We caught up with composer Evangelia Rigaki in the run up to the opening of her latest work, installation opera This Hostel Life, produced by Irish National Opera.
Evangelia’s compositional portfolio is diverse, including musical installations such as The Pregnant Box (2013), the opera AntiMidas, or, Bankers in Hades (2014), and most recently her percussion work While The World Misbehaves, the Baby Must Hide in the Beehive (2018).
Based on the book of the same name by Melatu Uche Okorie, This Hostel Life invites listeners into a hidden world as they descend into the crypt of Christ Church Cathedral, and become immersed in the stories of life in direct provision and racism in Ireland.
With less than a week to go, this must be a very charged time! Are you excited about the work’s debut?
Yes, it has been one of the most exciting collaborations I’ve had! It’s a dream-team, to work with the Irish National Opera!
As you’ve said, this collaboration looks at a very pertinent work, This Hostel Life by Melatu Uche Okorie. Can you tell me about how you came across this work, and what inspired you to create a musical piece?
We had been searching for a work - we had the idea of creating an installation opera, and we were looking for a text that would deal with issues that resonate today, and that would say something about life in Ireland today. This book was recommended to me by Fergus Shiel, the director of Irish National Opera. I read it, and was very moved by it, it’s a very powerful book.
Okorie’s work is very emotional and thought-provoking piece, is this something that you hope will be channelled into your work?
I hope that I’ve not sentimentalised the words, but that I’ve given another layer that adds emotional depth; that I gave a voice to these words that could be heard. I hope that I’ve added another layer to this book.
Speaking of other layers, the location for the performances is a very interesting choice: the crypt of Christ Church. Was there a reason for this?
Yes, we wanted something that would be outside of the opera stage, something that would allow the audience to be close together, to walk, and to have a different experience than they could have in an opera house. So we were keen to locate this not in an opera house, not in a theatre, but in a different venue. So the Christ Church Crypt was the ideal venue for this kind of setting.
It’s a very storied location in itself; was the history of the building something you had in mind when you were looking for locations?
Yes, we were hoping that we would get the crypt, because of this history.
As a space away from the conventional stage, does this present any complications or challenges?
I’m sure it presents some challenges for the production, but for me, the composition, it was site-specific, so it was a motivation to explore this kind of space and make it work. The possibility of walking between the different encounters that happen simultaneously in this opera was a big part of the creative process.
This is may result in far more subjective and personal experience for the audience...
I cannot predict people’s responses, but I do hope that they’ll enjoy it, and that I’ll do justice to Melatu’s work.
From everything that we’ve heard about the work so far, and its focus on immersion and overlapping messages, it seems that it’s going to be a very sensory experience, similar to your work The Pregnant Box. Would you consider this sensory aspect a part of your process and style?
Yes! Tactility and having the audience close to the musician, next to the singer, is an important part of my compositional practice. This kind of proximity influences how the piece is written and how to create opportunities to have this proximity to the audience members and the musicians and the singers. In that way, it’s got much in parallel with The Pregnant Box.
This Hostel Life confronts some unpleasant truths of Ireland’s current state - does this sense of proximity have anything to do with confronting those truths?
Yes, that’s exactly it!
As a composition lecturer at Trinity College Dublin, do you feel that working so closely with students influences your music and the issues you choose to tackle?
For sure. It’s a living relation, every year you have different students, and it’s an on-going dialogue, so of course you’re influenced by speaking, and being in a class with a younger generation, creating all together. So for sure, it’s very important to my creative practice, because I apply practice based learning in my teaching,
Do you have any more upcoming projects?
This piece is being performed by a newly established instrumental ensemble called Parabasis, these are TCD musicians-in-residence, and we’re hoping to make more experimental work together in the future.
This Hostel Life is running for two performances only: on Thursday 26 and Saturday 28 September, running from 8pm to 10pm (the audience can arrive and leave at any point within those times).
Tickets and booking details are available from Irish National Opera here