“Donnacha Dennehy’s The Hunger is an opera on the brink.”
– Musical America
“[The Hunger] bears hearing and rehearing; one viewing is not enough time to grasp it, let alone digest it. It is powerful, and it makes a statement…”
– The Washington Post
“The stellar ensemble Alarm Will Sound, conducted by Alan Pierson, brought flow and nuanced color to the score…”
– The New York Times
“Composer Donnacha Dennehy has done a valuable service in addressing this wrenching chapter in Irish history.”
– DC Theatre Scene
Rooted in the emotional, political, and socioeconomic devastation of Ireland’s Great Famine (1845-52), The Hunger is a powerful new docu-opera by renowned contemporary composer Donnacha Dennehy. Performed by the chamber band Alarm Will Sound, soprano Katherine Manley, and legendary 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 docu-opera provides 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 surround a looming desolate landscape bereft of nourishment, on which the vocalists act out this devastating human story. 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 which resonate today.