Wednesday, June 19, 2019

The Chronic Identity Crisis of Pamplemousse (NI Opera, touring NI until 22 June)

Just half-an-hour long, with colourful costumes, live music and a quirky plot, Northern Ireland Opera’s latest production, The Chronic Identity Crisis of Pamplemousse written and scored by Greg Caffrey, is aimed at children aged seven and over.

Pamplemousse is upset when he discovers that the creatures entering his kitchen through a hole in the skirting board share a similar name but fail to accept him as one of their own. The five sartorially-elegant mice mischievously scamper around (and over) the auditorium. When Pamplemousse is moved to tears at their intolerance, they leech off his sweet yellow tears, collapsing in a drunken stupor. He is elated by this bonding until the sated mice lose interest in his dried-up tears. But the appearance of Apricot (with a silent T) stirs something in his fleshy inside as he finds a velvety soulmate to snuggle up to in the fruit bowl.

With each performance preceded by a music and craft workshop, NI Opera have gone to a lot of effort to maximise the accessibility of the production, with a programme that answers questions, and a playful set that young audience members want to invade at the end.

Countertenor Francesco Giusti’s falsetto voice bursts out from his red and yellow grapefruit costume as he portrays the fruit in a middle of an identity crisis. Narrator John Porter is particularly strong as he recaps the story and keeps the audience on track. While Caffrey’s libretto doesn’t dumb down its vocabulary for its young audience, it does contain lots of repetition which overcomes a common operatic problem of crucial information being camouflaged behind the singing.

Enhancing Pamplemouse’s visual feast are the costumed members of the Hard Rain Soloist Ensemble conducted by the their musical director Sinead Hawes. Percussionist Cathryn Lynch is kept particularly busy as she glides between drum kit, vibraphone and wood blocks in one sequence, all the while blowing a whistle.

It’s good to see familiar faces from the NI Opera Studio performing in the troupe of mice. The range and regularity of their studio performances over the last year or so have been a welcome initiative to open up this genre to a wider range of audiences with shorter and more playful works that are less intimidating than the classic opera repertoire.

Belfast Ensemble’s concert version of Conor Mitchell’s The Musician was part of this year’s Belfast Children’s Festival. The Chronic Identity Crisis of Pamplemousse is hopefully the start of another annual opera performance aimed at the youngest audiences who can easily engage with the colourful, larger-than-life characters and surreal situations.

The Chronic Identity Crisis of Pamplemousse is touring through Newry (11am, Monday 17 June), Enniskillen (11am, Tuesday 18), Omagh (11am, 19 June), Armagh (11am, 21 June), Derry (3pm, 22 June).

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