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Trad’s loss is opera’s gain as MairŽad sings at Leisureland

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Date Published: {J}

Traditional singing was the first calling of soprano Mairéad Buicke (pronounced Buick, as in the car), who will be a special guest with the RTÉ Symphony Orchestra when it visits Leisureland on its Spring Tour next Tuesday, March 23.

London-based Mairéad will be performing Samuel Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915 as part of a programme which also includes Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto and his 1812 Overture, and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2.

Knoxville: Summer of 1915 paints an idyllic, nostalgic picture of the American South. The work is for voice and orchestra and the text is taken from a 1938 short prose piece by writer James Agee. The score was originally commissioned by renowned soprano Eleanor Steber, who premiered it in 1948, with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

“It was written for an orchestra and soprano and it’s tricky, but Barber creates fantastic pictures and colours with the piece he was given,” says Mairéad. The singer from Newcastle West in Limerick, is currently in Dublin, rehearsing with the RTÉ Symphony Orchestra, but these days she lives in London where she performs with the English National Opera.

Traditional music’s loss has been a gain for the classical world, as Mairéad has performed Verdi’s Requiem and Ravel’s Shérérazade here in Ireland with the RTÉ Symphony Orchestra, while in London she has appeared in ENO operas such as The Merry Widow and Mozart’s The Magic Flute, where she played Pamina – her most significant role to date. She has performed in recitals all over the world, including in New York’s Metropolitan Club and the Aix en Provence Academy Festival in France.

“I try to create a picture for everything I do,” she explains about her approach to Knoxville: Summer of 1915. “In opera you dress up for the roles, so it’s easier go into another world, but even when I do a concert performance I create my own story.

 

“The scariest thing as a singer is to go up on stage as yourself, but it’s challenging and it’s good to keep yourself at it.”

Mairéad has been challenging herself since childhood. Recognised as a talented traditional singer from her early years, she took part in Fleadh Cheoil up and down the country between the ages of 11 to 14.

“Then I started having my voice trained with a singing teacher from Kerry, Áine Nic Ghabhainn. A teacher suggested to my mother that I should do it. I was initially against it, because I loved trad and sean-nós singing, but after the first session, I loved it.

“I was very lucky with my teacher. I stayed with her until I was 17 and it was fantastic to find somebody who nurtured me and introduced me to classical music in a lovely way.”

At 17 she moved to a tutor in Bandon Co Cork, which was a major commitment; in Mairéad’s Leaving Cert Year her mother drove here the 115 kilometres to Bandon every Saturday morning where the young singer studied with Robert Beare, who also taught in the Cork School of Music.

After the Leaving Cert she attended the Royal Irish Academy of Music (RIAM) where she studied for four years under the great Dr Veronica Dunne who “was amazing”.

Mairéad did a BA in music Performance at the RIAM and then went to the National Opera Studio in London, which accepts just 12 young singers every year.

“It’s like a bridge between being a student and professional work, where you are supported by British companies and have coaches and opera directors,” she says, describing the studio.

After that, she was invited to join the English National Opera, also in London, initially being taken on for a year as a ‘young singer’. She has been there now for nearly three years.

“In your first year you sing secondary roles and you understudy, and as you progress you get bigger stuff.”

Her performance as Pamina in The Magic Flute last year was a big moment in her career and a sign of her growing maturity.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past

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A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.

 

For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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Macnas for shows in China and Australia

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Date Published: 24-Jan-2013

Community Theatre Group Macnas has a busy couple of months ahead as company members prepare for performances in China in February and Australia in March.

They will premiere Chaosmos, a newly devised piece at the Chaoyang International Spring Carnival in Beijing from February 10-15 while their Boy Explorer heads to the WOMAdelaide festival in Australia from March 7-11.

