Review: Opera, Blackwater Valley Opera Festival Lismore, Waterford

Blackwater Valley Opera’s centrepiece in its tenth year is Donizetti’s frothy comedy, Don Pasquale, a cautionary tale about a foolish old man who attempts to thwart the course of true love and gets his comeuppance.

Presented on the al fresco stage of a pop-up theatre at Lismore Castle Stable Yard, the production is bright’n’breezy and well sung by a multinational cast that blends youth and experience. Seasoned Italian bass Michele Govi as a bewildered Don Pasquale delivers the buffa patter with aplomb.

A duet,’ Cheti cheti Immantinente’, with young American baritone Emmett O’Hanlon as Malatesta is a highlight. Aoife Gibney, home from Stuttgart is terrific as the minx, Norina; Argentinian tenor, Manuel Nunez Camelino a winsome Ernesto promenading through the house with his serenade Com’e gentil.

The 14-piece orchestra, corralled side stage, powers the action along pleasantly with occasional surges under Darren Hargan.

Following cars, scooters and horses, this year’s quirky vehicle is a caravan that rocks in Father Ted fashion, at times diverting the attention from the singer. A dash of doggy exclamations from canine audience members added to the fun. The production includes surtitles, and dispenses with recitative sung in English.

On Thursday, the 12-strong chorus, drawn mostly from DIT Conservatory of Music, stepped into the limelight, performing an eclectic selection of popular arias at Villierstown Church. Accompanied by Hargan on piano, it was an astonishing showcase of talent that augurs well for the future.

The festival has expanded beyond the main stage opera to include a second opera, school visits and recitals that offer an opportunity to glimpse behind the hall door of historic houses in the area. The standard of music is extraordinary but the real star of Blackwater Valley Opera Festival is the idyllic setting and the picturesque town of Lismore which makes this hidden corner of Ireland a most seductive place to linger and hear gems of opera and chamber music.

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