Entertainment

ArtBeat: Tosca, puppets – and would Jimmy Nesbitt wear the Boris Johnson fat suit as well as Kenneth Branagh?

Jane Hardy looks forward to Tosca, praises puppets and wonders who wears the Boris Johnson fat suit best...

Irish baritone Brendan Collins says he can’t wait to get back to Belfast to perform in NI Opera's Tosca
Irish baritone Brendan Collins says he can’t wait to get back to Belfast to perform in NI Opera's Tosca Irish baritone Brendan Collins says he can’t wait to get back to Belfast to perform in NI Opera's Tosca

OPERA fans should be bracing themselves for Northern Ireland Opera’s new production of Tosca heading our way in September.

Puccini’s masterpiece will be directed by Cameron Menzies so expect psychological insight, drama and massive emotional content. Our heroine is in an impossible situation, put there by villainous and lustful Baron Scarpia.

Preparing to metaphorically twirl his moustache, Irish baritone Brendan Collins can’t wait. “I played the Sacristan in Tosca in 2011, now I’m the Baron," he tells me.

"I remember my mother seeing me in NI Opera’s brilliant La Traviata last year, playing another bad guy.

"She said, ‘Why do you always play villains?' It’s partly the voice, tenors get the romantic leads. But that’s boring.”

The aria he is looking forward to most comes at the end of act one. “It’s Tre Sbirri, Una Carrozza, the high point of the opera, one of the big three, with Tosca’s aria and her lover Cavaradossi’s. He knows he’s dying and is heartbroken recalling his life.”

Collins got into performing early, acting and dancing and singing a bit, then seguing into the chorus for Carmen: “I’ve worked with Andrew Davis who was wonderful but working with Cameron is special. He knows opera inside out.”

Accompanied by a stellar cast, including Svetlana Kasyan in the title role, Collins is eager to get stuck in. “And I love being in Belfast, which I’ve known since day trips with my Dad.”

****

PUPPETS are having a moment. Geppetto at the Lyric used them and Cahoots NI is deploying them in their intriguing new show, titled When We Were Wild.

As company director Paul McEneaney explains, it was a lockdown project that grew: “We started this two years ago, inspired by the way everybody connected with nature during that period.

"I live in Armagh in the country and people you met talked about seeing a fox or hearing birds. It’s about that connection and we have magnificent life-size puppets of the fox, sheep and other creatures made by puppeteer Helen Foan.”

The theme is memory, something also triggered by lockdown. Two brothers from farming stock pursue different careers. “One wants to farm, one to be an artist, so it’s not just about reconnecting with nature but with your own nature,” he says.

Cahoots NI garners schools’ feedback before a show. McEneaney says: “One boy shot his hand up and asked why the only puppet that didn’t talk was a human. It was a good question.”

The silent figure is a toddler, a child of one of the brothers, involved in a moving scene. Charles Way wrote the play, and it finishes at The MAC tomorrow, June 18 (themaclive.com). Cahoots NI are super busy and are about to rehearse a show – The Vanishing Elephant – on Broadway as part of the 2023 Belfast International Arts Festival.

****

WHO would play Boris Johnson in the Downfall biopic? Kenneth Branagh did a great turn on TV in a fat suit – “sickeningly accurate” according to one critic. Maybe Jimmy Nesbitt in another fat suit? Ideas on a postcard...

Kenneth Branagh played Boris Johnson in This England, Sky's drama about the then prime minister's handling of the coronavirus pandemic
Kenneth Branagh played Boris Johnson in This England, Sky's drama about the then prime minister's handling of the coronavirus pandemic Kenneth Branagh played Boris Johnson in This England, Sky's drama about the then prime minister's handling of the coronavirus pandemic