It was a full house at St. Peter’s Church of Ireland in Drogheda to hear Tara Erraught, the mezzo-soprano from Dundalk who has made it all the way to the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, perform for an enthusiastic home audience. She was accompanied by Dearbhla Collins on piano and Ulrich Pluta on clarinet in a programme that spanned lieder, opera and popular Christmas songs. St. Peter’s Church has great historical resonance in Drogheda and in addition to being a house of prayer it is now also host to regular concerts and performances that take advantage of it’s beautiful historic interior and wonderful acoustics.
The concert opened with two songs by the lesser known German composer Franz Lachner, Auf Flügeln des Gesanges (On Wings of Song) a joyous and uplifting celebration of the emotive power of music and Seit ich ihn gesehen (Since I saw him) a rather urgent meditation on love and longing for a glimpsed stranger. Two songs by Johannes Brahms followed. Gestillte Sehnsucht (Stilled longing) which is a sensuous pastoral evocation of nature and waning passions while in a similar vein Geistliches Wiegenleid (Sacred lullaby) contemplates the peace and calmness of the nativity scene. Both songs were originally written for viola and piano and were a wedding gift to Brahms’ friends Joseph Joachim and Amalie on the occasion of their marriage.
This first part of the concert concluded with Franz Schubert’s Shepherd on the Rock. Composed shortly before his death in 1828 it is a longer piece with three sections recounting a shepherd singing of his solitude on the lonely hills but as his mood darkens somewhat he contemplates the extent of his loneliness and separation.
I am consumed in misery, Happiness is far from me,
Hope has on earth eluded me, I am so lonesome here.
But finally he consoles himself with thoughts that as the rolling of the seasons cannot be stopped so spring will soon come to his lonely empire and his spirits will lift again.
After a welcome glass of wine at the intermission we moved from the concert hall to the opera house with a selection of arias. Opening with Mozart’s ‘Deh vieni non tardar’ (Ah come, do not delay) from the The Marriage of Figaro. The plot of this rather convoluted opera has thickened somewhat by Act IV when Suzanna sings this yearning love aria with it’s slow pulsing piano and magically weaving clarinet. Sung within the hiding Figaro’s earshot… but is for him, or is it really for the Count! Next we had Tanti affetti (So many emotions), a coloratura showpiece from Gioachino Rossini’s La Donna del Lago. Set in Scotland this is one of Rossini’s less well-known operas but is the work that started a trend for Italian operatic adaptations of the stories of Sir Walter Scott.
Next up was Handel with an aria from Rinaldo which has seen a huge resurgence in popularity due to the current vogue for counter tenors. Lascia ch’io pianga (Let me weep) is one of the most beautiful baroque arias. A slow and deeply moving cry for freedom sung by Almirena who has been imprisoned by Argante, the Saracen king of Jerusalem. A captivating highlight of the evening.
Let me weep over my cruel fate, and let me sigh for liberty.
May sorrow shatter these chains, for my torments, just out of pity.
The operatic section was rounded off by a return to Mozart and an aria from his final opera La Clemenza di Tito (The Clemency of Titus). Like Schubert’s piece earlier in the programme this opera was also written in the year of it’s composers death. Sung by Sesto, (a trouser role) to prove his love for princess Vitellia, Parto parto is a somewhat muscular yet very evocative aria with a beautiful rolling clarinet that echoes and responds to the vocal lines. With it’s wonderful coloratura crescendo finale it rounded off the operatic section on a high note.
Tara Erraught performs ‘Parto parto’ from La Clemenza di Tito.
From high drama and intense emotions we moved to the closing part of the concert and as befitting the season it was a selection of Christmas favourites which Tara encouraged us all to sing along to. Gustav Holst’s atmospheric setting of Christina Rossetti’s In the Bleak Midwinter, Franz Xavier Gruber’s Silent Night, Adolphe Adam’s O Holy Night and finally after a well deserved standing ovation and prolonged applause from a delighted audience we finished with Michael Maybrick’s O Holy City.
This was always going to be an exciting concert for opera and choral music lovers. It was a real treat to have Tara back singing in her home county after all the success she has had globally. In addition to being an internationally acclaimed artist she continues to display her commitment to opera at home by being an artistic partner for the recently launched Irish National Opera and has been seen on the Dublin stage in recent seasons as Donna Elvira in Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro and Rosina in Rossini’s Barber of Seville.
As a regular opera goer I’m used to hearing the music I love sung in foreign languages and in the absence of translations in the concert programme Tara gave us introductions to each piece with context and story which greatly added to the enjoyment of the evening. At an opera performance the narrative can usually be grasped by following the action on stage alone but in a concert setting this contextualisation was a great help to the enjoyment of the evening. Many concert performances of classical vocal pieces are accompanied by piano alone but the addition of Ulrich Pluta’s clarinet added a denser warmer melodic flow to the music as it’s softer timbre wove in and out of the more punctuated harmony of the piano.
This was certainly one of the highlights of the Drogheda Classical Music series from an opera and choral music fans perspective and in the new year we have a concert performance of Christoph Willibald Gluck’s ‘Orfeo ed Euridice’ to look forward to. The first of the great ‘reform operas’ that altered the musical and narrative trajectory of operatic history it will feature the mezzo-soprano Sharon Carty as Orfeo.
Drogheda Classical Music Series is Here
Tara Erraught’s site is Here
Dearbhla Collins site is Here
Info. about Ulrich Pluta is Here