Old Friends and Other Days, a film by Northern Ireland Opera (NIO), supported by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, will premiere at the Strand Arts Centre in Belfast, Northern Ireland’s national opera company has announced. The screening forms part of the 2021 Belfast Film Festival.
The 45-minute film uses the emotionally charged music of 19th-century Irish composer William Vincent Wallace, along with that of his contemporary William Balfe. While both men wrote other music, they are mostly remembered today for their operas. The former’s best-known works include Maritana (1845) and Lurline (1860), while the latter is particularly remembered for The Bohemian Girl (1843).
NIO’s new artistic director Cameron Menzies said of Wallace: “He was a huge, huge star in his day. He wrote three amazing operas that were really headlining pieces. This is true Irish storytelling through music and I think that’s exciting.”
Old Friends and Other Days was filmed in March 2021 within the derelict Carlisle Memorial Methodist Church located in inner-city Belfast, in an area of high political tension during the Troubles.
The film fuses dance, song and acting to transform the music into a cinematic experience. It begins with a single voice singing a hauntingly beautiful lullaby. The viewer is immediately plunged into an atmospheric, decaying, beautiful world where ambiguity reigns supreme – we don’t know who the lone woman is singing for and might never find out.
Governed by song, this strange world might be a sanctuary, or it could be purgatory. We are guided on our journey by four muses who take us through fleeting moments of reflection, discipline, loneliness and joy, where they tempt and entice us to reminisce on what has gone before.
The parts of the muses are sung by four of Northern Ireland’s opera stars: sopranos Emma Morwood and Mary McCabe and mezzo-sopranos Carolyn Dobbin and Sinéad O’Kelly. The cast also comprises dancers and actors.
Singer Dobbin commented: “Not only is it a story about Wallace’s life and his music, but it has a lovely comparison with what’s been happening in the world in the last year where people have been in lockdown, there’s been grief, there’s been loss, but we, the singers, are the thread of hope that have been going through the piece. To do it with film as well, that’s a whole new thing for the opera world, but we’ve embraced it this year. I’ve never been on a film set before. It’s just an incredible experience.”
The original concept for the film was developed by Menzies, who also directed. Music direction is by Bryan Evans, with choreography from Jennifer Rooney.
“We have created what I think is a beautiful decaying world,” Menzies continued. “We have four beautiful singers from Northern Ireland and we have eight amazing dancers all from different disciplines, from tango to ballet to modern. I feel like opera can be slightly feared and slightly thought of as ‘it’s not for me’ but a lot of people don’t actually realise how much opera they do know.”
Old Friends and Other Days will be screened at 6pm and 7pm at the Strand Arts Centre, Belfast. Tickets cost £5-6 and are available in advance from the Belfast Film Festival website.
The Belfast Film Festival began in 1995 as part of Belfast’s Féile An Phobail (Festival of the People). A celebration of film and filmmaking in the city, it aims to present the best in new, short and classic cinema.
Northern Ireland Opera’s new film Old Friends and Other Days will be screened at Belfast’s Strand Arts Centre this November as part of the 2021 Belfast Film Festival.