Looking in from the outside, it may seem that Brian Irvine’s world is filled with musical phantasmagoria. The characters who inhabit this world find their voices through his ear-catching compositions, and even those of us who have the imagination to understand the language and cope with the wonderful madness of it all tread softly - because, to an extent, we tread on his dreams.
Irvine is one of a kind and deserves our close attention. He is one of Northern Ireland’s most innovative and engaging composers – and that is something which people outside of the country can vouch for, because they have awarded him many a prize for his compositions, from BBC Radio 3 to the 2012 Olympics.
With his band, the Brian Irvine Ensemble, he has toured the world playing his own very individual style of music to great critical acclaim. When Irvine produces something new, it is worth being there to hear – and to see.
Postcards from Dumbworld is Irvine’s latest musical creation, in which he has collaborated with director/librettist John McIlduff. If you attended their last production together, Rain Falling Up, you may know what to expect from this eye-catching production when it debuts as part of the Belfast Festival at Queen's.
This new 'chamber opera', however, takes the lost boy theme that Irvine is so fond of, into more adult realms – caution is advised, therefore, and under 15s should beware.
The Belfast Festival brochure describes Postcards from Dumbworld as being 'set in a bingo hall, with appearances from KGB agents, giant rabbits and quite possibly your next door neighbour'. Irvine puts it a different way.
'It's basically a collection of three interwoven stories,' explains Irvine, 'that are about the Eternal Quest, about those little human expeditions we go on - the quest for finding love or simply accomplishing something very small. So [Postcards from Dumbworld] is about exploring the journeys that people make.'
As ever, he is loath to pigeonhole the piece. After all, Irvine is an artist who consistently operates outside of the proverbial 'box', and makes a habit of confounding expectations and contradicting lazy labels.
He allows himself a brief description: 'It's an opera that involves 12 opera singers and a band. How we tell these stories is opera, in that it's sung the whole way through. But it's maybe not what the normal person would class as opera.'
In the podcast above, composer and broadcaster Philip Hammond explores the boundaries of this land of musical make-believe and delves into the dangerous territory of opera as conceived by the composer, who offers a personal insight into his view of his new chamber opera.
The music from Postcards from Dumbworld on this podcast was recorded in early 2010 with singers Owen Webb (baritone), Colette McGahon (mezzo soprano) and Mark Beesley (baritone), with members of the Brian Irvine Ensemble directed by the composer.
Postcards from Dumbworld runs at the Grand Opera House, Belfast, from October 21-23 as part of the Belfast Festival at Queen's.