A Night at the Opera

Ulster Touring Opera

George Fleeton

Reacting emotionally to opera is more important than analysing it intellectually. [Attributed to Plácido Domingo, 1994.]

Nearly everything about Ulster Touring Opera’s Night at the Opera was spot on:  a simple, cultivated set, four fearless voices in concert and impeccable pianism in Ruth McGinley’s self-effacing accompaniment to a carefully devised programme of arias and ensembles which were accessible to both opera virgins and opera veterans.

The Cavan ¹ concert was the sixth of seven performances given by UTO ² whose remit is to visit and to perform in each of the nine counties in the historical province of Ulster, which include Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan.

One day I intend to argue that two other counties which each share the border with N. Ireland - Leitrim and Louth – should also be served by concerts of this quality.


Belfast-born Malachy Frame’s baritone voice was new to my ear; it is both versatile and well-found in that, for example, he conveyed perfectly [from Mozart’s Nozze di Figaro] all the emotional range of Count Almaviva’s aria of rage and revenge Vedrò mentr’io sospiro.  A voice full of promise.

Kerry-born Gavan Ring [formerly a baritone, now singing tenor roles] was totally at ease with his solo pieces, from Gounod’s Faust, a chaste love song, with robust middle section and, from Puccini,  Cavaradossi’s nostalgic love-letter to Tosca, written as he faces execution, E lucevan le stelle.

Hannover-based soprano Amy Ní Fhearraigh, while relatively early in her career, impressed no end with her stage presence and voice management in, for instance, two lighter Puccini pieces, O mio babbino caro [from Gianni Schicchi] and O soave fanciulla, the latter being her duetto with Gavan Ring which closes the first part of La Bohème. This will be a voice to treasure.

Carrickfergus-born mezzo-soprano Carolyn Dobbin is not shy either about her credentials in this company. She wears experience and her love of song on both sleeves. Her habanera from Bizet’s Carmen, which opened the concert, is a treatise on the volatility of love, a tango with lyrics and one of the ultimate tests for mezzo which she always passes with colours flying.


Correctly placed after we had been introduced to each voice in solo ³, greater pleasures awaited in the ensemble singing:

Soave sia il vento – the terzetto from Mozart’s Così – Mir ist so wunderbar – the quartett from Beethoven’s Fidelio – and Bella figlia dell’amore – the quartetto from Verdi’s Rigoletto –three of the most beautiful pieces in all opera, were pure gold.

Welsh-born Artistic Director Dafydd Hall Williams, and Derry native Ruth McGinley, jointly sculpted this beautifully, with imagination to spare.

UTO was launched late in 2020; we have had to wait fifteen months to savour its quality product which, on the basis of two hours spent on a wet and windy night in Cavan, was top-of-the-class, with lots of added value.


But, three ingredients of this touring production did not enthuse me:

the use of BBC Radio Ulster presenters to ‘host’ the event, with A4-size typescripts to the fore and to hand; yes, arias in concerts need context and there are other, less intrusive ways of doing that;

Papagena’s song, from a new opera called Ill Fitting Clothes, which came at us right out of left field; and

an Augmented Reality Opera App [yes, read that again! - slowly] which someone as low-tech as me is sure to struggle with, since I still share Domingo’s prosaic but incisive comfort zone as he described it [above] nearly thirty years ago.

Next item on Ulster Touring Opera’s agenda is Rossini’s knock-about comedy Il Barbiere di Siviglia [Roma, February 1816] in the spring of 2023.


¹ Townhall Theatre, Cavan, February 20th  www.townhallcavan.com