Theatre review: The Nightingale and the Rose

Cathy Desmond reviews The Nightingale and the Rose at the Everyman, Cork

Everybody sings and everybody dances in John O’Brien’s inventive new operatic version of Oscar Wilde’s story, The Nightingale and the Rose.

Taking a leaf out of the panto playbook, the evening opens with O’Brien on stage to rehearse a little audience participation for a key moment later.

Judging by the response in my vicinity, patrons were divided into two camps, either singing heartily or groaning inwardly. The opening was a slow starter — the only dull moments. In a framing device, soprano Kim Sheehan takes a few minutes to warm up before summoning the muses and stepping into the role of Nightingale.

There were none of the conventional divisions on stage as an ensemble of nine musicians and dancers interacted in intricate dance moves.

Only Owen Gilhooly’s Sun and Majella Cullagh’s Moon placed high on a platform stood still in contrast to the animated activity below them. Kim Sheehan projected a birdlike fragility, her beautiful soprano voice floating clearly above the other lines. Some of the best vocal thrills come from the male quintet who depict the rose trees. They had some of the best comedy too. A playful fan routine had a flavour of the Mikado’s ‘Gentlemen of Japan’ about it.

Liza Zagone’s designs had a retro charm that evoked the illustrations of children’s storybooks. The varied influences of Baroque to contemporary composers were audible in the score. A lovely chorus based on a ground bass was reminiscent of Purcell’s Lament from Dido and Aeneas.

It is unlike anything else I’ve seen on the opera stage to date. The storytelling is vivid, the spectacle is intriguing and the music is attractive. It comes to Dublin and Limerick. Not to be missed.

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