Landmark Productions and Irish National Opera’s The Second Violinist announced as part of Park Avenue Armory 2020 Season

Landmark Productions and Irish National Opera’s The Second Violinist announced as part of Park Avenue Armory 2020 Season

The Second Violinist was announced today as part of New York’s Park Avenue Armory 2020 season – the first-ever Irish production to be presented by that illustrious venue.

Joining an array of multi-disciplinary works created by leading artists from around the globe, The Second Violinist – composed by Donnacha Dennehy and written and directed by Enda Walsh – will have its North American premiere from 25 to 29 September 2020.

The 2020 season continues the Armory’s commitment to supporting groundbreaking and genre-bending works that require non-traditional spaces for their full realisation, including theatre, modern opera, and classical music productions, as well as new dance and visual art commissions, in which the Armory’s grand-scale Drill Hall architecture becomes the partner in the experience of the works.

“The intent of this season is to try to understand the major existential questions through the lens of theatre, opera, dance, film, music, and sculpture. Through the curation of these breathtaking and exceptional works, we are looking at isolation, tragedy, loss, surveillance, and identity as our society continues to grapple with what it means to be human in the 21st century.” said Pierre Audi, Artistic Director at Park Avenue Armory.

Produced by Landmark Productions and Irish National Opera, The Second Violinist enjoyed sell-out seasons and huge acclaim in Dublin, Amsterdam and at the Barbican in London, and has won multiple awards internationally since its premiere at Galway International Arts Festival.  It was named Best Opera at the Irish Times Irish Theatre Awards; won the prestigious Fedora-Generali Prize for Opera; and has been shortlisted for the Opera and Music Theatre Award at the Royal Philharmonic Society Awards, which will be announced at a ceremony in London on Thursday 28 November.

The Second Violinist is conducted by Ryan McAdams and stars Sharon Carty, Máire Flavin, Aaron Monaghan and Benedict Nelson, together with Crash Ensemble and the Irish National Opera Chorus.

For more information on the Park Avenue Armory 2020 season, which features an array of world-class artists, see www.armoryonpark.org.

The Second Violinist was funded by the Arts Council of Ireland through an Opera Production Award. Its international touring has been supported by Culture Ireland.

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Review – The Arts Review

***** scintillating


Death or Resurrection

If not strictly required, knowing something of the life and music of Renaissance composer, Carlo Gesualdo, most certainly helps deepen an appreciation of Enda Walsh and Donnacha Dennehy’s scintillating opera, “The Second Violinist.” An intriguing figure, Gesualdo, both musically and personally, was psychological complex to say the least. Murdering his wife and her lover upon discovering their affair, Gesualdo also showed a penchant for extreme masochism in later life. Musically, his madrigals, for which he is best known, show a sophistication with modulation, dissonance, and tonality years ahead of their time. All of which come into play in “The Second Violinist,” a richly complex, psychological opera where the details of the everyday mingle with a thriller like tale, one concealing dark, disturbing possibilities in an opera that manages to dazzle even when it says nothing at all.

Produced by Landmark Productions and Wide Open Opera, “The Second Violinist,” sees the space between then and now, between the imagined and the remembered, become an unstable psychological domain where what’s real and unreal inhabit a liminal purgatory of the mind. Martin, alone and unloved, discovers breaking up is most certainly hard to do, especially when everybody’s talking about him. Having lost his musical touch, along with his ex-lover, Martin’s days are spent bumping around phone calls, messages, and social media, trying to find a place to land, to hang on to, or even enough of himself to craft a reinvention. When Scarlett reaches out online, it might just be possible. Unless it’s already too late. For Martin’s mind is obsessed with an opera he wants to compose, or is it a memory he wants to forget, of a man who kills his unfaithful wife and her lover. As Martin struggles to separate fact from fiction, history from now, himself from Gesualdo, love might end up causing yet another death. Or maybe the possibility of love, and music, might hold out a chance to resurrect a soul.

