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Summer in the City: Street Opera greater than the sum of its parts

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Things We Throw Away by Wide Open Opera

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Summer traditionally sees a host of events hit the streets of Dublin. On Friday, July 4th and Saturday, July 5th Wide Open Opera presented a series of five, new short operas entitled, Things We Throw Away, as part of the Dublin City Public Art Programme. Opera might seem a strange choice to perform on the streets of Dublin, but that, in a way, was the point. Things We Throw Away attempts to make opera more accessible by bringing opera to spaces and an audience that may not previously have engaged with it.

Inspired by moments in the lives of Dubliners that normally go unnoticed, Things We Throw Away sought to capture the life and poetry behind often inconsequential episodes. Written by Brian Irvine (music) and John McIlduff (text), each piece was performed live in a public place to some suspecting, and many unsuspecting, passers-by. Accompanied by a specially recorded soundtrack performed by the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, conducted by Fergus Sheil, the result was a strange blend that managed to be humorous, touching and engaging.

Many of the five pieces featured striking contrasts and clever innovation. In Wake Up Son, a parent sings to a drunken, unconscious son as they both sit outside a pub, their present contrasted with memories of earlier years. In I Just Sell My Bananas, the sombre song of a woman selling bananas from her pram contrasts with a joyous, exuberant chorus sung by three dancing bananas. In Drive By Shooting passion and danger face frailty and feebleness as two old women with zimmer frames pursue an old man, also with a zimmer frame, who has been unfaithful to one of them. Ironing Board, where a discarded ironing board (brought to life by puppeteer Niamh Lawlor) sings, muppet like, to a discarded iron about better days, offered a wonderfully inventive approach whose simplicity proved to be its most powerful asset. Suck it In, saw a group of smokers outside a building relishing 5-minutes of calm, celebrating the sense of community shared by smokers. This was the most ambitious and if, in some respects, was the least satisfying piece, in another sense it was the most successful. The uncomfortable, simulated smoking of many of the cast and their lack of interaction, each appearing locked in their own private reverie, undermined the sense of comfort and camaraderie this piece sought to achieve. However, when the singers emerged from the crowd then later dispersed back into the crowd Suck it In, highlighted most powerfully how opera emerges from and belongs to everybody.

With performances from Sylvia O’Brien (soprano), Doreen Curran (mezzo) Gerry Noonan (baritone), as well as a specially convened community choir, Things We Throw Away was as much about the accessibility and ambition of opera as it was about each individual piece. As such, Things We Throw Away is greater than the sum of its individual parts, highlighting that opera can be incredibly creative, relevant and does indeed have a place in the lives, people and streets of Dublin.

Recordings of these operas will be available online. For further information check out http://www.wideopenopera.ie/

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