Flying form: the operatic world of Julie Feeney
In between making indie music and taking flying lessons, the renaissance woman has turned her hand to opera. Her working life is as hard to keep up with as her conversation
In the Dylan Hotel, Feeney talks about “being a perfectionist”, her work ethic, doing things on her own while learning to delegate. She has to get all of the admin things out of her head before settling down to engage with her creative work. “And I still haven’t identified why, like, I haven’t really got someone that I work with full time. I think it’s just because I’m too odd or something. It must just be the things that I do . . . I don’t know really. It’s kind of, eh, it always ends up much better when it’s over. It’s always like, you forget, but then you get really . . . ” You are forced to push yourself? “I think you really do. I think you’re always better to have done that. Like the first orchestra thing that I did was hugely scary. Hugely scary. And I actually took three days to decide whether or not to do it. And then doing that, it opened up a whole load of other things for me. I know it’s definitely worth pushing yourself. There’s no question about it.”
Bird is partly derived from Oscar Wilde’s story The Happy Prince, which stars a swallow and a statue. Feeney wanted to make something to do with flying. “I love flying. I can’t drive, but I’ve had flying lessons. I wouldn’t say I can [fly an aircraft] yet, but I want to. I would love to get my pilot’s licence. Oh, it’s amazing. Up in the air? Up. In. The. Air. Wings. It’s amazing.”
For about 20 minutes or so, she details the narrative of the opera, which she’s not sure she should be divulging but does anyway: every character, every meaning, every plot turn, elements of the proposed aesthetic. It’s captivating. The Happy Prince morphs into a story about birds, fantasy, conflict, relationships, beauty. Feeney says that she doesn’t know why people see fantasy as a faraway thing, and that it should be very much a part of reality.
Having got sidetracked, I call her some time after we meet to talk about her motivations for undertaking an opera. She’s in Annaghmakerrig, with three days left until rehearsals for Galway, “working non-stop, every minute”. But not stressed out. “I actually never even use the word ‘stressed’. I’m very focused. I think that [saying ‘stressed’] would distract me. I just need to get five pieces done and put the words in and get the orchestration around it.
Drawn to the extreme
“I wanted it to be an opera, the theatre of it, and the extremity of it,” she says of why she was drawn to the form. “I’ve never thought why extremity appeals to me. I often wonder why, when watching a TV drama, they don’t work when they try to be extreme because they seem absurd. But on stage, the tactility of the experience, going into a space to experience it . . . I like the proximity of extremities of emotion on stage.”