Friday, May 11, 2018

La Donna Abbandonata (Spark Opera as part of #CQAF18) – arias for abandoned women by a dumped and emotional singer!

Given the outrageous and far-fetched characters they often play on stage, I half expect every opera singer – male and female – to be a diva off-stage. Today’s performance of La Donna Abbandonata by Spark Opera Company gave that notion a twist and surprised its lunchtime audience with a performance by Marielle Murphy, who threw some shade as well as withering looks from her smoky eyes around the room.

Take opera off the stage and into a recital and much of the theatre is often removed. Director Kate Guelke wove a moody story of conflict and crabbiness around the seven ‘arias for abandoned women’ injecting drama back into the production.

Emotionally charged from the beginning, Murphy’s powerful coloratura soprano voice resonated around the hard surfaces of the Ulster Scots Centre on Victoria Street. Unhappy with her ‘agent’ (Colin Carnegie) her sung words of ‘betrayal’, ‘joy deserted’ and ‘bitter tears’ took on new meaning, albeit divorced from the fullest context of their original works, but given vigour by the new setting. Having the translated lyrics in the programme helps bring the story alive.

There’s a lovely interplay between the stormy singer and the calm accompanist (Keith McAlister) who has to cover on the piano for her absences when she barricades herself into rooms or wanders off barefoot through the audience. A teasing line from I Will Survive promises something that isn’t in the programme, but her effortless rendition of Danny Boy more than makes up from her retreat from a full on Gloria Gaynor cover!

La Donna Abbandonata is a fine Belfast debut for Marielle Murphy showing off her mastery of Rachmaninov, Schubert, Mozart and Donizetti, and another great performance in the always varied Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival programme. Tickets still available for the final performance at 1.30pm on Saturday 12 May (light refreshments supplied during the interval).

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