A drama within a drama, “The Second Violinist” opens a Pandora’s box of themes including love, jealousy and betrayal; the mind’s ability to distinguish what’s real and what’s not; and the artist as genius, loser, lover, and fool. Enda Walsh’s direction, along with Jamie Vartan’s exceptional set design, wonderfully conveys the erratic, multi-layered, instability of an artist’s mind set adrift, with something always happening everywhere, both where you look and off on the periphery of vision.  Jack Phelan’s video design is equally impressive, grounding “The Second Violinist” firmly in the gameplay, text messaging, emoji, voicemail world of the twenty first century, making it instantly recognisable and relatable, whilst also conjuring a multi-layered, unstable universe. A disturbing, easy, haunting place that Aaron Monaghan inhabits without uttering a syllable. Indeed Monaghan’s Martin, is compellingly realized in a riveting physical performance. Sharon Carty as the conflicted wife Amy, Márie Flavin as her free spirited, former college lover Hannah, and Benedict Nelson as the murderous husband Matthew, are each superb. Singing from Carty, Flavin, and Nelson is also superb throughout, as are the Chorus of Wide Open Opera. Donnacha Dennehy’s extraordinary score contrasts an almost cinematic cohesion with a constant, dissonant unraveling, always trying to reform itself only to unravel yet again, beautifully performed by Crash Ensemble, and exquisitely conducted by Ryan McAdam.

Smart, stylish, and sophisticated, “The Second Violinist,” is opera firmly rooted in the 21st-century, yet recognising the traditions from which it arose. Part thriller, part love story, part psychological drama, “The Second Violinist,” is turbulently restless, constantly spinning and weaving its overlapping tales imbued with a sense of unease and agitation, a dissonance that makes for a truly memorable experience. If the overture, and early visuals from Martin’s computer, hint at either a possible win or impending doom, “The Second Violinist” ultimately allows you to decide; perhaps revealing more about the audience than the audience might care to know. Complex, funny, and deeply moving, “The Second Violinist” is unquestionably one of the best new operas you are likely to see this year.

 

Written by Chris O’Rourke for The Arts Review 03.09.17.

Review – The Guardian

★★★★★ ‘exhilarating blend of opera, theatre and film … extraordinary …. thrilling’ 


Enda Walsh’s fairytale opera is dark but dazzles

Playwright Walsh and composer Donnacha Dennehy’s exhilarating blend of opera, theatre and film is a study in heartbreak with a hint of Bluebeard’s Castle.

 

Playwright Enda Walsh and composer Donnacha Dennehy follow up their first opera, The Last Hotel, with a multi-layered fusion of film, theatre and opera – a collaboration between Landmark Productions and Wide Open Opera, directed by Walsh to thrilling effect. The second violinist is Martin, whose life is falling apart: he won’t practise, and spends his evenings drinking and playing violent video games. In an initially comic prologue, he hides from a bombardment of voice and text messages, while reluctantly travelling to rehearsals. Aaron Monaghan is compelling in this silent role, his whole body expressing pent-up frustration. His words are conveyed by text on a 13-metre screen behind him, until three singers invade his living room, enacting emotional scenes whose significance gradually emerges.

Dennehy’s dense composition, performed by Crash Ensemble, becomes an enveloping film score, with less than half of the 80-minute performance being sung. Incorporating a range of amplified sounds and overtones, it brilliantly uses percussion and staccato strings to build a sense of pressure and tension. Filmed images drive the drama, matched by ethereal vocalisation for the three soloists, Sharon Carty, Máire Flavin and Benedict Nelson, and an onstage chorus of 16 singers.

As often with Walsh, past and present are overlaid, and characters are split into their former, present and future selves. The disintegration of Martin’s marriage is dramatised through a series of moving arias, with his wife Amy (Sharon Carty) ruefully asking where her youth has gone. From a recognisable experience of heartbreak, Martin moves into a bleaker state of mind. Standing naked in a shower, he scrubs so intensely he might scrape away his epidermis. Monaghan’s performance is a study in pain and vulnerability.

