- 10 Jul 17
An evening at the Neapolitan Opera House has our columnist in raptures...
I think I’m giving up on CD launches in Bennigan’s and taking up opera instead.And you can still the sniggers. Opera is brilliant.
One of the things you mightn’t know about opera is that everybody who goes to an opera – even some who just yesterday were heatedly insisting they wouldn’t be seen dead at any such silk gown and tabby-bow shindig – emerges afloat on waves of still-reverberating sound.
I say this with some confidence having attended an open-air opera at Sydney Harbour a couple of years back – Verdi’s Aida it was – and found myself transfigured from the opening tap of the conductor’s stick to the sweep and the swell of the climactic chorus. As the tortured Jesuit and seeker after wisdom, Gerald Manley Hopkins, had it, referring to the soar not of music but of kingfishers caught fire: the mastery of the thing.
So I thought to myself, I’m going go to another one of these. And thus it was that I found myself last month in the Neapolitan Opera House for Puccini’s Manon Les Caut. We had bought the cheapest tickets well in advance – 40 euro apiece – but on arrival at the venue – which, empty, would take your breath away – the seats were gone. So they put us in a box. A velvety box for just the three of us at the Neapolitan Opera House, home venue of Gigli, Caruso, Callas! Far from where I was musically reared. Desperately expensive if we’d paid full price. Nearly half the cost of a U2 ticket.
I see myself now as a bit of an opera buff. I believe that’s the phrase. For which, much thanks to Terry O’Neill, resident during the relevant period in the kangaroo-infested Blue Mountains of New South Wales. It would be pointless travelling across the world, he explained, and not visit the opera house down at the harbour, the wonder of the Southern Hemisphere.
When we made it back to O’Neill’s lair the following day gushing with enthusiasm, he allowed that he might now even go himself some time. “I needed somebody to check it out first.”
You can take the man out of Dublin…
The idea of opera as compatible with rock-and-roll has been in my mind since Billy Browne wrote his ballad about going to see a touring company presenting La Cenerentola, Rossini’s take on the Cinderella story.
Billy is one of the great geniuses of Irish music: keyboards and sax with The Freshmen; could carry off a solo evening in white-tie-and-tails; a songwriter of amazing versatility; had a top ten UK hit with a full-on punk rant, ‘Never Seen Anything Like It In My Life’.
“I’m a one-finger piano-player, never had much time for music’s heavy side.” But he’s bedazzled by the singer playing Cinderella, “Dressed up sure enough in rags/ But underneath it every inch a queen”. He comes back the next night and the night after that: “As the curtain comes down for the last time every night/ I’m sitting there in my seat/ My hands grow wet, my throat tight/ And as she takes the applause I sometimes wonder/ If she sees amidst the many faces/ In the same place, always me”. The girl who’d swooshed him full of joy was Suzanne Murphy, from Limerick. I’m not sure if they ever met. In a parallel life in earlier times, she had been a member of the folk group, We 4.
It’s the same thing the whole world over. As Woody Guthrie remarked: “In the end, it’s all folk music. Who else sings it except folk?”
And another thing from our magnificently intermingled world. We wandered apres-opera along the harbour wall, took our ease sitting on the dock of the Bay of Naples, me in my favourite Paddy Nash and the Happy Enchiladas t-shirt, emblazoned, “Who killed the money-man?”
From a table at a pavement pizza place across the way came the call, “Oi, McCann.” So I looked up. He knew his stuff. “They can’t blame the Taliban!”
One of the differences between Derry and Dublin is that, when we say you can’t take the Derry out of the Derry man, we are referring to artistic range, cultural depth, critical acuity, that sort of thing.