Initiated in 2002, the Chaoyang International Spring Carnival is a highly anticipated event taking place over the Chinese New Year Holiday period with an attendance of more than 400,000 visitors. This year Ireland has been awarded ‘Country of Honour’ by the Festival and with the support of the Department of Foreign Affairs Macnas have been invited to showcase Irish Street Theatre and celebrate Chinese New Year in an uniquely Macnas way.

Choasmos is an exciting, ethereal performance with vivid and stunning costumes, bespoke imagery, stilting beasts, masked performers, musicians, suitcases, lotions, potions, a music box and a bag of curiosities, according to General Manager of Macnas, Sharon O’Grady.

Meanwhile, the well-travelled Boy Explorer, who began a Quest for Brilliant Ideas in Ireland last year, will continue his journey Down Under with an appearance at Peter Gabriel’s International Music and Arts Festival, WOMADelaide, in South Australia. The Boy will rub shoulders with music legend Jimmy Cliff as well as some of the world’s leading music performers and over 15,000 visitors each day.

Although he tested his sea legs on a trip to Scoil Ronáin on Inis Mór in December, this is the Boy Explorer’s first time going overseas and casting his net further afield.

It’s a very exciting time for the company, with so much new work in the offing and many requests to present at home and abroad. “This will be one of the most exciting years in the long history of the company”, says Sharon.

In the early years of Macnas, the company toured extensively at home and abroad, and most famously supported U2 on their international Zoorapa tour. However in subsequent years, there were problems in the company, largely due to the lack of a permanent Artistic Director.

 

Since city woman Noeline Kavanagh took over that role nearly five years ago, Macnas has entered a new era of creativity and its invitations to China and Australia, following successful outings to festivals in the UK in 2012, reflect that.

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Archive News

London snow the perfect preparation says Gabriels camp

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Date Published: 30-Jan-2013

Killimordaly manager Tom Monaghan agreed that the deteriorating conditions in the closing stages of his side’s All-Ireland intermediate club semi-final defeat to London champions St Gabriel’s made the outcome of the championship tie in Birr a lottery.

Highlighting it was a gloomy end to their campaign, especially given all the hard work they had put in over the winter, Monaghan – a former St Gabriel’s player himself – added: “It is disappointing. In fairness to our lads, they showed great character and they kept going at Gabriels and they never surrendered.

“Even when we went down a man in the opening minutes of the second half, we coped well with it and came back and finished out to get extra-time. I thought we might have an advantage when it went to extra-time but then we conceded the [second Gabriel’s] goal from a free in the second period of extra-time and that was it.”

Monaghan believed the unfortunate sending off of Killimordaly’s Niall Earls for a second bookable early in the second half had an adverse effect as his 14-man side had to work even harder in energy sapping conditions to remain in touch.

“When you lose a man on a day like today, and the conditions that were in it, an extra man was always going to be a huge advantage. I think you are always going to have to give a player the benefit of the doubt on a day like this because conditions didn’t lend to good hurling. Unfortunately, though, that didn’t happen,” he concluded.

Meanwhile, most Londoners may have bemoaned the Arctic temperatures that almost brought their nation’s capital – and country – to a standstill last week but, as it transpired, the St Gabriel’s camp said it proved to be the perfect training environment ahead of their All-Ireland intermediate club semi-final win over Killimordaly.

Having had to train in snow and sub-zero conditions was not conducive to good hurling but, in saying that, both Gabriel’s manager Tommy Duane and team captain Aidan Ryan believed it helped to steel the London champions for similar weather conditions – with a little thunder and lightning thrown in – during last Sunday’s epic clash.

 

Given Irish people just love to talk about the weather, it was not a surprise it would become the hot topic of discussion throughout the afternoon in Birr. “You know, we have trained in all kinds of conditions and the last couple of weeks we have been training in snow,” said captain and Craughwell native Ryan.

“There were some awful days there in Northwick Park where John Kearney from Oranmore came over and trained us. You know, those conditions were worse than what we dealt with today. So, we were ready.”

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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