An extraordinary sense of yearning permeates it all: the leitmotif is a meditation on love; love seeping away, or being transformed into something violent and implacable. When Jamie Vartan’s vast set opens up to reveal a forest, lit in silhouette by Adam Silverman, its bare tree trunks form an eerie colonnade. A dark fairytale is suggested, with more than a hint of Bluebeard’s Castle, while Martin seeks solace in the music of Renaissance composer Carlo Gesualdo, whose life story is anything but consolatory.

From the exhilarating score, lyrical singing, and dazzlingly intricate design, this is a work that needs to be seen more than once in order to absorb the rich detail. Like its recurring filmed image of a murmuration of starlings, it soars.

 

Written by Helen Meany for The Guardian 28.07.17.

Review – Exeunt

How do you heal from heartbreak? There’s no easy answer in Donnacha Dennehy and Enda Walsh’s thrilling new opera which follows Martin, a mute violinist (Aaron Monaghan), coming and going from his apartment. Dodging phone calls by family and colleagues, he turns depressingly inward, where hurt feelings are roused into something dangerous.

Inspired by Carlo Gesualdo, the Italian Renaissance composer who executed his own wife, Walsh’s painstaking production for Landmark Productions and Wide Open Opera translates inner turmoil into an electrifying new work. Jamie Vartan’s surreal set allows Monaghan’s physically eloquent Martin to traipse the inertia of everyday life, from his couch to the bus, whilst high and out of reach lies a woodland of un-leafed trees. If that’s not a stark enough metaphor for lust and desire, Martin changes his dating bio from second violinist to composer.

It’s astonishing to see the absurd emojis and notifications of our lives fold into something transcendent. The action unsettlingly oscillates; one minute we’re watching a bloody nature documentary, the next a bourgeois wine party. Just as restless is Dennehy’s score, pounced on by conductor Ryan McAdams, which sends strings and pianos spiralling in nervy rhythms and decadent melodies until they, like the production itself, frighteningly lose control.

The Second Violinist, it turns out, is as much a portrayal of isolation via love rather than through the absence of it. Soon arrives an agitated husband (Benedict Nelson) and a fraught wife (Sharon Carty) commenting on their latest renovation, which, in Walsh’s elegant libretto, warps into a dark and stultifying realm. Carty, sullenly realising the brittle state of their marriage, observes her visiting friend (Máire Flavin) as if an epic figure from mythology.

These insecurities and desires are Strindbergian in intensity. Rendered into operatic format they become overwhelming forces. But Dennehy and Walsh’s characters remain hopeful for renewal, despite the crimes that take place. Nelson’s insecure husband, for instance, reflects poignantly on the migrating swallows and their easy escape.

If anything, this sublime production insists on forging a cautionary tale for modern times. Jack Phelan’s arch video design shows an online conversation with a stranger named Scarlett (Alyssa Heffernan) that eventually paves the way for a potentially horrific meeting in real life. A classic fairytale gets imbued with fresh warning: be careful of who you meet when strolling in the woods.

 

Written by Chris McCormack for Exeunt Magazine 31.07.17

Review – The Irish Times

An extraordinary modern opera  ★★★★

A lonely life is subsumed into this collaboration between Donnacha Dennehy and Enda Walsh

 

Early in composer Donnacha Dennehy and writer Enda Walsh’s second collaboration on an opera, for Landmark Productions and Wide Open Opera, we find its protagonist slumped on a sofa, busily reshaping his life.

His Tinder profile fills the wide rear digital screen of Jamie Vartan’s set, which rises from an orchestra pit to an uneven scatter of domestic and urban spaces, climbing higher still into an overhead forest landscape. On the screen, though, we watch an identity erased and redrafted, first from the overeager “Violinist in a musical ensemble!” next to the grandiose “Composer of operas” and finally to bleak simplicity of “Living” and “Alone”.

