Festival Notebook: Tailor made for a special night
Belfast Festival at Queen's
There are, inevitably, high expectations when the Belfast Festival is not only the host but also the producer of a major event. When the producing partner is as prestigious an organisation as Welsh National Opera and the creative force is one of Northern Ireland's leading contemporary composers, one can be forgiven for anticipating great things indeed.
Brian Irvine's award-winning opera The Tailor's Daughter was commissioned by Welsh National Youth Opera and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and was first performed in the magnificent St David's Hall in Cardiff in 2005.
Now, at last, it is coming home, with a cast of some of our best young singers and an intriguing orchestral combination of strings and saxophones, percussion and bass guitar.
Irvine is a composer who believes that music should be fun and accessible.
When he turns his hand to opera, he grafts onto the music a gripping story.
The Tailor's Daughter is described as a thrilling modern fairytale, full of magic, secrets and mystery, set in a forest in a fairy kingdom, where a tailor lives with his daughter. All is happiness, sweetness and light until the day that a dashing young wolf invades their lives.
There are just two performances of this landmark Festival production tonight at 7.30pm, with a matinee at 1pm in the Grand Opera House.
There can't be too many opportunities to see a full-scale modern opera for just £12.50, with a reduced rate of £7.50 for under-18s and schools.
One of the most talented young classical pianists of his generation will be in concert this evening in the Great Hall at Queen's. Romain Descharmes was last year's winner of the AXA Dublin International Piano Competition and has notched up a number of other high profile prizes all over the world.
Tonight's recital will include music by Schubert, Scriabin, Brahms and Liszt.
Nobody who saw the multi-award winning junk-opera Shock Headed Peter at the Festival a few years back will forget the wonderfully dark, deranged live music, which accompanied its every gruesome twist and turn.
With their whitened faces and decadent delivery, The Tiger Lillies - who won an Olivier Award for that production - burn themselves upon the senses and the imagination. Where better to soak up their slick, sleazy style and fabulous cabaret songs than among the stained glass and mirrors of the Spiegeltent, tonight at 8pm.
Full programme and bookings on: www.belfastfestival.com or tel:9097 1197
Weird and wonderful
Sclave/The Song of an Emigrant, Farm in the Cave Company
The word Sclavi means both Slavs and slaves in Latin ? and the stories in this dramatic production illustrate the exploitation of migrants who dream of a new life in the West.
Each scene blends into the next - all stunningly choreographed - as the actors tell the tale of a man who leaves his home for the promised land of America, and who, on his return, finds he is an exile everywhere.
Some of what they show is recognisable - the headscarves, the ill-fitting workers' jackets, the haunting laments.
Other elements in this harshly beautiful dance/drama are far from the picture-book images of workers toiling in fields or factories - the misery, death, drinking and fighting; the love and lust and sheer physicality of lives lived on the edge.
The show opens in a raucous jumble of sound ? hammering, drumming and stomping feet - as a battered red trailer pulls up on stage, and the cast of eight leap out to tell their story of shattered dreams.
They summon up the ghosts of trains and horses, weddings and wakes. Passion and anger whirl across the stage, while sorrow washes around their feet. The words are unfamiliar, but the meaning is clear. Misery hangs like a mist around unfortunates, no matter where they call home.
Throughout, the company sing their sad, swirling songs of loss and exile, and the bustling soundtrack of life is reduced, in the end, to silence.
Festival was created for shows like this ? weird and wonderful.
Perfect balance from Bester
The Bester Quartet
An exotic cocktail of classical, jazz and avant-garde music enraptured Belfast last night for the remarkable performance by the Bester Quartet in the Spiegeltent as part of the Belfast Festival at Queen's.
An unusual mix of instrumentation for a quartet, the group consisted of Jaroslaw Bester on accordion, Jaroslaw Tyrala on violin, Oleg Dyyak on accordion, clarinet and percussion, and Wojciech Front on double bass. Having reached the end of a thirteen-date tour of Ireland, the foursome performed with a frantic but controlled energy. They played to each other's musical strengths through combining exciting free improvisations with steady repetitive grooves.
The most striking aspect of the quartet was its perfect musical balance and ability to blend a multitude of styles while retaining a solid musical identity. The musicians were very versatile, able to play for the music rather than themselves and generate competent, tasteful melodies, as well as hypnotic pulsating rhythms.
Artfully bypassing the rigidity often associated with performances which incorporate experimental musical techniques, the players utilised an impressive array of unusual sounds from their acoustic instruments into the music. Playful and provocative, each piece was full of imagination and diversity.
The soft lighting and mild extravagance of the Spiegaltent served to enhance the ambience. The audience was very supportive, whooping and clapping until the demand for an encore was met. A polished and enthralling performance.
Exciting and bumpy ride
Johnny Boskak is feeling funny
Old Museum Arts Centre
When you first clock the set for Johnny Boskak is Feeling Funny, with its loo, hospital-style bed and small table, things don't bode well for a comic evening with Greig Coetzee.
But as soon as this charismatic, ballsy performer comes on and starts his act with guitarist Syd Kitchen, you know you're in for an exciting, linguistically rich, bumpy ride.
His persona doesn't have things easy, it has to be said. "For limeys, there's no room at the inn." And he does say it, in rich wordplay fused with Jo'berg lingo. Johnny's character is on something of a quest, with seriously religious overtones.
His lady is called Eve and there are some beautiful sexy scenes, with Coetzee doing a mean flirty number across the table now converted to a pool table. In a way, the whole evening is a kind of road-poem, like a Tarantinoesque road movie but with words making the pictures.
He acquires a gun at one point and explores the nature of being a mercenary, which, as Coetzee's real-life career in the South African army shows, wasn't a straightforward career choice.
There's an encounter with Rastas who gaze into their hazy, grass-festooned crystal ball and foretell bad events.
Which eventually come to pass via a hitched ride on board a big truck, the biggest ever, with a maniac driver. After a miraculous escape, things end pretty badly, as you always feared they would. No escorts out of Escort, as the man said.
At the Old Museum Arts Centre until Saturday.