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Opera Essentials: The Last Hotel

Our quick introduction to the acclaimed new chamber opera by composer Donnacha Dennehy and playwright Enda Walsh.

By Rachel Beaumont (Product Manager)

29 September 2015 at 3.25pm | Comment on this article

The Story Begins…

A man silently mops the floor, the water bloody. The hotel room he’s preparing is not ready yet. Outside in the hotel’s car park, a woman is meeting a man and his wife. All three are nervous. The couple is here to help the woman kill herself.

Leading Irish Artists

The Last Hotel is the first operatic collaboration between two of Ireland’s most exciting artists. Composer Donnacha Dennehy is a leading figure in contemporary music; his work uniquely fuses influences of minimalism, spectralism and the Irish folksong style of sean nós to create a beguiling and inventive new soundworld. Playwright Enda Walsh’s many recent successes include Misterman and Ballyturk, both starring regular collaborator Cillian Murphy. Walsh has also won much acclaim for his book for the Tony Award-winning musical Once and the script for Steve McQueen’s first feature film Hunger.

A Matter of Life and Death

Walsh explains how ‘when Donnacha first came to me with the idea, the fact that three people, strangers, could find themselves in a room about to do what they’re going to do felt shocking to me… I’ve always felt that we’re all moments away from spiraling into some sort of tragedy. We’re not morally judging any of these people; the three of them just feel as if they’re drifting towards this inevitable conclusion’.

An Operatic Debut

Dennehy has ‘shied away’ from opera until now; he had to wait to find the right librettist, and the right story. In The Last Hotel, ‘Everyone is protecting themselves with banalities’, Dennehy explains. ‘The best form to show that is opera: the collision between the mundane and this great feeling of yearning against what the world is imposing on them.’ Dennehy has scored The Last Hotel for three singers, one silent actor (the unsettlingly ever-present Caretaker) and the 12-piece Crash Ensemble, founded by Dennehy in 1997. The ensemble includes a string group and wind players with percussion, electric guitar and accordion.

A Contemporary Triumph

The Last Hotel had its premiere on 7 August 2015 at the Edinburgh International Festival. It was the first opera of the season and the first newly commissioned work from Festival director Fergus Linehan in his inaugural year. It was acclaimed by critics — Fiona Maddocks for The Observer called it ‘musically intoxicating’; for Michael Coveney at The Independent it was ‘extraordinary… thrilling’; David Kettle for The Arts Desk described it as ‘a superb addition to the repertoire, rich, strange, darkly comic and thoroughly beguiling’; and Kate Molleson for The Guardian summarized the work as a ‘potently compact, searingly powerful new chamber work by two of Ireland’s foremost creative voices’.

The Last Hotel runs 9–17 October 2015. Tickets are still available.

The production is a co-commission and co-production between Landmark Productions and Wide Open Opera. Funding was provided by Culture Ireland and the Arts Council of Ireland, with generous philanthropic support from Stefan Sten Olsson.

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