This is Martin – “Carlo” on his Tinder account – to whom Walsh’s libretto has given the recognisable texture of a banal digital double life. Aaron Monaghan first emerges from the orchestra pit, as though forcibly ejected, with his violin in hand; a recently single, sloppy musician, stalked by unanswered voicemails and intrusive iPhone ads (“Opt out STOP”), which conspire with the agitated tones of Dennehy’s overture to form a harrying maelstrom.

The doubling continues, though: soon an opera swells around Martin, making him an aghast spectator to the tensions of a married couple, the miserabilist Matthew (Benedict Nelson) and the suffocated Amy (Sharon Carty) whose suburban domesticity is unsettled by the visit of her free-spirited college friend Hannah (Máire Flavin).

As director Walsh keeps the stage vast and frenetic, the narrative conveyed across platforms by the singers, Jack Phelan’s impressive video design and David Sheppard and Helen Atkinson’s sound design, all fascinatingly well integrated. It creates a disjointed, media-saturated routine of instant alerts, enveloping nature clips (Martin’s source of zen) and violent video games, which seems unsettlingly familiar. If we already live life at this unbearable pitch, why can’t we be propelled into a contemporary opera?

Murderous composer

Dennehy and Walsh both take a cue from Carlo Gesualdo, Martin’s favourite composer, whose Renaissance compositions made bold strides with unconventional tonality, and whose mind was, to put it mildly, in roiling disorder: he murdered his wife and her lover. As the distance between the opera and its frazzled watcher shrinks, it’s worth recalling Margaret Atwood’s insight: “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” Next to Woyzeck in Winter and Crestfall, this completes the performance preoccupation of this year’s Galway International Arts Festival.

Walsh’s dramas have always mingled the mundane and the extraordinary, and opera accommodates his wry observations while expanding the space for his worried imagination. When a chorus appears to construe passion in destructive terms – “And love it bleed in the dirt” – it bolsters the idea that violence is our second nature. (Phelan design makes a sly, prefiguring joke when Martin misspells “violinist” as “violen–” before backtracking.) For an unconventional artist, though, that also leaves the troublesome archetypes of male aggressor and female victim undisturbed.

That’s why, as thrilling as Monaghan’s performance is – physical and almost wordless, poised on the edge of a dance – it’s as exciting to see the vigour of the orchestra pit, particularly in the string section. There the violinists play nimbly, frantically and, refreshingly, with visible pleasure. Like the tormented Martin, or Gesualdo, Crash Ensemble are also subsumed into art; but from the pit, at least, it looks like fun.

 

Written by Peter Crawley for The Irish Times 28.07.17

Review – Irish Examiner

★★★★★

Following 2015’s The Last Hotel, The Second Violinist is Enda Walsh’s second opera, but here — through the brilliant use of set design and mixed media — he has bent the form to his will. Once again, the show  a production from Landmark Productions and Wide Open Opera — is a collaboration with Donnacha Dennehy, whose splendid and fraught compositions court Renaissance harmonies, while perched on the very edge of dissonance.

In doing so, they mirror the mental state of the show’s protagonist, a morbid and unhinged orchestral violinist whose life has come off the rails.

As he did in The Last Hotel, Walsh affectionately subverts the high-strung theatrics of opera by having his frustrated, middle-class characters sing in a high register about their tragic, nightmarish desire for a mundane, Ikea snapshot of life.

In The Last Hotel, it was house extensions.

In The Second Violinist, it’s swank interiors. This bland, fake, and soporific “real” world is complicated by a second, more disturbing “virtual” world, however, in which the violinist’s fondness for video games, and all measure of online distractions, scrapes away at all the cosiness.

