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Danú opens the holiday season for the Mondavi Center

On Wednesday the holiday season officially began at the UC Davis Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts. “An Nollaig in Éirinn,” or “Christmas in Ireland,” was the theme for the evening of entertainment by award-winning Irish ensemble, Danú. The performance was all about sharing Irish Christmas traditions – both those that include music and those that don’t. 

Christmas in Ireland must be a whole lot of fun. The six-member group shared the stage throughout the night, each taking the mic on different occasions to introduce a song, story or joke to educate and amuse the Jackson Hall audience.

Lead vocalist Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh had a voice that was powerful, smooth and entirely enchanting. She could have been singing about anything and it would have been lovely. The fact that she was oftentimes singing traditional Christmas hymns simply added to the romanticism of the evening. Nic Amhlaoibh also played the flute throughout the night and even jumped on the whistle once or twice. Donal Clancy, on the guitar, had a tremendously rich voice as well.

Brendan (Benny) McCarthy played melodeon and button accordion, while Martin O’Neill, a self-proclaimed half-Irish, half-Scottish addition to the group, played the Bodhran, an Irish Drum, with superlative skill. O’Neill also hopped on and off the piano throughout the night. 

Éamon Doorley sang backup vocals and played the Irish Bouzouki, cracking jokes along with the others. Liam Flanagan shined on the fiddle, and was a particularly noteworthy addition to Nic Amhlaoibh’s lead vocals in “Angels We Have Heard on High.” Flanagan clearly demonstrated his ability to use the fiddle to inspire an amazing range of emotion.

Danú’s repertoire included a few songs known by all, but also several more “instructional selections,” one might say.

How and when should one make a Christmas cake? Exactly how much liquor is fed to the marzipan encrusted cake? The morning after a pleasant and appropriate Christmas day in Ireland, when does the drinking begin?

The group’s responses and explanations were certainly both entertaining and educational. They introduced each and every piece, noting that they would play “several reels” and “a few reels;” they played so many reels, each of which made you feel unreasonable giddy and wanting for a beer to sip along with your toe-tapping.

As is the Irish way, pubs were mentioned on no less than two dozen occasions. Add to this the way English rolled rollickingly off their tongues and the fascinating licks of Irish we got to hear, and I’m searching for flights. Christmas in Ireland, I’m on my way!

The night flew by, even with a short intermission, and soon it was all ending. 

After the first verse of “Silent Night,” which was beautifully sung in Gaelic by Nic Amhlaoibh, the crowd joined in for the English version.

The evening’s display of Christmas spirit and tradition was the perfect start to the month of December. Danú has released seven CDs as well as a DVD over the last decade and a half. Following Wednesday evening’s show, the group has just a few more U.S. performances before heading back to Ireland just in time for Christmas.

The next holiday event hosted by the Mondavi Center will be this Saturday, Dec. 8. Cantus Vocal Ensemble will perform, “All is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914.” For tickets and information for the Theater Latté Da performance, visit MondaviArts.org.


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