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      17.11.2006 22:00
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      A world-class undertaking by the Queen's University...something not to miss

      NUMEROUS FESTIVALS are being held around the world annually. Sundance (US) in the early part of the year; Cannes (Paris) in May; the British Short Film (London); Toronto International (Canada) in September; Cinemagic and the Belfast Festival in Northern Ireland to mention a few from more 2000 festivals celebrated worldwide.

      When I was in the Philippines, I always take the opportunity of attending the locally-organised film-fests showcasing films from from the UK, US, Germany, Spain, Japan and Australia. In most several occasions, these events are free to the public.

      For being here in Northern Ireland, the enthusiasm to watch these film festivals is still there. This is the reason why I took extra effort to attend some of the major programmes of the 44th Belfast Festival at Queen’s (University) held between 19 Oct and 04 Nov 2006.

      HIGHLIGHTS:
      This year’s festival was able to bring some of the best performances, concerts/shows, films, and productions which include the two world music giants: The Gipsy Kings, Buena Vista Social Club; international choreographers: Stephen Petronio and Rusell Maliphant; the live theatre action of the Little Mermaid; and the most multi-awarded theatre show: THE HISTORY BOYS; and the Argentinean opera superstar: JOSE CURA with the ULSTER ORCHESTRA.

      The last two mentioned programmes will be the focused of my review since I watched them in the Opera House and at the Waterfront Hall, respectively.

      **Films**
      Aside from these varied entertainment productions, the festival featured classical films from America, France, and the UK and screened at the Queen’s University Theatre (UQT). Some of them were:
      ++ Taxi Driver (1976, 114 minutes, C18, US) – starring Robert de Niro, musical scoring by Bernard Hermann, and directed by the popular Martin Scorsese. It evolves in the madness and alienation of a taxi driver who roams around the nocturnal streets of New York in the 1970s.
      ++Psycho (1960, 108 minutes, C15, US) - This is the original version directed by Alfred Hitchcock and the story focused on confused identity and voyeurism starring Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh.
      ++Fahrenheit 451 (1966, 112 minutes, C12A, UK) – Directed by Francois Truffaut and starring Oskar Werner and Julie Christie adapted from a novel written by Ray Bradbury that shows the future world.
      ++Le Enfants Terribles (1950, 101 minutes, C12A, France) – Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville, starring Nicole Stephane with narration by Jean Cocteau which was adapted from Cocteau’s controversial novel in 1920s.

      THE TAXI DRIVER and PSYCHO were on my top list and decided to watch it. It is because I want to see the electrifying performance of de Niro in the lead role, aside from being one of the works of Scorsese. On the other hand, Psycho is quite an intriguing thrilling American film having been made in black and white, and was re-make in 1998 starring Anne Heche, including the sequels: Psycho II (1983), Psycho III (1986), and Psycho IV (1990) which give me the reason not to fail watching it. But unluckily, due to unavoidable circumstances relating to my current work and the timetable of screening, it did not allow me to watch these films showcasing the scoring works of the composer, Bernard Hermann – provided the most distinguished scores ever written in the film industry. Nevertheless, the festival was my source of information about these timeless classical films and hopefully be able to grab those on DVDs.


      **Concert**
      This year’s festival was unforgettable for the fact that it also coincided with the anniversary celebration of the Ulster Orchestra for its 40 years of musical achievement. The Orchestra was the highlights of the opening and the closing ceremonies of the festivals. In the opening concert of the festival, the talented Argentinean and world-renowned good looking tenor, Jose Cura was the main performer, together with the Ulster Orchestra held at the Waterfront Hall.

      At the last minute (1.5 hours before the show on 20 Oct), I was lucky to grab a £15 ticket to witness Cura’s fine performance. I am not really an operatic fan, but for curiosity’s sake and my support to the festival, I did not hesitate to spare my time to watch the show. It was a chilly Friday night but it did not hinder people to be there. There were significant number of empty seats but the show must go on and it did not make any big difference in the excellent and powerful voice that can really raise the Waterfront Hall roof!

