As the BBC ‘Sound Of’ Poll attests, popular music is obsessed with the ‘hot new thing’. This year it’s London soul singer, Sam Smith, following 2012 winners, Haim, three retro-rock sisters from LA, and UK soul-man Michael Kiwanuka (the 2011 title holder, not heard of since his debut album).
Ireland is immune to such media flummery. We would rather that our artists are in it for the long-haul. Laptop folkie James Vincent McMorrow said his debut album didn’t gain any traction here until a year after its release; similarly, it took years for Bell X1 or The Coronas to gain a critical mass of fans.
The Irish way has strengths and weaknesses. The music scene is less fickle than in the UK — but less exciting. It’s harder to break through, especially if all you are touting is a killer single and an interesting hair-cut (and, really, shouldn’t pop music be all about killer singles and interesting hair-cuts?).
So there is much to applaud about Whelan’s annual ‘Ones To Watch,’ a showcase of up-and-comers centred around the Wexford Street venue in Dublin. In 2014, diversity seems to be the watchword, with Friday featuring individualistic sets from, among others, retro pop act Biggles Flys Again, hard rockers RudyTrixx, and electronic trio Toy Soldier.
Performing material from their debut album, Remember Saturday, Biggles combine a flair for delicate arrangements with a love of lilting vintage pop — the results are fuzzy and nostalgic, like a polaroid photograph overlaid with an Instagram filter. Having played the Electric Picnic and Body and Soul festivals, RudyTrixx seem at home on the Whelan’s main stage, as they cycle through a repertoire that feels equal parts indebted to Neil Young and Pixies. In an altogether different vein are Cork electro newcomers, Toy Soldier, whose sharp, serrated tunes suggest a febrile Celtic mix of Metric, Garbage and OneRepublic. Assuming they can rise above the morass of rival acts, their future is surely lit up in stars. Glamorous and in-your-face, they could do with a little hype in their sails. You hope Ones To Watch will send them on their way.
The spontaneous standing ovation (from a capacity audience) that greeted the final notes of this first-ever fully staged opera in the Curtis Auditorium of Cork School of Music was richly deserved. The sold-out production is a triumph for all concerned. The auditorium was designed as a concert/recital venue but conductor/director, John O’Connor, production design consultant, Lisa Zagone, and set designer Joe Stockdale managed to transform it into a theatre in which the orchestra plays behind the stage, well-nigh hidden by a gauze curtain. So well rehearsed were the singers that O’Connor (working with his back to them) concentrated entirely on accompanying them and only very occasionally was there any imbalance between voices and the excellent 32-piece orchestra.
The opera, so familiar in its Italian version, was sung in a very clever English translation which brought the normally rather boring recitatives to life but left this reviewer wondering which language to refer to. To opera lovers, familiar with titles of popular arias, the English titles mean nothing. Accordingly, Italian titles will be referred to.
John O’Connor assembled a very strong cast to cope with Mozart’s musical demands and da Ponte’s farcical situations. In Mary Hegarty and Joe Corbett he had an ideal Count and Countess, Kim Sheehan proved a delightful Susanna, Marc Callahan a wonderfully strong Figaro, and Fiona Falvey, in her first full operatic role, was a splendid Cherubino. Also, in the lesser roles of Barbarina and Basilio, both Fiona Flavin and Paul O’Connor were similarly impressive. All of these young singers, indeed the whole cast, can be very satisfied with the really high standards they attained.
The highlights were Kim Sheehan’s bell-like rendering of ‘Deh vieni non tardar’ and the Letter Duet, ‘Che soave zeffiretto’ in which the voices of Sheehan and Hegarty blended magnificently. These, however, were just two jewels in a glittering production. I hope there may be many more.