In a daring move, the show runs a number of timelines simultaneously. We observe the violinist (Aaron Monaghan) in the present, as he negotiates a life (and a mind) that has come undone, and we observe also the final days of his marriage, which are performed around him by Máire Flavin, Sharon Carty, and Benedict Nelson, the latter his own doppelganger (in baritone).

All of the performances are perfectly judged, as are the vivid interventions of a chorus, who deliver ominous sermons on love and also one absolutely killer ‘party’ scene.

The show’s resolution may be a little too rounded, but it cannot diminish such a stimulating and provocative thrill-ride.

 

Written by Padraic Killeen for the Irish Examiner 29.07.17

Aaron Monaghan: Fighting talk and picking parts

Motivated partly by mischief, actor Rory Nolan began asking an interesting question recently of one of his frequent collaborators: “What’s the best work you’ve ever done?”

Quietly spoken, thoughtful and unaffectedly modest, Aaron Monaghan seems like one of the least likely people to give him an answer.

“If I’m being really honest, I wouldn’t be able to mention a single show,” he says, furrowing his brow in the foyer of the National Theatre in London, on a clammy summer morning.

To anyone following Monaghan’s career, which took off as soon as he graduated from the Trinity College acting programme in 2002, it might seem that there are too many to choose from.

His long association with the Abbey began with an award-nominated turn in 2003’s She Stoops to Conquer. The following year he founded the touring theatre company Livin’ Dred, with Padraic McIntyre and Mary Hanley, in his hometown of Cavan.

In 2005, he brought his coiled athleticism to the part of Christy Mahon in Druid’s Playboy of the Western World, propelling him through the epic six-play cycle of DruidSynge. (One of the most delightful sights in Irish theatre is still a backstage moment, caught on camera, during that first full cycle, when a young Monaghan finishes his several performances, scrunches his frame until it looks like a clenched fist, and shakes silently with achievement.)

Ensemble

He has been a de facto and then official member of Druid’s ensemble ever since, through the world-conquering original production of Enda Walsh’s The Walworth Farce, and the international tour of Walsh’s Penelope, a revival of Martin McDonagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan that earned him a coveted Obie Award, still more tests in DruidMurphy (Best Supporting Actor) and DruidShakespeare, and, most recently, the hugely acclaimed Waiting for Godot.

Monaghan is, he admits, neurotically unable to take a compliment. “If I started believing that,” he tells me sincerely, “God knows what kind of a monster I could create.”

We are meeting, however, to discuss exactly what kind of monster Monaghan is currently creating. In Enda Walsh’s The Second Violinist, a new collaboration with composer Donnacha Dennehy, Monaghan plays a character who might strike you as his inverse image: a performer who is falling apart.

In a Landmark Productions and Wide Open Opera co-production, Martin is a musician, recently and catastrophically single, living an unhealthy life, professionally slovenly, socially discourteous, and buffeted between automated voices, violent video games and ever-darkening fantasies. How does Monaghan relate?

“Everyone looks at their life in some ways and thinks that it’s probably crumbling around them, even if it’s not. Especially as a performer; you’re always struggling to get something right.

Fighter’s stance

It’s not a small point. Monaghan’s philosophy is one of relentless improvement, something he discusses frequently with his fellow Druid actors. “I think every actor, or every performer, feels that no matter how good they are, they want to get better.”

The question is how. On stage, Monaghan does not believe in doing anything the same way twice. As an audience gathers for an early matinee, one older woman clutches her tea cup as Monaghan lifts his arms in a fighter’s stance. “It’s like sparring,” he says. “You’re working off another actor, depending on how they give their line, or the atmosphere in the room. Obviously, you stick to the rules. But within that there is a huge amount of movement. Otherwise I just feel it’s very dead.”

In that respect, The Second Violinist may be a worthy challenger. Although he moves through a Dublin context – unsually specific and real for Walsh – Monaghan’s role in the text – “The libretto, I have to keep calling it” – is entirely silent.