      Honestly, I am not good in describing how orchestra plays, in particular the swaying of the baton of the conductors and the rhythm of the rest of the musical accompaniment. Anyway, just some of the highlights of Cura’s rendition, including the Orchestra’s regular conductor, Mario de Rose.

      The first performance of the evening was the Prelude from Mascagni’s ‘Cavalleria Rusticana’ where Cura was off¬stage (behind the stage), and next was his powerful on-stage rendition of the ‘Sia Gloria ai canti … cielo a mar from Ponchielli’s ‘Gioconda’. I was really surprised to realise that he already conducting the Orchestra during the performance of Giordano’s Prelude to Act 2 from ‘Siberia’. Again, for the succeeding performances as he rendered Giordano’s ‘Come un bel di maggio from Andrea Chenier’, the ‘Amor ti vieta from Fedora, Leo Cavallo ‘Intermezzo’ from Pagliacci and ‘Aria di Canio’ proved Cura’s superb and charismatic ability which the audience gave him a standing ovation.

      Other musical pieces were from Saint-Säens’s ‘Baccanale’ from Samson & Dalila, Verdi Aria di Don Alvaro from ‘La forza del destino’; Verdi’s Morte di Otello and Sinfonia from la ‘Forza del destino’; and Puccini’s E lucevan le stele from ‘Tosca’, and Nessun dorma from ‘Turandot’. Cura also did the three encores from Puccini’s Tra voi belle from ‘Manon Lescaut’ and Addio fiorito asil from ‘Butterfly’; and Guastavino’s Soneto IV (Argentinean song with harp and tenor).

      Being a conductor, Cura is quite different from the rest of the conductors that I have seen on TV and other live performances. As part of the audience, I could feel the emotion, dynamic, masculinity, and energy for every move of his hands to guide every musician for making the encore done perfectly. And for every performance, Cura will always acknowledge the musicians that bring the encore into life! It was a good gesture from a humble performer by sharing the praises from the audience to the rest of the accompaniment.

      FINALLY, Cura tried to create a rapport or connection with the audience by having a quick conversation with them. Seating at the back of the center stage (quite near the Orchestra), it was hard to listen and understand his dialogues; otherwise, I could possibly react heartedly with his humor. It was really a delightful evening with Jose Cura and having been first time in the Waterfront main hall.


      **Theatre/Play**
      The other main feature of the festival was the premier presentation of must-see and critically acclaimed Best Play, The History Boys. Being held in the new refurbished Grand Opera House, this 2 hour 45 minutes production was sold-out during its 5 days limited engagement in Belfast. Again, being a non-British citizen, I don’t know why this play (turned into a film of the same title being shown now in Belfast) was so popular not only in West End but also in Broadway. A story of 8 boys in an English Grammar School groomed to be future students of Oxford or Cambridge.

      I will not dwell on the details of the play because I will write a separate review on this particular production in a few weeks time. Briefly, Alan Bennett’s stage play was perfectly done with full of humor, wits, and emotions that able to receive 7 international awards. It was absolute viewing for me – a glimpse of my present work as a ‘tutor’ and ‘research student’.

      For those who are interested to watch its limited engagement in the UK, you can still catch them in Cardiff (New Theatre), 14-18 November 2006; Salford (The Lowry) 21-25 November; or you could visit the National Theatre’s website at: www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/touring. Unfortunately, its US tour ended in October.


      *****
      IN CONCLUSION, supporting the 44th Belfast Festival at Queen's (http://www.belfastfestival.com/events.php) was indeed a personal endeavour/interest. Taking part by watching these remarkable performances was entertaining. It was a box office record holder having sold tickets amounting to £500,000 and over 100,000 people attended the said event.

      THIS 16-DAY EVENT proved to be completely a significant event in the Irish/British art/film industry and a worthwhile undertaking by the Queen’s University (the oldest university in Northern Ireland). Having that, I am looking forward for next year’s world-class event.

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