North West Opera gets support from 'Duelling Divas'
By Carolyn Farrar
Four soloists bring their distinctive voices this weekend to "Duelling Divas", a production to benefit North West Opera.
The regional opera company, which staged an acclaimed production of La Bohme in Ballybofey and Derry last year, will bring Bizet's classic opera Carmen to Donegal later this year.
"Duelling Divas" is at 8.30 pm, Saturday, Feb. 12, at the Balor Arts Centre in Ballybofey.
Two sopranos and two tenors star in this comedic, musical romp about a tenor who is down on his luck, two divas -- arch enemies -- going for the same role, and an impresario who is just trying to cast a production.
The songs will be familiar to the audience, even those who may not be opera-goers, said Ann Jennings, professional soprano and founder of North West Opera. Ann will also play one of the divas in the weekend production.
"What we've done is taken numbers people would know -- the greatest hits," she said. There's Lakme's Flower Duet, known from numerous British Airways commercials; Carmen's famous arias; Verdi's classic La donna e mobile; the Neapolitan O Sole Mio; and even pop songs like These Boots are Made for Walking and Hit the Road, Jack.
The operatic music used in the show is so often used in popular culture that people will realise they know the tunes when they hear them, Ann said. And the original script "is completely hilarious from beginning to end and borderline slapstick because it's so over the top," she said.
"Duelling Divas" features tenors John Porter from Lifford, who studied voice abroad, and David Robertson of Enniskillen, who studied in Italy; Ann, who sings often in continental Europe; and German soprano Elizabeth Goell, who lives in Ireland's northwest.
Ann was raised in Buncrana, the youngest of seven in a musical family. She said when she is living and working abroad she is consumed by music. Ann sings often in continental Europe, most often in Germany. When she and her artist friends were not singing, they were talking about singing, technique and style. And when Ann returned home to Donegal to visit her father in Ballybofey, she missed that. So she founded North West Opera a few years ago.
North West Opera stages ambitious productions. Last year's La Bohme featured nine soloists, with Ann as Musetta, and a chorus that numbered near 60 and included young singers from St. Mary's National School in Ballybofey and St. Columba's College in Stranorlar. Members of the Donegal Youth Orchestra and the Venssa Chapman Ballet School in Derry, and carnival artists from the Planet Youth club took part in the famous parade scene in Act II.
Audiences at last year's performances would have also recognised the famous Toreador Song from Carmen woven into the music of the parade scene, fitting right into the energy of the moment, but also offering a musical promotion of this year's North West Opera production.
North West Opera will stage Carmen with an international cast later this year as part of the Donegal Bay and Bluestacks Festival. One of the most-performed operas in the world, the story of the fiery gypsy boasts at least five musical pieces that people would recognise immediately, Ann said.
"They're used for everything," she said. "But there are more tunes than that are well-known." That familiarity is what they tried to highlight in the "Duelling Divas" score, she said.
While this weekend's benefit production is entertaining in itself, it is aimed at raising money for the opera company, the project close to Ann's heart. Though Carmen will have an international cast, the dancers and choreographers will come from Donegal. That's one of the things that Ann finds most satisfying, "seeing the talent that is around here and the emerging talent," she said.