Premiere New York Premiere
Production Language English;Irish
Country of Origin United States, Ireland
Description Rooted in the emotional, political, and socioeconomic devastation of Ireland’s Great Famine (1845- 52), The Hunger is a riveting new opera by renowned contemporary composer Donnacha Dennehy. Performed by the chamber band Alarm Will Sound, soprano Katherine Manley, and sean nós singer Iarla Ó Lionáird, the libretto principally draws from rare, first-hand accounts by Asenath Nicholson, an American humanitarian so moved by the waves of immigrants arriving in New York that she travelled to Ireland to bear witness, reporting from the cabins of starving families. By integrating historical and new documentary material, the opera gives a unique perspective on a period of major upheaval during which at least one million people died, and another million emigrated—mainly to the US, Canada, and the UK—forever altering the social fabric.
An evening-length work, The Hunger is punctuated by video commentary and profound early recordings of traditional Irish folk ballads mined from various archives including those of Alan Lomax. Performing a score that fuses a lush, modern sound with elements of minimalism, the instrumentalists and vocalists reside on stage together throughout the entire piece, situated around a looming mound of dirt bereft of any nourishment. As it progresses through its layered narrative, the opera addresses complex issues of governance and economic policy—balancing Nicholson’s personal, historical voice with video clips from modern thinkers including Paul Krugman, Noam Chomsky, and Branko Milanovic—imparting ideas about income inequality, food insecurity, and political economics that still resonate today.