Saint Patrick's Day brings Irish music to area
Saint Patrick's Day is looming on the calendar, and two quality Irish acts are heading into Portland.
First up is a duo headed by Irish fiddle virtuoso Martin Hayes, an artist who has been proclaimed one of the Emerald Isle's most influential cultural figures. For years Hayes has been teaming up with American guitarist Dennis Cahill. The duo visit Portland's One Longfellow Square this Friday, March 6.
Next is Karan Casey, former lead singer of Solas. She's now performing on her own, and she's slated for Portland's Empire Dine and Dance on March 11, courtesy of Dave McLaughlin's Heptunes.
There's plenty of non-Irish music, too.
DaPonte String Quartet plays three concerts March 6-8, in Newcastle, Portland and Brunswick. And the University of Southern Maine's School of Music is presenting a fully staged, fully orchestrated production of two one-act Italian operas, opening March 13 in Gorham.
Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill
Irish music that deftly melds traditional forms with contemporary influences is the quick summary of an interesting fiddle-guitar duo that's coming to One Longfellow Square in Portland this Friday. First billing goes to County Clare native Martin Hayes, a six-time winner of the All-Ireland fiddling championship who was named by the Irish Sunday Tribune as one of the country's most influential artists.
For nearly three decades Haynes has paired up with Dennis Cahill, an American-born guitarist of Irish parentage, to create a duo that's garnered international renown for taking traditional music to the very edge of the genre.
Seemingly effortlessly, Hayes and Cahill fit several disparate musical styles, including classical and jazz, into their act.
"In Irish music today there is much debate and division on the issues of continuity versus change and tradition versus innovation," explains Hayes. "I think it is a mistake to divide these issues, as the music is capable of containing all of these parts at once."
Catch Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill at 8 p.m. March 6 at One Longfellow Square (intersection of Congress and State streets in Portland). Call 761-1757.
Karan Casey is a much-acclaimed Irish singer who performs at Empire Dine and Dance in Portland on March 11. A native of County Waterford, Casey studied music in her own country before immigrating to New York in the 1990s and launching her career as the lead singer with Solas, a well-known Irish group. She's been on her own for the past decade, and has four CDs to her credit, including one with her former band mates.
Her repertoire spans traditional Irish songs plus a number of her own compositions and collaborations with her husband. The backing ensemble for her Portland appearance will include a piano, cello and guitar. Catch her at 575 Congress St. at 7 p.m. March 11. Call the Empire at 879-8988.
DaPonte String Quartet
Program Three of the DaPonte String Quartet's 2008-2009 season will be played in three coastal towns this weekend: Newcastle on Friday, Portland on Saturday and Brunswick on Sunday.
It's the first season the DaPontes have played with Kirsten Monke as violist. Although she's a native of Brunswick, for the past 20 years Monke lived in Santa Barbara and was extremely active in southern California musical circles. With Monday's mini-blizzard adding to the season's considerable snowfall totals, one wonders whether she's regretting the move.
The program opens with Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings," one of the best-known short works in classical music. A late quartet, nicknamed "Dissonance," by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart brings the concert to intermission. The finale is an early string quartet by Ludwig van Beethoven, subtitled "Razumovsky."
Here's this weekend's schedule: 7:30 p.m. March 6 at St. Patrick's Church in Newcastle, 7:30 p.m. March 7 at the State Street Church in Portland and 3 p.m. March 8 at United Methodist Church in Brunswick. Call 529-4555.
Two one-act operas at USM
Love, trickery and redemption are traditional elements of opera and they're key components of one of the tip-top offerings on this season's arts calendar.
Once every four years, the University of Southern Maine School of Music and Department of Theatre collaborate on a fully staged opera production. The next offering is a pair of masterful Puccini one-acts that opens March 13. "Suor Angelica" is an exquisite tear-jerker, while "Gianni Schicchi" is a laugh-out-loud comedy.
Directorial duties will be shared by three USM professors: Assunta Kent is the stage director, Ellen Chickering handles the music and Robert Lehmann conducts the full orchestra.
In terms of theme, the operas are a perfectly matched pair. In the tragedy, "Suor Angelica," powerful repressive forces – a princess with aid from an abbess – have changed a will, and force the eponymous heroine to relinquish her rights. In the comedy, Gianni, a rogue rehabilitated from hell, tricks the greedy forces and redistributes the legacy of a will, giving everyone their due – plus a welcome comeuppance for the greediest.
To look more deeply, Puccini presents an ironic commentary on the nature of heaven and hell: Angelica is driven to suicide to escape her hellish confinement in the peaceful convent, finding redemption only through death and hope for the afterlife; while Gianni wins our indulgence for his legal deception because of its positive outcomes – the heavenly bliss of the young lovers and the demonic frenzies of the scheming relatives in their little self-made hell.
Kent points out that "Suor Angelica" and "Gianni Schicchi" share several themes and character types underscored by double-casting in this production. For example, the villainous Princess who comes to wrench away Sister Angelica's last hopes is shared by two mezzo sopranos – who also sing the comic "bad-guy" role of Zita, the aunt who controls the fortune and marital future of the young lovers in "Schicchi."
And the score is to die for. "The music for these two operas is some of Puccini's best," adds Chickering, "and it's melodic and fun! Like Mozart and Verdi, Puccini was a master at creating his characters in the music as well as in the libretto. Each opera's music is perfectly matched to its characters. The music flows and weaves itself from singer to orchestra and back again to create a musical experience that is fulfilling and rewarding – for those on stage and in the pit, as well as the audience. All are gathered in to a rich artistic happening."
Performances are slated for Russell Hall on USM's Gorham campus. Curtain times are 7:30 p.m. March 13, 14, 19, 20 and 21 and 2 p.m. March 15. Call USM's theater box office at 780-5151.