As his circumstances gradually become more apparent, in both banal and grimy detail, while the majesty of the natural world appears as a murmuration of swallows on his phone screen, an opera of lascivious detail blooms around him. Is he a watcher or participant? Can digital slaves escape into high art, or does our reality merely play second fiddle?

In rehearsals with Walsh, who is directing, Monaghan has been feeling for his place within the music. In a notebook he keeps, his first response was to call it “a play in which an opera occurs.”

In rehearsals, though, distinctions are less clear: both he and opera singers Máire Flavin, Sharon Carty and Benedict Nelson work with Walsh and a conductor, negotiating a tricky score, a barrage of projected text, and a story that slips between the concrete and the abstract.

Metaphor

“Enda is so good at this, that somewhere along the way we stop asking those questions,” he says. “These worlds converge very naturally I think.” Like that murmuration, it all comes together somehow.

Monaghan’s preferred metaphor for his art, a little surprisingly, is something much more aggressive. (His tea cup-rattling reference to sparring was not accidental.)

Following DruidMurphy in 2012, which, when pressed, he will offer up as the work of which he is most proud, Monaghan fell into an unusual state of apathy, perturbed that nothing would ever again occupy him so fully. “I think I went into as close to a depression, as you could’ve done,” he says. “Yeah. For about two years.”

He considered alternatives to acting – he could be perfectly happy in an office or a warehouse, he thought – until his then girlfriend, and now his wife, actor Clare Monnelly, reasoned with him that he was actually unqualified for either. “So I’m kind of going, I’m f**king stuck with this.”

With her encouragement, he began to draw from his own skills, moving towards directing, writing, teaching and working with amateur groups. (A recurring joke in The Second Violinist has Martin stalked by an am dram musical version of An Ideal Husband.) And somehow, at the same time, Monaghan became fascinated with mixed martial arts (MMA).

“I think it’s the most vicious sport in the world,” he says, “but I see a huge amount of training involved with it, the hard work that you have to do. They close that cage and it is just you.”

It reminds him of Goethe’s appreciation for an actor’s discipline: “I wish the stage were as narrow as the wire of a tightrope dancer, so that no incompetent would dare step upon it.” Perhaps if Goethe had ever taken a shine to Conor McGregor, he might have adapted that maxim to include the finer points of a locked cage and a left hook.

Confidence

For his part, Monaghan is engrossed by McGregor, for both his confidence and his competency. “He’s one of the first young Irishmen to go, I’m really f**king good at what I do, and I’m going to show you. And that manifests himself . . . There’s something innately Irish about humility, but Jesus Christ, it’s held us back in so many ways.”

That proud performance of unapologetic ambition might be a figure closer to Monaghan’s alter-ego than the hapless Martin. He now frequently refers to performance as “stepping into the ring”, something his colleague Marty Rea, who toured the world with him this year for six months, has grappled with.

“But nobody wins at the end of the day?” is Rea’s counter. Even his work as dramaturg and director with Monnelly on her recent, lauded solo work Charlie’s A Clepto, at the earliest stage of their marriage, can sound punishing. (“At that point, I don’t think she hated me, but . . . ”)

And it doesn’t seem entirely incidental that when Monaghan reverses Rory Nolan’s question, he doesn’t consider any of Nolan’s widely-celebrated comic roles as his finest work, but his stuttering brawler Iggy, in Tom Murphy’s A Whistle in the Dark. (Nolan hates this answer.)

Monaghan, mercifully, has not become more bullish – he’s as gentle a soul as you’ll ever meet – but the inspiration has proven remarkably useful. Recently, he found a new way to politely take a compliment without having to hide his drive for improvement.

“My usual line now,” he says, with shy good humour, “is, ‘Ah, it’s getting there.’ That’s as truthful as I can be.”

 

Written by Peter Crawley for The Irish Times 28.07.17