Least Like The Other: Searching for Rosemary Kennedy (75’)

Brian Irvine (Composer)

Research output: Non-textual formComposition



Multi-media opera for large ensemble, improvisors, mezzo soprano, film and three
actors commissioned by Irish National Opera. World premiere: Galway International Arts festival, Black Box Theatre, Galway, Ireland 19 July 2019 conducted by Brian Irvine and Fergus Sheil.

Aims and Context

The work aims to reimagine opera as a vehicle for illuminating an obscured, yet important historical event––the lobotomy of JFK’s sister, Rosemary Kennedy–– by dismissing the common form of libretto and replacing it by verbatim materials from historical archives, personal letters and diary entries. It also sets out to reinvent the role of the ensemble within an opera context by combining two diametrically opposed ensembles, one performing fixed material and one devoted solely to disruption.

Methodology and findings

By layering these separately-controlled ensembles - a composer-directed trio of improvisers and a separate conductor controlled 12-piece ensemble (who read from a fixed score) - the work embraces notions of disruption and simultaneity as a mechanism for investigation and interrogation. These ensembles also interact with
a narrator, two actors, sampled public information films and an improvising projection-based visual artist which allows a network of simultaneous dialogues to exist eg speeches are sung, recited, projected and disrupted all at once.

Conductor 1 conducts the fixed material of the large ensemble and solo singer, whilst conductor 2 (the composer) uses his own developed language of conduction to control improvisers creating real time material in reaction to the musical/visual landscape that is being presented at any given moment. The work’s post-modern sound world draws from 1920s jazz, industrial minimalism, classical modernism, popular song and dysfunctional playback. This musical “culture jamming” allows a resonance and dialogue to emerge between attitudes and understanding of intelligence, Catholicism, disability and politics in the early part of the 20th century and current human, social and political thinking.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationBlack Box Theatre, Galway, Ireland
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 19 Jul 2019


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