colla, and Christina Nils­son been since morn­ing, but had been de­ter­mined to sing as much of the per­for­mance as she could man­age. No­body would even have guessed that she was in less than per­fect health. But for acts three and four, the com­pany brought on Swedish so­prano Christina Nils­son to sing stage front-right, lit by a sin­gle spot­light, while Boy­lan mutely walked the role on­stage. Nils­son had ar­rived in Dublin at 6pm. Her voice was rich, lighter, and lyric — and won­der­fully im­pres­sive as a very dif­fer­ent Aida.

The com­pany’s re­cov­ery was a tri­umph of heroic pro­por­tions — and will go down in the an­nals of Irish opera to be­come a leg­end sur­pass­ing even the night when the Wex­ford Opera House was in­vaded by hun­dreds of star­lings, or the 1970s per­for­mance there of The Mar­riage of Fi­garo (I think) when half the cast landed on their bums due to a too heav­ily raked and pol­ished stage.

But this is not a re­view. It is a trib­ute — it could be noth­ing less, with all in­volved sur­mount­ing al­most in­su­per­a­ble odds to tri­umph over an im­pos­si­bly try­ing sit­u­a­tion, from the RTE Con­cert or­ches­tra un­der Fer­gus Sheil, through Imelda Drumm re­main­ing im­per­turbably tor­mented as the jeal­ous Am­neris and Ivan In­ver­ardi as the darkly com­plex Amonasro.

Irish Na­tional Opera, along with ev­ery­one in­volved in this mam­moth pro­duc­tion, have given opera au­di­ences an ob­ject les­son in the grit, com­mit­ment and drive in­volved in mak­ing mem­o­rable art.

Art isn’t ca­sual or easy: it re­quires de­ter­mi­na­tion and pas­sion, and opera is per­haps the most de­mand­ing (as well as the most ex­pen­sive) of all art forms.

It can’t be played at: heart, mind, body and soul are re­quired, and if ever there was a man­i­fes­ta­tion of blood, sweat and tears in op­er­a­tion, it was last Tues­day night on the stage of the Bord Gais En­ergy Theatre in Dublin.

And by the way, Orla Boy­lan and Gwyn Hughes Jones are mak­ing sep­a­rate speedy re­cov­er­ies.

‘Art isn’t ca­sual or easy: it re­quires de­ter­mi­na­tion and pas­sion — and opera is the most de­mand­ing of all art forms...’

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