Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Distracting opera for distracted times: The Second Violinist

Donnacha Dennehy: The Second Violinist - Aaron Monaghan - Landmark Productions and Wide Open Opera - (Photo Patrick Redmond)
Donnacha Dennehy: The Second Violinist - Aaron Monaghan - Landmark Productions and Wide Open Opera
(Photo Patrick Redmond)
Donnacha Dennehy, Enda Walsh The Second Violinist; Landmark Productions & Irish National Opera; Barbican Theatre Reviewed by Ruth Hansford on 6 September 2018 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
Enda Walsh and Donnacha Dennehy's collaboration set out to ‘explode opera’s conventions’

Donnacha Dennehy: The Second Violinist - Benedict Nelson - Landmark Productions and Wide Open Opera - (Photo Patrick Redmond)
Donnacha Dennehy: The Second Violinist - Benedict Nelson -
Landmark Productions and Wide Open Opera - (Photo Patrick Redmond)
The Second Violinist is the second of playwright Enda Walsh and composer Donnacha Dennehy’s collaborations, the first being The Last Hotel in 2015. They called it an opera. It was jointly produced by between theatre producers Landmark Productions and Irish National Opera and I think I wasn’t the only one in the audience to wonder if it was an opera really. Walsh and Dennehy set out to ‘explode opera’s conventions’, according to an article on the Barbican website.

It was a multimedia mashup with three opera singers and a chorus and a main character who doesn’t sing a note. Above all, for me it was a reflection on how our attention and focus are compromised in our overloaded age.

There is a plot of sorts but, as in real life, the chronology and the relationships were not straightforward. The Second Violinist of the title is failing professionally and, rather than tackle the problem, he spends pretty much the whole show tied up in displacement activity his phone – playing a violent video game, flirting on Tinder, obsessing about Carlo Gesualdo, listening to voicemails but deleting them before he gets to the end, batting away annoying marketing texts from a restaurant. Aaron Monaghan is the silent violinist Martin. He emerges from the pit at the beginning of the show, puts his violin in its case and doesn’t open it again. He has a face and body that are so expressive of his torment that he is both compelling and painful to watch.

The other main characters are singers: his ex, Amy (Sharon Carty), now unhappily married to Matthew (Benedict Nelson) who tries his luck with Amy’s friend Hannah (Máire Flavin) over booze, cigarettes and a game of Twister. They cope well with their angular, unidiomatic vocal lines but we, the audience, are dependent on the surtitles for comprehension.

The surtitles were only one of our reading tasks for the evening. The content of Martin’s interactions with his phone (including his accidental filming of his feet) was projected on to a wide screen at the back of the stage. As was the footage of murmurations of starlings – beautiful in its own right, but incongruous when we were observing the protagonist’s destructive trajectory. Or maybe that is the point.

Donnacha Dennehy: The Second Violinist - Aaron Monaghan, Sharon Carty - Landmark Productions and Wide Open Opera - (Photo Patrick Redmond)
Donnacha Dennehy: The Second Violinist - Aaron Monaghan, Sharon Carty
Landmark Productions and Wide Open Opera - (Photo Patrick Redmond)
Conducted by Ryan McAdams, the orchestra consisted of fourteen players of the Crash Ensemble, a long-standing Irish new-music ensemble who played what was essentially a film score from a pit sunk inside the stage. There were hints of Gesualdo as well as some powerful effects that communicated the Second Violinist’s state of mind. There was a chorus who sang an excruciatingly stilted party piece (they were an actual opera chorus).

It only lasted an hour and fifteen minutes, and it was quite enough for this overly real, overloaded piece. I am not sure if opera’s conventions were exploded but my head certainly was.
Reviewed by Ruth Hansford

The Second Violinist, 6th September 2018 at the Barbican Theatre
Reviewed by Ruth Hansford
 
Composed by Donnacha Dennehy
Written and directed by Enda Walsh
Ryan McAdams Conductor
Jamie Vartan Design
Adam Silverman Lighting
Jack Phelan Video
David Sheppard and Helen Atkinson Sound
Joan O’Clery Costumes

Performers
Aaron Monaghan – Martin
Máire Flavin – Hannah
Sharon Carty – Amy
Benedict Nelson – Matthew
Kimani Arthur – Scarlett
Chorus of Wide Open Opera
Crash Ensemble


Elsewhere on this blog:
  • A journey through time and music: 12 Ensemble at the Barbican, on tour and a debut disc  - feature
  • An imaginative Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress from British Youth Opera (★★★★½)  - Opera review
  • Just what it says on the tin, an enchanting Enchanted Island from British Youth Opera  (★★★★) - opera review
  • A substantial monument: Patrick Hawes talks about The Great War Symphony - interview
  • A vivid theatrical, orchestral experience: John Eliot Gardiner's all-Berlioz prom   (★★★★½) - Concert review
  • Mesmerising: Simone Spagnolo's new philosophical, operatic mono-drama 'Faust, Alberta'  (★★★½) - Opera review
  • Certainly not boring: Rolando Villazón in Mozart's La clemenza di Tito on Deutsche Grammophon (★★★½)  - CD review
  • Sleeping Beauty awakes with a lively afternoon of Victorian & Edwardian light music at the BBC Proms  (★★★★) - concert review
  • Language, Catalan culture & audience engagement: I chat to mezzo Marta Fontanals Simmons - Interview
  • Lyrical & striking: Howard Goodall's Invictus: A Passion (★★★★) - CD review
  • A return to the Wonderful Town from Rattle's opening season with the London Symphony Orchestra (★★★★) - CD review
  • Sheer delight: Vivaldi's Concerti da Camera  (★★★★½) - CD review
  • A real discovery: Loder's English romantic opera Raymond and Agnes (★★★★) - Cd review
  •  Home

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