Festival review: Giulio Cesare, Kilkenny Arts Festival

*****

For a concert performance running over three hours, without the distraction of any theatrical razzamatazz, the singing had better be good.

Fortunately for us gathered at St Canice’s Cathedral at the opening gala of Kilkenny’s 44th arts festival, the singing was superb across the
ensemble for this production of
Giulio Cesare by Handel.

English countertenor Iestyn Davies was mesmerising, bringing a poised intensity to his debut in the title role. Countertenors are such a rare voice type that it was a thrill to hear three on the platform. Davies was joined by Rupert Enticknap and James Hall.

Irish mezzo-soprano Anna Devin brought out all the nuance in the character of a scheming Cleopatra. Her gorgeous singing in plaintive arias drew the warmest applause of the evening. Against the high voice types, contralto Hilary Summers’ dignified Cornelia, and bass Callum Thorpe as Achilla stood out in
beguiling contrast. Mezzo-soprano Rachel Kelly was an ardent Sesto.

All seven singers communicated so vividly the characterisation of their roles that the limitations of the concert staging seemed inconsequential. Excellent too was the playing of the Early Opera Company under
Christian Curnyn.

Elsewhere at the festival, there was fine acapella singing and lively Klezmer dance tunes from the
Balkan folk tradition in Counting Sheep at The Hub. The venue doubles as an agricultural mart and theatre space.

In the work described as ‘a guerilla folk opera’, the Lemon Bucket Orkestra offered an immersive theatre experience in their dramatic account of the Maidan Revolution that toppled the Ukrainian government in 2014. It was an exhilarating if somewhat sobering lesson in 21st century politics.


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