Judge Bill Gibron flashes his Londonderry Air.
An amazing talent in a proficient performance showcase.
Some could say that Ronan Tynan has lived a charmed life. Yet looking back at his humble beginnings, with a life filled with hardships and obstacles to overcome, it would appear difficult to totally champion such a description. At age 20, he lost the lower part of each leg to amputation, when a car accident caused complications with his already crippled limbs (Tynan had been born with an orthopedic disability). Hoping to prove that being handicapped didn't mean he was useless, or hopeless, he became an athlete (winning several gold medals at the Paralympics) and a medical doctor. Then, he unexpectedly took a turn toward music. At a time when most careers are in full swing, or ebbing, Tynan took to vocal training, in hopes of pursuing his dream of being a singer.
Today he is perhaps best known as one of the Irish Tenors, a stunning and ever-changing collection of artists specializing in sold-out concerts featuring enchanted tunes from the Emerald Isle. Like their original operatic counterparts, these amazing vocalists are a PBS pledge week fixture, a guaranteed-to-hear-"O Danny Boy"-a-dozen-times force to be respected and reckoned with. Now, thanks to Kultur DVD, Ronan gets a solo showcase, a chance to shine outside the shadow of his fellow musicians.
Performed before a native crowd in Dublin, Ireland, Ronan Tynan: The Impossible Dream is impossible not to enjoy. Containing moments of mind-blowing beauty, as well as a few clunker conceits along the way (all provided by the good-natured but grossly underprepared London Community Gospel Choir), this remarkable program proves that Tynan has one of the most outstanding and moving voices in all of music. The power and the presence in his vocal work is just awe-inspiring. He is never forced or mannered, handling both classic and contemporary titles with simplistic ease. If you are looking for sentimental favorites, or a greatest-hits package of his previous Irish triumphs, this is not the disc for you. Instead, the selection here is hand-picked by Tynan, songs used to reflect upon and remember significant people and situations in his life. The concert contains the following material:
• "The Impossible Dream"
The London Community Gospel Choir sings four songs only, and they are:
It needs to be said right up front that anytime this amalgamation of well-meaning black performers takes the stage, the show instantly falls apart. Part of the problem is that they seem incredibly out of place, a group of ethnically rich color situated inside a theater dominated by unimpressed Caucasians. But they also make the mistake of mimicry, attempting to capture a soulful American feeling to their interpretation that, frankly, none of the soloists are capable of. Each one struggles through the complex scats and affected melody runs, trying to emulate their colony cousins, and they just can't do it. As a result, the four songs here sound horrible, and become true tests of near-atonal tolerance. Luckily, each selection is also a chapter, so keep the remote ready. Whenever you see a group draped in robes take the stage (except for the finale, where they merely provide backup for Tynan), you can feel comfortable advancing to the next tune.
As for Tynan, his voice is angelic. It rings with a kind of clarity and character that is rare in modern performers. Most singers try to overwhelm with strength or sway with technique. Tynan just opens his perfect pipes, hits each note squarely on the head, and pours his entire heart into each and every interpretation. This would mean that The Impossible Dream is a perfect concert experience—less than successful gospel choir excluded from the discussion—right? Well, again, there are elements here that hamper the immenseness of Tynan's ability. First off is the actual music chosen. Sondheim is perfect ("No One is Alone" is a classic Broadway weeper), as are the Emerald Isle tunes (you can't go wrong with "My Irish Molly O," "O Danny Boy," or "You Raise Me Up"). But "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother" is just too much of a blatant pop poem for Tynan, and his reading feels scattered. Similarly, the arrangements of "Both Sides Now" and "Night and Day" are oddly off-kilter, as if the conductor got cocky and tried to twist the tunes all out of their easily recognizable shape.
These obvious but still rather unimportant issues aside, just having a chance to hear Tynan move an audience with his miraculous, luminescent tones is more than enough reason to invest some time into this DVD. Tynan is personable and very open about his life and memories, and he seems genuinely touched by the outpouring of emotion from the audience. Almost all his lyrical readings are expert, capturing the true tenet inside each song with magnificent accuracy. While the music occasionally does not match a man of his vocal stature (U2 and the intense tenor voice were just not made for each other), this is still a sumptuous aural feast. While he may have been better served running through his catalog of Killarney favorites, you have to credit Tynan for trying something new. Even with the sporadic problems in the show, The Impossible Dream is a joy to behold.
While not known for releasing technically proficient titles, Kultur outdoes themselves with the DVD version of this concert. Presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image that hints at a great deal of high definition depth, the picture here is perfect. There is no bleeding or haloing, and the compression defects are all but nonexistent. Also impressive are the Dolby Digital Stereo tracks presented in either the preferable 5.1 or the equally evocative 2.0. If you want to feel like you're in the audience, experiencing Tynan in top form, stick with the multichannel choice. There is far more spatial clarity and a real venue atmosphere in the mix. The 2.0 is less ambient, but does just as fine a job of presenting a flawless sonic situation.
As the sole bonus feature on the disc, we are treated to a 30-minute interview/documentary about Tynan, his past and the reasons behind the concert, which helps us understand some of the song choices, as well as the hardships the singer had to endure in his youth. While his present life is barely touched on (we do not learn if he's married, a father, or anything he enjoys currently outside riding horses and performing), there is lots of history here, shown in a scrapbook style that really adds some significance to the words being spoken. While it can easily be dismissed as a publicity piece for the concert (and something to add to a pledge drive to further fleece the flocks), this genial Q&A does facilitate a connection to our larger than life host.
In Ronan Tynan's world, nothing was or is unattainable. Life is not a series of obstacles, but a wealth of opportunities to be explored. Even without full use of his legs (he wears prosthetics) and a rather late start to his singing career (he didn't pursue it until he was 33!), this brilliant, brave performer is an example of auditory bliss that everyone should experience at some point in their life. Lifting the spirit as he soothes the soul, Ronan Tynan is a true Irish tenor, and flaws and all, his Impossible Dream is a resplendent reality for us, his enthusiastic fans.
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