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A compelling efficiency of The Juniper Tree by Northern Eire Opera – Seen and Heard Worldwide

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United KingdomUnited Kingdom Philip Glass and Robert Moran’s The Juniper Tree: Soloists, Refrain and Instrumentalists, Northern Eire Opera / Frasier Hickland (conductor). Grand Opera Home Studio, Belfast, 24.2.2024. (RB)

NIO’s The Juniper Tree © Neil Harrison

Director and Set design – Cameron Menzies
Costume design – Arlene Riley
Lighting programmer – Anne Marie Langan
Hair and Make-up design – Nuala Campbell
Motion director – Jennifer Rooney
Manufacturing assistant – Matthew Bradley

The Husband – James Cooper
The Spouse – Mary McCabe
The Son/Juniper Hen – Rachel Heater
The Step-Mom – Jenny Bourke
The Daughter – Petra Wells
The Goldsmith – Paul McQuillan
The Cobbler – Ryan Garnham
The Miller – Desmond Havlin
Mama Hen – Niamh Lavery

Northern Eire Opera’s new staging of Philip Glass and Robert Moran’s The Juniper Tree is a small-scale chamber manufacturing. Many of the forged have been drawn from the corporate’s Artist Growth Programme which is designed to nurture and convey on new and rising expertise. The one exception was visitor artist, Mary McCabe, who performed the spouse. The small Studio theatre which types a part of Belfast’s Grand Opera Home supplied an ideal setting.

Glass and Moran collectively wrote the music for The Juniper Tree in 1985, two years after Glass’s Akhnaten. The libretto by Arthur Yorinks is predicated on one of many darker fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm. Every composer wrote alternating scenes and utilised one another’s themes to realize structural unity. Probably the most hanging issues concerning the work is how seamless and coherent the music sounds given this uncommon background. The fairy story on which the opera is predicated is especially darkish and disturbing. A mom dies giving start to a son and the daddy remarries. The depraved stepmother murders her stepson and serves him up in a stew to his unsuspecting father. The boy’s stepsister buries his bones below a juniper tree, and the kid’s spirit returns as a singing hen which then drops a millstone on the stepmother and kills her. The boy is then miraculously restored to life within the bosom of his household.

Cameron Menzies’s manufacturing was centred round a geometrical form which encompassed the darkish foliage of the juniper tree. The chattering of the birds was heard by way of the thick foliage and the refrain used exaggerated actions together with hand and arm gestures to sign their presence. The important thing occasions of the opera, together with the dying of the mom, the homicide of the boy and the dying of the stepmother, all occurred inside this confined house. The bloody occasions of the opera have been advised somewhat than overtly depicted though they have been nonetheless dramatically very hanging.

The performers all had whitened faces and darkish eye make-up very a lot within the mould of the replicants in Blade Runner. The whimsical costumes have been completely consistent with the supply materials. The depraved stepmother appeared notably garish together with her frizzy pink hair and the streaks of pink beneath her shirt. Following the dying of the son, the daddy was seen consuming his stays with a skeletal hand getting used as a spoon. When the son appeared reincarnated as a hen his arms have been lined with brightly colored plumage. Because the manufacturing went on lighting was used to vary the color of the foliage: there have been tinges of purple in the beginning, and at one level it was black earlier than reverting to inexperienced in direction of the tip of the manufacturing. The manufacturing was a masterclass on the right way to obtain an optimum dramatic impression with restricted assets.

The established visitor artist, Mary McCabe, introduced a wealthy vibrato and tonal magnificence to the mom’s aria. The remainder of the forged of recent and rising performers all gave robust, extremely completed performances. Jenny Bourke captured the darkish malevolence of the stepmother; she was notably spectacular within the jealousy aria capturing the stepmother’s descent into harmful obsession because the music grew to become increasingly animated. She was much less robust on the backside of her vocal register and infrequently some phrases have been misplaced. James Cooper gave an completed efficiency as the daddy though I might have favored to listen to extra vocal resonance and a larger variation in tone color. Rachel Heater captured the subdued innocence of the son earlier than being remodeled into the dazzling Juniper hen. Her aria, ‘Mama killed me, Papa ate me. Sister bundled my bones below the juniper. Look, I’m a reasonably hen’ was one of many excessive factors of the manufacturing. Petra Wells introduced a disarming innocence to the position of the daughter and she or he sang superbly. The remainder of the forged and the refrain all acquitted themselves properly.

The small band of six instrumentalists led by Frasier Hickland did a superb job conjuring up environment. They produced a hanging vary of colors and sonorities. I used to be impressed with the way in which wherein they have been in a position to ratchet up dramatic stress at key factors within the rating.

General, this was a compelling efficiency with some very superb taking part in and singing.

Robert Beattie

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