Opera Theatre Company marks 30 years of touring with production of La Bohème

Soprano Máire Flavin will be touring to a number of venues in La Bohème.

Máire Flavin stars in Opera Theatre Company’s production of Puccini’s classic, writes Cathy Desmond

DESPITE the odds, Opera Theatre Company has stayed afloat during the turbulence of recent decades and this year celebrates 30 years of touring opera throughout Ireland.

For their forthcoming production, the Dublin-based company returns to one of the all-time favourite love stories in the repertoire and reunite with one of the founding artistic directors. For this anniversary production, Ben Barnes brings the action of Puccini’s La Bohème forward a hundred years from the original 19thcentury setting to the 1930’s.

Famous for its lyrical melodies and poignant arias, Puccini’s bittersweet tale explores the passionate lives and loves of a Bohemian group of artists during a harsh winter in Paris.

As usual with OTC, while there is an international dimension, the cast is stacked with Irish talent. Playing the role of the fragile seamstress, Mimi, is Máire Flavin. If you’re in Dublin, you may have noticed images of the singer looking pale and woebegone on billboards around the city. When she joins me during a break in rehearsals, Flavin looks in the pink although she remarks jokingly, “I died in there today.”

A native of Dublin, and the daughter of a diplomat, Flavin enjoyed a nomadic childhood which she describes as a wonderful opportunity to experience different cultures at an early age.

“We all played an instrument and there were family sing songs. My dad, Jim, has a stunning voice and could have had a career as a singer,” she says.

Her first experience of opera was at age 16 when she heard Regina Nathan as Violetta in the Gaiety. Flavin’s early musical endeavours though were directed at the piano. She didn’t have voice lessons until she went to Queen’s University to study psychology and music with a view to a career in music therapy.

Postgrad vocal studies in Dublin and London lead to her 2011 appearance in the finals of Cardiff Singer of the World, the last Irish representative to feature. Since then, she has been busy forging a professional career mostly in the UK, garnering the sort of rave reviews most young singers only dream of. A move from mezzo-soprano to soprano repertoire has been seamless. She prepared a new soprano role while still performing as a mezzo. In her debut as a soprano in the role of for Opera North, the press were unanimous in their praise.

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Happily settled in the Sussex Downs with her baritone husband, Matthew Sprange, Flavin returns to perform in Ireland, often as a soloist with the RTÉ orchestras. On the opera scene, she impressed Leeside audiences as Emmy Perth in the Cork Operatic Society production of Der Vampyr in 2014 and was terrific as the scheming Agrippina for Irish Youth Opera last year.

“I am delighted my first Mimi will be in Italian. I am all for English translations but for this opera which is so through-composed, so entwined with the language, to sing it in the original Italian will be a joy.”

It is an auspicious production for OTC, not only in marking a milestone but also for the first time, surtitles of the English translation will be displayed at all venues.

She is excited to be making her debut at the National Opera House, but the lack of a dedicated venue in Dublin concerns her. “It is wonderful that we have this fabulous facility in Wexford but it is a travesty that Dublin is the only European capital without an opera house, particularly given the wealth of Irish singers making careers in opera.”

At least with OTC, Flavin is doing her bit to promote opera in Dublin, and other parts of the country as well.

  • La Bohème is at O’Reilly Theatre, Dublin on Friday-Sunday; Lime Tree, Limerick, May 17; NOH, Wexford, May 19; Glór, Ennis, May 22


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