Monday, September 8, 2014

Ulysses Opera Theatre, 'HARP | A River Cantata': Bridging Centuries

Reclaiming the Harp of Daghda becomes a spectacular celebration in Ulysses' opera. 

Samuel Beckett Bridge, Dublin Fringe Festival
Sept 6

My review of HARP | A River Contata coming up after the jump ...

On the quays of the river Liffey, waiting for HARP | A River Cantata, we're surrounded by signs of seasonal change: the warming wind over our heads, the crunch of leaves beneath our feet, the moon in early ascent. Add to this transformational scene the ancient-sounding voice of Olwen Fouéré, which once babbled and gushed as the voice of the river in the elemental riverrun, now resounding and crashing against the banks. It tells of the coming of Irish mythological heroes the Tuath Dé Danann to reclaim the Harp of Daghda, an instrument of war and peace. In Ulysses Opera's reimagining, the dull notes of a tuneless harp reverberate as Tom Lane's composition literally plucks the supports, or strings, of the Samuel Beckett Bridge, creating the need for harmony.

Beacons are lit along the shore as boats row downriver in a mission to recapture the harp. Animating the instrument, Johnny Goodwin's vast lighting design enamels the bridge in rich hues of blue, red and gold as it becomes seized by close to 150 performers. It's with considerable production management by Matt Smyth and Rob Usher that the details of Conor Hanratty's immense staging are realised.

While a sure spectacle, tonally HARP can't help by drift away from its source. Rapid drumbeats, an ascending horn section and a saintly choir all ring in a celebration but the composition feels too exotic to evoke the distant Irish past. The lighting design also loses its sustainability, with lamps swinging mechanically and repeatedly as if illuminating a concert venue.

In terms of scale, it's still the most ambitious outdoor performance that I can think of, and definitely the most radical of its kind in re-appropriating a city structure as a piece of art. For transformative opera and theatre, HARP is certainly another string to the bow.

What did everybody else think?

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