Alberto Caruso & Colm Toibin’s The Grasp in its first full staging at Wexford

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Caruso & Toibin: The Master - Thomas Birch, James Wafer - Wexford Festival Opera (Photo Padraig Grant)
Caruso & Toibin: The Grasp – Thomas Birch, James Wafer – Wexford Competition Opera (Picture Padraig Grant)


Alberto Caruso and Colm Toibin: The Grasp; Thomas Birch, James Wafer, Annabella-Vesela Ellis, director Conor Hanratty, music director Alberto Caruso; Wexford Competition Opera, plus 
Ami Hewitt & Gioele Muglialdo in recital
Reviewed 1 November 2022

Novelist and native boy Colm Toibin turns librettist for an intriguing new opera based mostly on his guide about Henry James

Along with the principle stage operas, Wexford Competition Opera‘s season consists of smaller-scale Pocket Operas performing in the course of the day within the Studio Theatre on the Nationwide Opera Home, with piano accompaniment. This 12 months’s programme featured Alberto Caruso‘s The Grasp, with a libretto by local-boy, Enniscorthy-born novelist Colm Toibin. We caught the efficiency on 1 November 2022, the manufacturing was directed by Conor Hanratty with designs by Lisa Krugel and Alberto Caruso directed from the piano.

A big forged was headed by Thomas Birch as Henry James, James Wafer as Hammond/Oliver Wendell Holmes and Annabella-Vesela Ellis as Constance Fenimore Woolson. All of the forged have been members of the Wexford Competition Opera refrain.

The opera’s libretto is predicated on Toibin’s novel The Grasp about Henry James and the way, within the wake of the disastrous failure of his play Man Domville, he regularly retired from public life and devoted himself to writing. It’s an intriguing story although maybe not an clearly operatic one. The impulse to create the opera got here from composer Alberto Caruso, the work was workshopped on the College of Boulder (Colorado) in 2014 and accomplished in 2016.

Caruso & Toibin: The Master - Thomas Birch - Wexford Festival Opera (Photo Padraig Grant)
Caruso & Toibin: The Grasp – Thomas Birch – Wexford Competition Opera (Picture Padraig Grant)

In an effort to introduce a component of dialogue into a piece which may threaten to happen primarily in Henry James’ head, Toibin conjures the ghost of Henry James’ shut pal Constance Fenimore Woolson, and the 2 look again over scenes from Henry James’ life, taking within the temptations of the flesh, the sickness of his sister Alice and ending with the revelation of Woolson’s obvious suicide. It’s an intriguing story, effectively instructed. However Caruso and Toibin’s remedy is sort of anti-operatic because the piece strikes in fluid dialogue for 105 minutes, with out extreme variation of tempo, while the opera has a whopping 17 named characters. The majority of the motion fell on Thomas Birch as Henry James and Annabella-Vesela Ellis as Constance Fenimore Woolson with the opposite characters flitting out and in. 

Neither Caruso nor director Conor Hanratty helped us work out who was whom and the place the scenes have been. A lot of Caruso’s writing appeared to take a seat excessive within the voice and the forged usually struggled to get phrases over, regardless of working arduous. There have been no surtitles, and the piece would have benefitted from just a few explanatory captions or projections, letting us know the place we have been and who these folks have been. Because it was, we too usually needed to battle to work out why we have been listening to those characters.

Additionally, musically the opera averted the ebb and stream widespread in operas, no recitative/aria division, no large end-of-act finales. The music merely started, flowed on and ended. At 105 minutes, it was a lot too lengthy for one act, attempting to cram an excessive amount of in.

Caruso & Toibin: The Master - Annabella-Vesela Ellis - - Wexford Festival Opera (Photo Padraig Grant)
Caruso & Toibin: The Grasp – Annabella-Vesela Ellis – – Wexford Competition Opera (Picture Padraig Grant)

The performances, nevertheless, have been nothing wanting heroic. Thomas Birch as Henry James created simply the suitable kind of barely distant determine, intrigued and tempted by life however at all times retreating. And Birch coped very effectively with the lengthy and taxing (and fairly ungrateful) tenor half. As Constance Fenimore Woolson, Annabella-Vesela Ellis made an interesting second voice, virtually Henry James’ conscience, and he or she repeatedly induced him to tug again from intimate entanglements.

James Wafer performed two of those love pursuits, a footman and Oliver Wendell Holmes, with whom Henry James needed to share a really slender mattress. Kudos to the 2 singers, managing the scene effectively while singing! Dan D’Souza performed the third love curiosity, a sculptor in Rome who noticed Henry James as his ticket to fame. 

However everybody had their second, and all created a vivid sketch of character, and it actually wasn’t the singers’ fault if there too many characters within the piece and we generally had no thought who was whom. Was it Isabel Arujo’s Alice James or Anna Gregg’s Alice Gibbens James who had the transferring loss of life scene. Arlene Belli was pleasant in her comedian flip as Woman Louisa Wolsely, however who was the person together with her. Andrii Kharlamov gave an pleasing efficiency as Johnston, the butler (together with falling asleep on that single mattress), however did his character should be there in any respect? These are the kind of questions I used to be left with on the finish of the efficiency. 

Because of a sequence of participating performances and an intriguing story, the piece held our consideration, nevertheless it looks like solely the start for Alberto Caruso and Colm Toibin’s The Grasp, which fairly appears a piece in progress.

Earlier within the day, we caught the lunchtime recital at St Iberius’ Church given by soprano Ami Hewitt (a member of the Wexford Manufacturing facility) and pianist Gioele Muglialdo. Fairly aptly, provided that it was All Saints Day, Hewitt and Muglialdo started with a collection of songs from Richard Strauss’ Opus 10, together with an enticing account of Zueignung and a touching, intimate account of Allerseelen

Hewitt has a lightweight, lyric voice, participating presence and a commendable consideration to the phrases. She adopted the Strauss with the Queen of the Night time’s Act One aria from Mozart’s The Magic Flute, filled with character with terrific runs and commendable high notes. Subsequent got here Annetta’s aria from Balfe’s Falstaff, a pleasant piece the place she summons the fairies. Then Hewitt was joined by a mezzo-soprano for a young account of the Night Prayer from Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel.

This group completed with a piano solo as Muglialdo play one thing by Ennio Morricone. All through the recital Muglialdo gave sterling assist, although the piano itself was considerably unsympathetic in louder passages.

The 2 concluded with three numbers from musical theatre. First, ‘I may have danced all evening’ from My Honest Ladey, charmingly sung but with nice consideration to the phrases. Then ‘Someplace over the rainbow’ from The Wizard of Oz, maybe considerably too sluggish however superbly sung. Lastly, a stunning account of ‘Glitter and be Homosexual’ from Bernstein’s Candide, actually showstopper to complete. 

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