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Out of the Ordinary review: Is this the future of opera?

Dublin Fringe Festival 2022: Irish National Opera’s virtual-reality production works best when it most closely matches and resonates with the action

Out of the Ordinary/As an nGnách

The Dean Arts Studio, Dublin

Experienced through a virtual-reality headset, this is opera like you’ve never encountered it before.

Irish National Opera’s Out of the Ordinary/As an nGnách at the Dublin Fringe is fully immersive. Where a traditional opera-goer may revel in becoming “lost in the performance” — from their upholstered seat in the stalls — this one removes you entirely from reality and drops you right inside the world of the story. Opting to remain standing, I find myself literally steadying my balance on the prow of a ship which is being chased through heaving seas and into a storm that will drag it, and me with it, to the ocean’s floor.

It is interactive. I can look straight into the approaching storm ahead and the cavernous whirlpool soon to devour us, or I can turn around to face my pitiful fellow passengers staring blankly forwards on the open deck, the mountainous island from which we departed looming behind. The animation is beautiful, a judicious blend of the real — for example, how the towering waves embody the sea’s impersonal grey coldness in fluid motion — and the abstract, where the passengers are faceless, their tattered clothing hard to identify, yet their frightened vulnerability obvious and recalling the “huddled masses” described inside the Statue of Liberty. There will be seabed gardens in dazzling colour and depressing scenes of post-industrial decay, all vivid, all fresh.

Since its earliest days opera has seized on the newest technologies to enhance audience experience. Sometimes this leads to sensory competition, with visuals so engrossing they distract from the music, which is one way that this opera is little different from a traditional one. Here the music works best wherever it most closely matches and resonates with the action or emotion or setting. There are one or two moments of visual stasis when you become aware that the music is striving to carry the opera on its own.


Finola Merivale composed her spare, eighteen-minute score for two singers, small chamber ensemble and two amateur choirs. Its haunting power is as unforgiving as the story, a myth-like allegory of the relationship between humanity and the environment it endangers. Merivale’s collaboration with librettist Jody O’Neill and director Jo Mangan followed months of collective creative work in which over a hundred people in three separate communities from across Ireland participated. As expensive to produce as any opera, this one has been generously subsidised by the EU artistic initiative Horizon 2020 and means your ticket costs only €5.

It’s opera with two further differences. The music is recorded, not live, and you are in a solitary audience of one, sealed off in your headset from others. Early days, too soon to tell if this represents the future of opera.

Out of the Ordinary/As an nGnách runs daily, at 11am, noon, 2pm, 3pm, 4pm and 5pm, at Dean Arts Studio, Chatham Row, Dublin 2 until September 25th as part of Dublin Fringe Festival