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Column: Here’s why I directed an opera about IKEA flatpack furniture

Building flatpack furniture is nothing if not dramatic, writes Conor Hanratty – which is why opera suits it perfectly.

Image: angsthase. via Flickr

Conor Hanratty is the director of FLÅTPÄCK the opera, which opens next Saturday as part of ABSOLUT Fringe 2012. Here he picks out his favourite tunes for assembling beds and bookcases.

LAST SUMMER I moved back to Ireland from LA, and twenty-five boxes of books and CDs came with me. Obviously, I needed storage for them – something affordable, feasible, and maybe easy on the eye. There was really only one place I could go, and sure enough, my books now all live in a set of four floor-to-ceiling Billy bookcases, accompanied by Benno CD towers for my music. (Well, some of it.)  A year later, I’m directing an opera about the process, so in retrospect I’ve put together a list of some great opera moments that belong on anyone’s Flatpack playlist.

Rather like directing a play – or an opera – one needs to approach self-assembly furniture with rigour. Get all the pieces lined up. Imagine the space and the conditions necessary. Ensure that all the correct tools and equipment are at hand. But first and foremost – pick the right soundtrack for the work!

The first part of working with any flatpack furniture is, of course, buying it. Anyone who has been to the Swedish superstore in Ballymun is aware of how nightmarish the place can be. Just like Orpheus in the underworld, you can only move in one direction, and you can never look back. Opera composers throughout musical history have recounted Orpheus’ sad tale, but thankfully Gluck wrote a happy ending for his version of it. Similarly, most people manage to emerge from the superstore labyrinth unscathed, if not exactly singing its praises. Gluck’s music is very beautiful and soothing, and probably ideal for the drive or bus-ride home.

Ever since I saw a very clever production of The Marriage of Figaro, I can’t look at a measuring tape without thinking of its opening scene. In it, Figaro is eagerly measuring the space in his room that will soon be occupied by his marriage bed. Geek that I am, it’s the music that always crosses my mind on the rare occasions that I’m measuring anything at all.

Foolhardy flatpacking

Flatpack furniture always comes with those smug little instructions – doodles of maimed and injured cartoon characters who dared to build their furniture without help. Not for me! I was foolhardy enough to go it alone, and lived to type the tale. In defiant homage to anyone else who won’t be tied down by silly instructions, next on the playlist is Leporello’s aria from Don Giovanni. The servant sings gleefully that he won’t obey anymore, but of course, he does. And likewise I followed the rest of my instructions…

Flatpack furniture is usually designed so that there’s minimal hammering to be done – but where’s the fun in that? Thankfully my Billy shelves all required a bunch of nails in the back, thus giving me the chance to blare out the Anvil Chorus from Verdi’s Il Trovatore. (Any excuse, really!) By the time I was working on my fourth bookcase, admittedly, the fun was wearing off, so I switched to some other hammering music, the Forging Song from Wagner’s Siegfried. My poor neighbours.

Thankfully, the entire process of building my shelves didn’t take quite as long as Wagner’s opera – indeed I had moved on to a more contemporary piece called Flight by Jonathan Dove. The whole opera is set in an airport, and the first act ends quite spectacularly with the entire orchestra simulating the sound of a plane taking off. What better music to get the completed bookshelves off the floor and up against the wall!

Next up, of course, was the challenge of deciding how to arrange everything on the shelves. But that kinda work requires a whole different playlist…

Conor Hanratty, directs Ulysses Opera Theatre’s contemporary opera, FLÅTPÄCK, which runs at the CHQ Building as part of ABSOLUT Fringe 2012. For further details visit fringefest.com or call 1850 374 643.

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