OPERA / Easy labour: Michael Dervan on Rigoletto and Fidelio at Dublin's Gaiety

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The Independent Culture
The recent season by DGOS Opera Ireland at the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin was the first under its new artistic director Dorothea Glatt, who comes to Ireland by way of Nice and Bayreuth. Dr Glatt, appointed in January, faced the unenviable challenge of choosing and preparing two operas in double- quick time and her solution was to buy in productions of Rigoletto (from Opera du Rhin, Strasbourg) and Fidelio (from the Grand Theatre de Tours).

Rigoletto was staged in Gian Mauricio Fercioni's open, Palladian designs and Eric Vigie was responsible for recreating the original production by Tobias Richter. The strongest draw, however, was the Gilda of Nicola Sharkey, who combined with heart-rending effect a sense of emotional fragility and vocal savoir-faire. Sharkey sang as if the role had been written for her, making light of its technical demands (she negotiated its dizzying altitude with consummate delicacy), and shading its every turn with musical sureness and affective truth. A singer of small voice, she benefited greatly from the sensitive balances struck by the otherwise routine conducting of David Shaw.

Robert McFarland's Rigoletto was at its most persuasive in Act 1 - if he intended his character to sag under strain, he was altogether too successful - and the youthful Duke of Kip Wllborn, in what was easily the finest of this American singer's Irish performances to date, was well sustained. But, without a doubt, it's for the Gilda of Nicola Sharkey that this production will be remembered.

Albert-Andre Lheureux chose to update Fidelio to a modern-day hotel, requisitioned for the purpose of holding hostages 'in a country under siege'. While, on the surface, this transition might have been expected to be straightforward, there was little real atmosphere of suffering or oppression in Lheureux and his designer Jean Maillot's setting. The summery prisoners looked as if they might have been picked up an hour or two earlier at a cricket match or garden fete and had hardly a stray extra crease in their clothing to indicate a moment of discomfort. This may have been intended to create some sense of 'contemporary' relevance, but it didn't cut much ice on an island that has remained all too familiar with the reality of matters like internment without trial. Even poor Florestan was put through the absurdity of singing his 'Gott, welch Dunkel hier]' ('God, what darkness here]') in a bright white spotlight.

The manner of the evening was what might be described as all-purpose operatic, with a tendency to look back at Beethoven through a magnifying lens of Wagner. This effect was strongest in the Don Pizarro of the Greek bass Louis Manikas and the Florestan of American tenor Patrick Raftery. Beethoven's music simply doesn't respond well to this sort of pressurised delivery.

The Rocco, Klaus Damm, and Jaquino, Peter Maus, struck a better balance, and, at the other extreme, the demeanour of the Leonore, Anna Linden, was so passive and immobile that she fully lacked credibility as an individual engaged upon a successful rescue mission.

The singing of the chorus, working this year under Volkmar Olbrich, was strikingly strong (the finale erupted into a rafter-raising expression of joy), and Karl Sollak secured assertive if not always tidy playing from the RTE Concert Orchestra.

'Rigoletto': first night sponsored by BMW Motor Import Ltd

Michael Dervan is music critic of the 'Irish Times'