Festival Opera

The Last Hotel, Royal Lyceum Theatre

Keith Bruce

Three Stars

Donnacha Dennehy and Enda Walsh’s chamber opera is, it is fair to say, a challenging work. Premiering at the EIF in a staging by Landmark Productions and Wide Open Opera that will go on to the Dublin Theatre Festival, it may be small scale, but it is still a major piece. With just three singing cast, it is a big ask of the small company, and in the two women in particular – Claudia Boyle and Katherine Manley – the composer and librettist could hardly be better served.

But The Last Hotel also demands a great deal of the audience, and a read of Walsh’s synopsis before curtain-up is not so much helpful as essential. This Last Hotel is a venue for assisted dying, but whose death is being rehearsed is debatable. The libretto is opaque at best and often very dense indeed.

Played out on a steeply raked platform, often divided and limited to smaller areas by the lighting, the staging also makes use of various primitive devices, like a slide show of property porn, and a string of fairy lights and coloured balloons. It is almost as if Walsh the director is constantly aiming to undermine the seriousness of Walsh the writer.

Difficult though it is to dismiss these anxieties, Dennehy’s music is powerful stuff, and superbly played by his own Crash Ensemble under Andre de Ridder. Including our own Owen Gunnell on percussion among the dozen virtuosos in the pit, the band are worth the ticket price on their own. When the instrumental score combines with the singing of the sopranos, The Last Hotel really does soar, and it ceases to matter terribly much that the message in the work is so wilfully obscure.