Mezzo-soprano Sharon Carty headlines the 15th East Cork Early Music Festival this weekend, writes Cathy Desmond
BAROQUE music fans will be making a beeline for Cork this weekend when the 15th East Cork Early Music Festival takes place at venues in Kinsale, Cobh and the city centre.
Opening in a hallowed cathedral and closing in a beer hall, over three days the festival will dip into music from sacred to profane.
Headlining this year’s festival is mezzo-soprano Sharon Carty who returns to Cork to perform in two concerts with the Irish Baroque Orchestra and the Cork Baroque Orchestra.
For her recital with the IBO and British lute player Thomas Dunford, Carty has unearthed some unusual repertoire written for the Italian castrati who enjoyed rock star status in the 18th century. (The unsurprising reluctance of modern boy sopranos to opt for surgery to preserve their treble voices has opened up a treasure trove of repertoire for mezzo sopranos.)
The concert will have a similar vibe to Cartys’ Witches, Bitches and Britches series last year with a programme that includes a selection of ‘suitcase arias’. The term, she explains, covers signature party pieces that star singers would insert into any opera to show off their virtuoso skills.
“I adore the music of Riccardo Broschi. He wrote ‘Qual guerriero in campo armato’ for his brother, the famous castrato Farinelli.’ It is the most difficult aria I’ve got to grips with and it’s been like a personal Mount Everest to master it.”
She will also sing arias by Farinelli’s teacher, Porpora. “He was a contemporary of Handel’s. His music is complex and beautiful and enjoying a revival at the moment. In all likelihood, these arias will be heard for the first time in Ireland at these concerts.”
Hailing from Celbridge, Co Kildare, the singer describes a youth that was dominated as much by sport as music.
“I was happy playing Chopin for hours on the piano after school and football outside with the lads in the evening. It was probably good training for playing trouser roles,” she quips when we meet at the Old Music Shop Café next to the O’Reilly Theatre where she was appearing in Donnacha Dennehy’s new opera, The Second Violinist.
Her alma mater, Mount Sackville, played a crucial role in her formation as professional singer. Her first experience was in the school choir under Aideen Lane.
As a sports mad PE graduate, she returned as a member of staff, teaching English, coaching hockey teams and musical ensembles. After four years, the call of the singing platform won out and off she went to study in Vienna before moving on to minor roles in Oper Frankfurt.
If Carty was relatively late off the starting blocks, she has quickly made up ground and our conversation ranges over many career highlights and a busy schedule that will take her to Moscow and Japan.
Appearing with “unbelievably charismatic” American baritone Thomas Hampson was a thrill and she would love to reprise the title role in Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas which earned her glowing reviews for her performance in Frankfurt.
In her second appearance at the festival, Carty will sing well-known baroque classics made popular by films including that Lament from Dido and Aeneas with the Cork Baroque Orchestra.
In demand for a range of repertoire, Carty admits to “feeling very much at home in the Baroque era”, so much so that she has recently taken up the viola da gamba.
“I love the directness of the emotional connection you get with the period instruments and the amazing earthiness in the sound of gut strings. In some ways it is closer to folk music than later art music.”
Folk influences will be to the fore in Norwegian group Barokksolistene’s show, The Alehouse Sessions, featuring the music of the English 17th Century tavern which will close this year’s festival.
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