The Hunger has to have been one of them most unusual operas I have ever witnessed. I can assure you when I say this is an opera that you will not see at The Met. It defies every standard or norm in the Opera World by blending the mystique of the soprano with the world of sociology. Yes, you heard it right! This opera comes off like a musical sociology class, and exemplifies why Bam’s Next Wave Fest is one of the most eccentric and intelligent festivals of NYC.
BAM’s Next Wave Festival is a blend of art, education, and overall spirituality. Each of its shows are like tiny glass casings of a social ill or joy that deserves to be analyzed. In the case of The Hunger, the opera uses the Great Famine as a case study for how society views its poor as deserving of suffering for some invisible moral slight. The Great Famine, also known as The Great Hunger, took place between 1845-1849, and killed over a million people through starvation. This disaster is highlighted as one of the biggest travesties of human history, and a discussion point over the cruelties of colonialism as many blame Great Britain’s indifferent treatment and selfish trade policies with Ireland for this man-made atrocity.
One of the fascinations I had with this opera was the intercut of political-sociological professors explaining how Ireland was allowed to suffer alone a quarter of its population’s loss because England, its imperial colonizer, did nothing to help. Composed by Donnacha Dennehy the music serves a mystical back-drop to what can feel more like a college course on poverty. Katherine Manley is a gentle soprano whom beautifully carries the brokenness of real-life Asenath Nicholson, a New York woman whom traveled to Ireland to observe the life of the poor and ended up saving hundreds during the famine. Nicholson’s writing are often admired by sociology professors for the amount of virtue and care she showed for the people she was meant solely to observe, but ended up defending and saving. Through Manley’s angelic vocals, Nicholson comes to life for the woman she was: kind, compassionate, and disappointed. Throughout the opera, it is apparent Nicholson, like many whom look back at history, is disappointed by the lack of aid and love from which humanity responds to each other. Yet, it is the character of Iarla Ó Lionáird as the beggar burying his child that died of starvation.
Lionáird steals the shows as the beggar mourning the loss of his child from starvation, while mutually dying of it himself. Through his tale of begging both crowds and government officials for food or aid, you feel hurt that such a beautiful voice could be silenced from famine. When he sings he entrances with vocals that sound like a dove’s cry: pure and wounded. The set is simple with most of the story, including interactions with unseen characters, being sung. Yet, it is when Lionáird sings to God in Gaelic that you too will wonder why no one has intervened.
For more information on the exceptional shows at Bam’s Next Wave Festival Click Here. Yet, I must telly you these shows are not simply about seeing but learning. They about expanding and growing your spirit and mind through different interpretations to how we see society. Thus, look at the list and decide which lessons you wish to learn.