The opera premiered in 2019 at the Lyric Theatre Belfast and was originally produced by The Belfast Ensemble and Outburst Arts for the Outburst Queer Arts Festival, with support from The National Lottery through the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Paul Hamlyn Foundation and British Council. Revolutionary in form, Abomination: A DUP Opera immediately changed the opera landscape, adding a distinctly Belfast voice to the international scene and setting a new benchmark for what Northern Irish opera artists can achieve. The work centres on a scandalous live radio interview given by former elected politician Iris Robinson when she referred to homosexuality as an ‘abomination’ – an act that has gone down in queer history and instantly re-ignited the equality debate.
With their trademark high-impact, multi-disciplinary style, the Belfast Ensemble wrap this story up in a fresh web of historical public comments made about gay rights, marriage equality, 'poofs' and 'perverts’ to shockingly theatrical effect - challenging the power of words in the hands of the powerful. Contemporary, radical, comic and emotionally complex, this riotous Northern Irish original redefined what new opera could say, to who, and why… with just a touch of drag included.
Mark Ball, Artistic Director at the Southbank Centre, said, "We were delighted to invite The Belfast Ensemble to perform the London premiere of Abomination: A DUP Opera at the Southbank Centre. It’s an inspiring, brilliant work that cleverly uses the operatic form to simultaneously highlight the impact of deep-rooted prejudice and homophobia and poke fun at the ideological thinking that underpins it. It's a testament to Conor Mitchell's extraordinary writing that it received critical acclaim when it first premiered in 2019 and we were thrilled to bring it to the Southbank Centre.”
Composer, Conor Mitchell, added, “At a time of cuts and worry for the arts in NI, here is an opera – an award-winning queer original – crammed with Belfast singers and musicians on a world leading stage. If ever there was a moment to celebrate what the arts can do for our country, and why they are so important it was this: a glorious, urgent piece of opera that showcases the innovation of our city, smashing the barriers of ‘who opera is for’ and ‘why’.
This was the largest collective of Northern Irish opera creatives EVER to tour the UK, playing alongside the global classical superstars who make the Southbank Centre so electric. That we then travelled to Brighton Festival, the UK’s gay capital is testament to the quality of our artists and the international interest in the cutting-edge work of the Belfast Ensemble. This was a first on many fronts: original, queer and a reminder that Northern Irish artists are at their best when they tell their own stories.”
Ciaran Scullion, Head of Music and Opera at the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, added, “It really is an electric moment for opera and music-theatre from Northern Ireland – Abomination included in the ground-breaking programme running at the Southbank Centre in London, before landing in Brighton, shining a light on historical challenges faced by LGBTQ+ communities in NI. With the 25th anniversary of the NI Good Friday Agreement so much in the news headlines recently, it is wonderful to see how much has changed culturally. The Arts are so important, they have the power to interpret and make sense of the past, both the good and bad parts, and produce something hopeful.
This is a great moment for NI arts – Belfast Ensemble’s Abomination having played in London’s Southbank and Brighton too; the Lyric Theatre Belfast won ‘Theatre of the Year’ and is sending its joyful punk rock musical Good Vibrations to New York; a recent Oscar for An Irish Goodbye; Northern Ireland Opera’s award-winning Into the Woods recently played in Australia and Array Studios Belfast won the Turner prize in 2021 - just so much talent and high-quality, world-class productions from a small place with big ambitions. Congratulations to Conor Mitchell and all involved in this tour, this is an exceptional piece of opera which demonstrates how much has changed in the cultural life of Northern Ireland.”
Ruth McCarthy, Director of Outburst Arts, added, "Abomination is one of the most vital works to have come out of NI in the last 25 years and so it's thrilling, though not at all surprising, that this incredible work took centre stage again, this time in London and Brighton. The Belfast Ensemble is one of our most valued partners because like Outburst they know that taking risks in form and content is what the arts is all about and we are excited to see where the creative conversation goes next".
Find out more about the work of The Belfast Ensemble at www.thebelfastensemble.com
About the Arts Council of Northern Ireland
The Arts Council of Northern Ireland is the lead funding and development agency for the Arts providing support to arts projects throughout the region, through its Treasury and The National Lottery funds. Our funding enables artists and arts organisations to increase access to the arts across society and deliver great art that is within everyone’s reach.
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