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The Hunger

A new opera by Donnacha Dennehy about the Great Famine in Ireland, addressing both the human and societal scales of this historic tragedy.

The Latest Update


Posted on August 27, 2016 by Alarm Will Sound

September 17, 2016 at 8pm

Co-produced by Opera Theatre of St. Louis, Alarm Will Sound will be performing THE HUNGER at the Touhill Performing Arts Center at the University of Missouri – St. Louis. 

Tickets are $25/$15 for students and can be purchased here

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The Hunger at the Brooklyn Academy of Music Next Wave Festival

Posted on June 20, 2016 by Alarm Will Sound

The Hunger will have its New York premiere at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival in the Gilman Opera House on September 30 and October 1, 2016.

Co-presented by BAM and the Irish Arts Center, a pre-show discussion, “Understanding The Hunger” with director Tom Creed and composer Donnacha Dennehy will take place at the Irish Arts Center (553 West 51st Street, Manhattan) on October 1 at 4:30pm.  Free. 

Tickets to The Hunger can be purchased at bam.org. 



The Hunger

Posted on November 12, 2014 by Alarm Will Sound

Composer Donnacha Dennehy talks with Alarm Will Sound violinist Courtney Orlando about The Hunger.  The premiere will take place in St. Louis in December. 


“The Hunger,” Donnacha Dennehy’s new opera for Alarm Will Sound and Iarla O’Lionáird is based on diaries and personal accounts from the period of the Great Famine in Ireland (1845-52). A departure from conventions in which the ensemble is concealed by the orchestra pit, the work will integrate the players into the action and storytelling on stage.

Alarm Will Sound has a proven track record of dramatically adventurous work, having developed techniques and partnerships that extend its musicians’ skills to include singing, movement, and acting, all of which will be employed in the creation of this new opera. The result will be a new work that innovates the experience of opera as it dramatizes a significant historical subject.

The Great Famine was a time of major upheaval—at least one million people died, and another million emigrated—the historical significance of which is well accounted for. Less well developed are accounts of those who directly witnessed and suffered through it. At the heart of Dennehy’s “The Hunger” are personal, contemporaneous stories that open a new dimension on the tragedy of the famine.

The principal text will be Asenath Nicholson’s astonishing “Annals of the Famine in Ireland” that recounts in vivid detail the unfolding famine she directly experienced. Nicholson was a formidable and unique character. Born in Vermont in 1792, she founded a boarding house in the 1830s for the poor and homeless in New York City. There she noticed that the most desperate came from Ireland.

Eager to discover why, she left New York for Ireland to see for herself. She traveled the country, often on foot, to observe first-hand the devastating effects of the famine. Nicholson’s account is extraordinary because of her transgressive sympathy; she directly quotes from the peasants, and actually stayed in their cabins, something that no other commentator did.

Dotted throughout the opera will be actual recordings of ordinary people singing traditional Irish songs contrasting with personal accounts of contemporary economists such as Paul Krugman, addressing the complexity of governance vs. laissez-faire economic policy in the context of a situation where this ideological battle results in catastrophic results.

All those involved in “The Hunger” have outstanding records of achievement: Alarm Will Sound is internationally recognized for its innovative performances of contemporary music; O’Lionáird is considered a foremost interpreter of traditional Irish music; director Tom Creed is celebrated for bring a modern Irish perspective to his work; and Dennehy’s emergence as one of today’s best composers is assured by significant commissions from both sides of the Atlantic. In the final analysis, the joining of these forces promises success at the highest professional and artistic levels.

“The Hunger” will take advantage of Alarm Will Sound’s uniquely extended performance skills and visionary collaborators to create an unconventional operatic experience. It promises to find an audience looking for adventurous and meaningful artistic experience on a topic rich with meaning.

Project Media

Excerpts from ‘The Hunger’
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Alarm Will Sound has workshopped excerpts from ‘The Hunger’ to facilitate the development of this large-scale project.

The sample begins begins with an excerpt showing Dennehy’s technique in which performers accompany a recorded traditional Irish song. 2:35 shows the setting of Asenath Nicholson’s text. Together, the excerpts give glimpses of what will be a powerful work addressing Ireland’s historic famine and its human context.

Recorded at the Mizzou International Composers Festival in July, 2012. AWS and Anne-Carolyn Bird performing.

Donnacha Dennehy, Grá agus Bás
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Features: Donnacha Dennehy

This excerpt from “Grá agus Bás” by Dennehy features Iarla Ó Lionáird, considered a foremost interpreter of traditional Irish music. ‘The Hunger’ will develop their partnership as part of the evening-length contemporary opera.

Recorded at the Samuel Beckett Theatre in 2010.

Start and End Dates



St. Louis, Missouri

3 updates
Last update on August 27, 2016

Project Created By

New York, New York
Alarm Will Sound is a 20-member band committed to innovative performances and recordings of today’s music. With an established reputation for performing demanding music with energetic skill, our performances have been described as “equal parts exuberance, nonchalance, and virtuosity” by the Financial Times of London and as “a triumph of ensemble playing” by the San…

In Collaboration With

Princeton, New Jersey


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