Setting out their stall with an informal opera

Among those performing in The Stalls at Cork Opera House are, from left: Majella Cullagh, Alex Petcu, Kelley Lonergan and Emma Nash.

Tom Lane is back in Cork for the third instalment of his lighthearted series, writes Cathy Desmond.

Tom Lane's bite-sized operatic episodes, peeking behind the curtain of Cork’s beloved Opera House have impressed novices and aficionados alike with their sense of fun that subverted the stereotype of opera as a stuffy genre written by long-dead composers.

Depicting characters behind the scenes, Front of House and Backstage were set and performed in the foyer and backstage area of Cork Opera House during the Cork Midsummer Festivals in 2016 and 2017. The last instalment of the trilogy, will be unveiled at this year’s festival. The Stalls moves the action to the main auditorium and is the longest in the series running at an hour with a considerably larger cast.

When Lane wrote his first opera as a post-grad student in Berlin, Abenteuer im Einrichtungshaus (adventure in a furniture store), it was clear that he was a talent to watch with a flair for innovation. The piece, later revived as Flatpack at the Dublin Fringe Festival was based on the experience of shopping at IKEA.

“I staged the piece in a similar way to the experience of shopping at then store: the audience travelled in a journey around the space as part of the performance,” says Lane.

In many ways, this piece was a forerunner of the series I’ve written for Cork Opera House in that it combines an unusual performance location with operatic singing and instrumentalists which were integrated as part of the staging.

Other innovative site-specific performances have included an Irish Rail train travelling through the Phoenix Park tunnel where a performance through headphones created a suitably scary experience during the 2014 Bram Stoker Festival. In the same year, Lane created, Harp, A River Cantata for a performance on Samuel Beckett Bridge.

Originally from Bristol, Lane moved to Dublin in 2009 to work as a chorister with Christchurch Cathedral and is based there since. Lane came to Cork to take up a PhDscholarship at UCC.

Eibhlín Gleeson, CEO at Cork Opera House asked him to come up with an idea for a performance in the foyer.

Lane consulted a friend, Lily Akerman, who devised a libretto for an opera based on the lives of two hoovers and a floor polisher. Akerman is a New York based writer who was in Ireland on a Fulbright scholarship.

“Lily has an amazing ability to write the kind of razor-sharp and focused text which is necessary for opera while at the same time conceiving beautifully realised characters and stories.”

Lane crafted the pieces for the versatile Cork divas, Majella Cullagh, Kelley Lonergan and Emma Nash. The success of the first two episodes paved the way for the more ambitious final instalment which brings the same core team back together in an expanded cast and ensemble.

Lane himself will take a back seat playing viola, while Alex Petcu returns on percussion.

Lane is a little coy about divulging too much about the set-up of the theatrical space.

The performers will be playing characters who are part of a fictional opera audience. The ‘real’ audience will witness the kinds of things which go on amongst the audience during a performance.

"The piece is very much about people who love opera as well as people who are completely new to it and find the conventions and traditions alienating and bizarre. There is something for everyone in it.

“I feel very grateful to have the opportunity to bring these unusual operas to this iconic institution. You can feel the centuries of history flowing through the walls. There is something uniquely Cork about thisplace.”

The Stalls is at Cork Opera House on June 13 & 14 June (6pm & 8pm). Preview June 12 (8pm).

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