The Last Hotel

15 Oct

This opera got some good reviews when it was premiered at the Edinburgh Festival and so it seemed worth a trip to the Linbury to take it in for its London run.  The performance on 14th October was full and the audience enthusiastic. The libretto is by Enda Walsh – one of the playwrights of the moment – and the music by Donnacha Dennehy – a new name to me.

The opera begins in silence. A hotel caretaker tries to get the place in order – he’s a sinister figure throughout the opera, watching, cleaning, serving. Outside a woman meets a husband and wife. As the piece goes on it’s clear that they’ve been hired to help her commit suicide – we see a rehearsal for it – the husband will build an extension to the house on the money and build more out of others wishing to die. They wait at the ghastly hotel, nervous, relationships changing – the wife and the woman gain some sort of bond, they get drunk in the hotel bar and, at the end, sailing home, the woman dead, she and the wife meditate of the woman’s continuing pain, the wife’s inability to forget.

At just over 80 minutes, without an interval, it’s short, but doesn’t feel rushed.  A piece that, judging from the blurb, was meant to be menacing, struck me as something much more thoughtful than that – a discussion of life, of people’s needs and the consequences of their actions and of two people drawn into something that they don’t understand.  There are individual episodes that are funny and sinister but the memorable ones are those for the two women – as they try on clothes and gain a bond and, at the end, when they sing of the different pain that they suffer.

It strikes me as a meditation on life and death – of what motivates us, of the fine line between the two. The ambitions and the shifting relations between the people are well done – there a lovely mix of arias and duets. Walsh’s text is clear, contemporary, direct. It gives a picture of three sets of emotions, developing and characters growing together and apart. It’s one where what is unsung is as important as the words.

Dennehy’s music owes a lot to Glass, Adams and Reich, but it’s fascinating to listen to – rhythmic, violent, sensual and in places very beautiful. It’s not difficult but it is very busy and, in an opera where the librettist clearly has had a major role (and who directs it), the music has its own power and takes the action forward itself – as, we assume, the woman dies, for example. I’ve no idea how I’d get on simply listening to the music, but as part of a single, theatrical event, I loved it.

It was really well done. Walsh’s direction was clear, strong, provided menace and suggested the relationships between the characters marvellously. Jamie Vartan’s multi-layered set served it well.

The singers were committed, strong, amplified and acted marvellously. Aoife Miskelly as the Woman got the sense of control and alienation and sang gorgeously – there are some lovely clear lines here. She blended really well with Katherine Manley’s complex, uncertain Wife. Robin Adams got just the right strong, stupid certainty of the Husband. Hard to judge how they would manage unamplified, but Adams’s voice and presence suggest to me that it would be good if the UK companies took a bit of interest in him.  Mikel Murfi in the silent role of the caretaker was funny and sinister.

The score is complex and Andre de Ridder conducted it superbly. The orchestra was well on top of things with the sounds clear and all part of the dramatic whole.

So I was glad I went and thoroughly enjoyed the evening.  I’d go again.  On the other hand, I did wonder whether this has something for a wider audience.  I can’t believe I’m the only one who left feeling just a slight sense of “so what?”.  It’s fluent, clever, engaging but doesn’t completely satisfy.

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