Opera Theatre are on a national tour with another Handel opera, Alcina, and I went to see it in the new Visual complex and George Bernard Shaw Theatre in Carlow. This is a glorious sung in English performance, in a beautiful clever set and a quality nine-piece Baroque Ensemble under Christian Curnyn’s nimble direction.

The venue is sloped like Garter Lane Theatre, in plush red seats and sharp but cool under-feet air conditioning. There was no sunken orchestra pit and the band, unfortunately, blocked the view of downstage action.

The production pares down the fantastical elements of an almost three hour, three act, opera about a wicked witch, Alcina, who has a magical island where rejected lovers or enemies are turned into fantastical animals. These animal idioms are missed out on especially when a lion is to be killed by a character who knew the actual person. But, no matter, the music is inspiring and the singing for the most part informative and excellent.

Audiences seem to accept that the mistaken identity of females dressed as males and directors in a bit of gender bending couplings in the best possible taste.

The director, Annilese Miskimmon, rightly avoided he ballet, the chorus and the animal transformations and took a modern line about love as falling under someone’s spell. We got the positive and negative aspects why some men leave and others stay and is love a sweet form of madness or magic.

Sinead Campbell-Wallace gave us a complex Alcina and she sang and acted with vibrancy and never got witchy or twitchy, even when she had to cut out her heart and ut it in a bowl and keep on singing. Updating the story posed a problem as to why the feckless warrior Ruggiero needed to be still sung in a counter-tenor style and Stephen Wallace got a little camp in his underwear. Doreen Curran was a good transvestite Bradamante/Riccardo and Jane Harrington was impressive as Morgana. Ed Lyon and Julian Hubbard also played roles.

It was a fine showing by Opera Theatre, our only touring opera company, who must now be facing a difficult future. 

The Venue 

The impressive 350+ seat theatre is like Garter Lane with three audience entrance points on two levels. The Viaual Gallery is as big as a basketball arena but sadly was not open when I was there – no doubt a funding issue. There is a full-sized restaurant (Lennons) in the basement but with a public access point as well and their evening menu was attractive and wholesome. Upstairs there is a proper bar with seating in red and brown leather contrasting with the modern exposed concrete and glass panels.

The venue is set in the grounds of a church and school/college complex and there is excellent protected and public parking adjacent.

There is a fine programme of events, some you would expect in an arts centre rather than a theatre, and an impressive list of talks, workshops and performances.