Before this show, I wondered how John O’Brien could turn Oscar Wilde’s simple little love story, with its two characters and a tiny bird, into a sung drama?
O’Brien’s magically inventive work answered my question, and the production deserves to be heard in the National Opera House, Wexford.
Seated onstage were six of the ‘Nine Muses’ (all playing instruments), the ‘Rose Tree’ (five male singers), the ‘Student’ ,who wants a red rose for the almost hidden ‘Girl’ so that she’ll dance with him, and the narrator/co-librettist.
The three principal singers, Nightingale (Majella Cullagh), Moon (Cara O’Sullivan), and Sun (Owen Gilhooly) each came into the spotlight to add detail to the story, or to comment on it. In his introduction, the composer told us that he has the choreographed stage version ready for production. It is something to be eagerly anticipated.
The story-telling Nightingale eventually sacrifices its heart-blood to turn a white rose red for the Student… only to have the Girl reject it, because she has been offered riches by a rival lover. The opera asks whether beauty or art, as opposed to money/wealth, have any value.
Rarely can Cullagh have sung with such sweetness of tone — she was a true nightingale, even, at one point, actually trilling like the bird. Sun and Moon had much less music to sing, but brought similar drama to their respective narratives.
The Rose Tree singers were quite magnificent. Their music was spiky and dissonant, as befits the thorny nature of the bush. Their excellent diction helped us admire how splendidly they coped with the difficulties.
Intriguing is the best word I can find to describe O’Brien’s instrumental music (so wonderfully played by the Muses), but other descriptions could be inventive, quirky, exciting.
Hopefully, some artistic body will recognise this concert version’s worth and fund a full stage version.