ABOMINATION takes the homophobic words of DUP politicians and sets them to live orchestral music

Abomination, A DUP Opera will premiere in Belfast's Outburst Queer Arts Festival on November 8.

Poster for ABOMINATION: Illustration of Iris Robinson covered by text that reads

ABOMINATION, Conor Mitchell’s fiercely original new opera, will premiere in Belfast as part of the Outburst Queer Artists Festival in November. ABOMINATION, A DUP Opera, takes the homophobic words of politicians from Northern Ireland, cited as the most homophobic place in Western Europe, and sets them to live orchestral music. 

The idea for the opera spawned from a comment made by DUP MP Iris Robinson in a 2008 interview in which she condemns homosexuality as “an abomination”. Belfast native and acclaimed composer Conor Mitchell said: “For me, the words of Iris Robinson were a wake-up call about the power of language in this country. Words matter.” The opera will demonstrate the power of language, putting hurtful comments front and centre in a space in which their power is transformed into humour. The performance will also feature homophobic and transphobic comments from other politicians both recent and historical, such as those of Ian Paisley who in 2007 said he was “pretty repulsed by gay and lesbianism.” 

The opera will open just two weeks after the Westminster-approved date for the introduction of same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland on October 21 this year, and a week after the proposed Brexit deadline on October 31. 

First performed in short excerpts in the 2018 Outburst Queer Arts Festival, the opera will appear in full length this November to open the festival’s 2019 run. Proclaimed as “Belfast’s annual blast of new local and international queer art,” Outburst is in its thirteenth year of highlighting queer art of all kinds. It promises “unrepentant queer craic”, but doesn’t shy away from darker or more serious topics, as this opera proves.

The performance will fuse opera performance with drag, cabaret and political satire, bringing contemporary topics to a form that is thought by many to belong in centuries past. Ruth McCarthy, Outburst’s Artistic Director, said: “Not only is ABOMINATION stunning, cutting edge work in artistic terms, it’s also a vital examination of the violent impact that words have on all those who are treated as less-than in terms of human rights and “other” in terms of full social inclusion.” 

The cast will include Irish actor and drag queen Matthew Cavan, and Canadian soprano Rebecca Caine, who previously played Cosette in Les Miserables,  playing the part of Iris Robinson. 

Belfast native and acclaimed composer Conor Mitchell spoke of the way in which opera is a suitable form for satire such as this. “Opera has a long tradition of tackling contemporary, charged subjects, no matter the time in history…This is what makes opera such a great medium: it can handle ‘the epic’ and the currents of social change. ” Speaking about the eventual downfall of Iris Robinson, Mitchell said: “This is the stuff of grand opera! A tragic heroine. A clash of faith and society. It’s truly, truly operatic.” 

Mitchell’s enthusiasm goes beyond the subject matter and displays how this is a chance for opera as a form to be revitalised. “[O]pera as a form is treading water right now and this work is my antidote to that! It’s a chance to bring that vital, relevant, dangerous edge back to what I feel opera has always been about. It’s a challenge to the establishment in both operatic and social terms and bringing that sensibility and energy to a 21st century audience. That is what my work is always about.”  

At a time when hate speech and freedom of speech are frequently used synonymously, ABOMINATION, A DUP Opera serves as a reminder that legislation is not always enough, and provides an in-depth exploration of the power of words, both challenging and transforming the current narrative – through the time-honoured medium of song.

The opera is produced by The Belfast Ensemble, of which Mitchell is the founder and current artistic director. It will run from November 7-10 in Belfast’s Lyric Theatre. Further details and tickets can be found on www.lyrictheatre.co.uk.

© 2019 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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