This Hostel Life review: direct provision explored through often-anguished sounds

Staging of Irish National Opera work based on short stories by Melatu Uchenna Okorie in medieval crypt was inspired

This Hostel Life

Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin
★★★★☆

Christ Church Cathedral's spacious medieval crypt was an inspired choice for Evangelia Rigaki's installation-opera in a production by Irish National Opera. The libretto is derived from three short stories by Melatu Uchenna Okorie, from her collection This Hostel Life based on her experience of over eight years in Ireland's direct provision scheme, so much to the fore in recent news stories.

The crypt’s gothic arched cell-like “rooms”, its memorials, and even its Tom and Jerry mummified cat and rat, provided an excellent backdrop. There was room for the audience to walk around, exploring the often-anguished sounds which resonated and mixed and mashed together.

The setting and acoustic seemed in complete sympathy with the ritualistic movements, choral speaking and harmonies of the chorus, New Dublin Voices, directed by Bernie Sherlock. That was the all-pervasive backdrop for the “encounters” with three singers, each based in one of those gothic cells shared with a single instrumentalist, creating distinctive and expressionist sound worlds. Each had a deeply personal story to tell in separate sections like the movements of a cantata.

If “cantata” suggests an old-world concept, then this was anything but. Quite how the separate sections were coordinated one with another it was impossible to tell at a first hearing. But as one singer seemed to reach a comma, if not a full stop, another singer had restarted and the audience moved on to decrypt the sense of the troubling stories from the immigrants’ worlds.

The juxtapositions of sounds, the bells, the water, the unexpected coalescing of harmonies and specific pitches sustained real interest and intrigue. The performances from the two sopranos and tenor were real tours de force, each matched by their duetting instrumentalist. With the flute of William Dowdall, Amy Ní Fhearraigh searched poignantly for her missing twins; Richard O’Donnell’s impressive array of percussion was the accompaniment for Rachel Croash, tormented by the drizzle and memories of a man seeking sex; Andrew Gavin, with the bass clarinet of Fintan Sutton, was literally driven crazy by “this direct provision business”.

Caitriona McLaughlin’s direction enhanced and amplified the emotional effectiveness of a work which was indeed greater than the sum of its parts.

Also on Saturday, October 28th Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin

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