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Donnacha Dennehy

Publisher: G. Schirmer

The Second Violinist (2017)
Commissioned by Landmark Productions and Wide Open Opera
Text Writer
Enda Walsh
G Schirmer Inc
Opera and Music Theatre
Year Composed
1 Hour 30 Minutes
SATB chorus (16 singers)
S, Mz, Bar, actor (man), child (14-year old girl)
Programme Note
Donnacha Dennehy The Second Violinist (2017)
Trailer: Irish National Opera / Landmark Productions
The story centers on the character of the second violinist, Martin. He starts to experience a mental breakdown as a performance approaches. The stage is divided into 3 areas: the orchestra pit — out of which he climbs; a main stage representing an apartment; and above this, a forest. Martin has a lonely existence of practice, bus journeys, unanswered phone calls. On the main stage, a married couple, Matthew and Amy, and their houseguest, Hannah, sing. Martin circles around this opera playing out, avoiding calls from his agent, and others. He's turning his back on his life and work — his playing for the ensemble is increasingly terrible. In moments of desperation a single voice reaches out from his screen and we read the typed correspondence. The forest above him increasingly enters his dreams. All the time, on the main stage, it becomes apparent that Matthew and Amy's marriage is not in a good state, and that Amy has fallen in love with Hannah. Matthew discovers this, and murders both of them in revenge. At this point we become aware that Matthew is another version of Martin, that they are both the second violinist. He now arranges to meet the voice that was reaching out to him — in the forest. It's a 14-year old girl who has come to meet a 14-year old boy. Here he will end things.

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Composer note:
Subtext is as important as text to me. The music, as it were, powers the subtext; and an important ingredient in the music for The Second Violinist is a thread made of deconstructed, re-fashioned strains of Gesualdo. The main protagonist’s interest in the music of Gesualdo is sporadically made explicit in the actual text of this opera (especially in the projected messages between him and Scarlett38) but it carries even greater portent in the score. These strains even inform the flowering overtone textures that become ever more radiant as the opera proceeds, creating a friction between the almost ecstatic luminosity of the score and the brutal reality of the plot. This contradiction of course lies at the heart of the real life story of Gesualdo, the Renaissance composer – his yearning, beautifully strange music seems to be in stark contradiction to his grubby real-life act of killing his wife and her lover.
— Donnacha Dennehy

These insecurities and desires are Strindbergian in intensity. Rendered into operatic format they become overwhelming forces… If anything, this sublime production insists on forging a cautionary tale for modern times.
Chris McCormack, Exeunt Magazine,31/07/2017
…a stimulating and provocative thrill-ride.
Padraic Killeen, Irish Examiner,29/07/2017
From the exhilarating score, lyrical singing, and dazzlingly intricate design, this is a work that needs to be seen more than once in order to absorb the rich detail. Like its recurring filmed image of a murmuration of starlings, it soars.
Helen Meany, The Guardian,28/07/2017
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