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  • Chris O'Rourke

Mezzo Masterpieces #1 Sharon Carty

Paula Murrihy, Sharon Carty and Tara Erraught (L-R). Mezzo Masterpieces by Irish National Opera. Image by Alphabet Soup.

Given the pressing need to translate live performance online in recent months, Irish National Opera's Mezzo Masterpieces serves as a timely reminder that the simplest thing done well is often the simplest solution. Streaming three live concerts from three historic venues (available online for fourteen days afterwards), each performance features an Irish Mezzo-soprano singing a series of themed pieces. With the support of the Office of Public Works, Halloween night saw the ballroom of Castletown House, Celbridge, host the INO Orchestra and Mezzo-soprano Sharon Carty for the first concert of the series. Who, along with Soprano Kelli-Ann Masterson, delivered a hefty helping of Baroque interpretations in which Handel, and witches, play a dominant role.

Not that matters get off to an auspicious start. Attired in black masks and dark clothes, and maintaining strict social distancing, the INO Orchestra under director Claire Duff set the tone with the Overture from Handel's Alcina while looking like deadly assassins from a Christopher Nolan movie. INO's ever charismatic Artistic Director, Fergus Shiel, resembling a nervous news reader clutching his notes, doesn't always appear his confident or camera ready best. Indeed, at times he positively seems to crave a baton to hide behind. Yet Shiel's almost school-boyish delight proves irresistibly infectious as he enthusiastically outlines the Baroque themed evening. The arrival of Sharon Carty in a strapless gown with sweetheart neckline, sporting a jewel encrusted necklace that looks like it could cover the national Covid debt, seems initially strained, her opening to Cara Speme from Handel's Giulio Cesare In Egitto a tad tense. But Carty soon settles and is nothing short of mesmeric. Nothing else to do but admire the opulent chandeliers, statues and busts of Castletown House, exquisitely lit by Kevin Smith, and settle in for an hour of trills and triumphs and top class coloratura.

Sharon Carty and Irish National Opera Orchestra in Mezzo Masterpieces. Image taken from stream.

Delivered with some style by Carty throughout. Gelido in ogni vena from Vivaldi's Farnace, sees Carty traverse her vocal and emotional registers, her voice sublime, her face a mask of anguish. If the acoustics of Castletown House aren't always the most accommodating for warmth or fullness, Carty turns their limitations to her service, her voice sounding like it's hollowing out the depths of time. Alcina, making its second of three appearances, returns in the form of Tornami a vagheggiar, delivered with aplomb by Kelli-Ann Masterson, the Wexford born Soprano nailing her credentials firmly to the mast. A trip through French Baroque courtesy of Marc-Antoine Charpentier by way of excerpts from Médéé sees Carty shine once more with Quel prix de mon amour and Noires fils du Styx, before INO Orchestra showcase their own exceptional talents with two musical pieces from the same opera.

The return of Masterson, and Alcina, with Credete al mio dolore confirm Masterson's huge promise, her power reined and released in perfect service to the song. Carty's closing rendition of Dopo notte from Handel's Ariodante, arguably her best performance of the night, finishes proceedings with some big singing as Carty owns every note and trill. Leaving the deadened silence due to the absence of applause seem grossly unfair, casting a decidedly eerie tone over proceedings.

Sharon Carty and Irish National Opera Orchestra in Mezzo Masterpieces. Image taken from stream.

If the camera has limitations, it allows the audience up close and personal in a way a staged performance seldom does and an audio recording never can. Watching Carty as she navigates the technical and emotional demands of the songs reveals opera as a way of life, as well as a way of seeing, hearing and expressing life. One that makes huge demands on those who practice it. For those who love listening to it, for whom even its fussy and unfussy protocols only add to its charm, seeing Carty this close reveals the intensity and hard work involved and proves something of a privilege. Pared back to basics, Mezzo Masterpieces offers a timely reminder that, despite its frequent use of pomp and spectacle, opera is first and foremost about the voice. And a voice like Carty's can open up worlds in a way that is simply exhilarating.

Mezzo Masterpieces #1 featuring Mezzo-soprano Sharon Carty, was streamed live from Castletown House, Celbridge, Co. Kildare on October 31. It is available online until November 14 from Irish National Opera's website.

Mezzo Masterpieces #2 featuring Mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught performing a bel canto selection will be streamed live from St. Patrick's Hall, Dublin Castle, on November 15 at 8.00pm and available online for fourteen days after.

Mezzo Masterpieces #3 featuring Mezzo-soprano Paula Murrihy will be streamed live from The Picture Gallery, Kilkenny Castle on December 10 at 8.00pm and available online for fourteen days after.

Tickets and information available from Irish National Opera.


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