MUSIC / Butterfly starts a storm: Robert Maycock on Dublin operas, and Scandinavian composers on the South Bank

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The Independent Culture
THIS year the BOC Covent Garden Festival has gone high-profile, with its eye-catching butterfly posters all over London.

Its core has been something people don't always shout about: a steady flow of creative energy passing through the Donmar Warehouse as one fresh music- theatre act follows another. So the outcome is an enlivening addition to the scene at a time when the main seasons are winding down. Nobody else, for instance, had yet brought Opera Theatre Company's bill of 'Four Dublin Operas' to Britain, and the festival could put its imprint on a thoroughly accomplished, entertaining evening.

Raymond Deane, composer and librettist of The Poet and his Double, has been opening ears in and beyond Ireland for some years; it's time he followed Gerald Barry into the British consciousness. His story cleverly conflated visits to Dublin by Shelley in 1812 and Artaud in 1937 to make deft points about various Irish questions, shot through with a playful wit. But it was the music that sustained the piece, voices firm and direct over an ingenious, propulsive background that careered around like unhinged Beethoven and settled into a continuum of exquisite chamber music. For a while, its links with the action seemed pretty tenuous but, given its energy and personality, that mattered surprisingly little.

Marian Ingoldsby, setting in Hot Food with Strangers a text that Judy Kravis had drawn from lonely-hearts ads, had a harder task, in that the theatre was in the mind - fantasies brought to life in a stranded train. Nigel Warrington's directing made it concrete with panache and sympathetic humour. Again, though, it was the score that made the success, an intimate and slightly shy musical idiom used with resourceful pacing and timing.

The other two operas didn't have that same stamp of individuality. Even so, John Buckley's Yeats-based The Words upon the Window Pane (adapted by Hugh Maxton) had plenty of feeling for dramatic and emotional intensity, and Ken Chalmers' virtuoso monologue for a released hostage, Position 7 (words by OTC's director, James Conway), found a strong atmosphere of suppressed anger and quiet suspense. All four added up to the strongest full evening of studio operas I've seen. So it should, for OTC doesn't shunt its experimental work off to a fringe operation, but tours it around the north and south of Ireland as the work of the main company (here six fine singers and an instrumental group, conducted by John Finucane). There are plenty more ideas where this came from: next is a project to get two libretti set by eight composers, workshop the lot, and tour two.

Being on the edge of Europe makes musical life more thoughtful and self-reliant. Take the Nordic composers that the Philharmonia is currently promoting on the South Bank. They sound, here, like young, energetic and enthusiastic modernists throwing off the shackles of the post-modern - a strange reversal of history. Their own perspective is quite different, more like emergence at last from a conservative national climate. ETHER write errorHence the sometimes astonishing pace, intensity and colour of music by Magnus Lindberg, represented on Tuesday by Corrente - less prolix than earlier pieces, dense still, but growing increasingly luminous. It's shared by Jouni Kaipainen, whose Carpe Diem] pitted a clarinet solo of exploratory virtuosity against an urgent, pounding beat - superbly played by Kari Kriikku and the Ensemble InterContemporain, with Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting.

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