James Joyce and Nora Barnacle are living in Trieste. Joyce has embarked on his great enterprise, the composition of Ulysses. After a night on the town, he sits at his writing desk, working on his masterpiece. As he begins to write, he is visited by two ghosts, Homer and Penelope, who have a thing or two to say to him and to each other. As morning approaches, Joyce composes a letter to his aunt, inquiring after everyday Dublin life, details of which will become the thread of his iconic masterwork. Meanwhile, Nora pines for home, longing to return to her beloved west of Ireland.
Old Ghosts, written in response to the Penelope chapter of Ulysses, is a new opera commissioned from the composer Evangelia Rigaki and playwright Marina Carr. It imagines James Joyce in conversation with Nora Barnacle, Homer and Penelope herself as possible inspirations for the character of Molly Bloom and the final chapter of Ulysses. In a first-time collaboration for two of lreland’s leading companies, lrish National Opera and ANU Productions, Old Ghosts was performed live at the Museum of Literature Ireland in February 2023. It marks the culmination of Ulysses 2.2, a nationwide curated year of multidisciplinary artistic responses to the 18 episodes of Ulysses that chronicle an ordinary day in the life of Leopold Bloom. The OperaVision stream on 16 June coincides with Bloomsday, a commemoration and celebration of the life of the Irish writer observed annually in Dublin and by Joyce fans across the world.
Old Ghosts is a co-production between Irish National Opera and ANU and is part of Ulysses 2.2 by ANU, Landmark Productions and MoLI.
Associate costume designer
An introduction by librettist Marina Carr
Joyce, as we know, took Homer's Odyssey as inspiration and as a loose structure to build his book Ulysses upon. So, when I was writing Old Ghosts, I started to imagine what a conversation between Homer and Joyce might sound like. And because I had been assigned the final chapter, Molly Bloom's soliloquy, called The Penelope Chapter or The Penelopiad among Joyce aficionados, I thought who better to come and visit Joyce and Homer, than Penelope, Odysseus' long-suffering wife. I thought it might be interesting to hear what Penelope thought about her wandering husband, which of course is exactly what Joyce was wondering when he was writing Molly Bloom. And then there is Nora Barnacle, Joyce's wife who completes the quartet and is considered the main inspiration for his concluding chapter of Ulysses. And there you have it. The piece is essentially a conversation between these four people about writing, about love and about memory. Finally, Joyce, the writer and the man fascinates me, and it was a pleasure to conjure him up, however briefly, in this libretto and spend some time in his brilliant company.
Like Shakespeare, reading Joyce expands the imagination and swells the heart and cuts new lanes and byways in our ever-evolving search for what it means to be human.