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Young people from Music Generation Kildare and Music Generation Meath perform in Irish National Opera's first youth opera

Horse Ape Bird

CAN A HORSE do maths?

CAN AN APE learn sign language?

CAN A PARROT have a concept of the colour blue?

David Coonan & Dylan Coburn Gray’s Horse Ape Bird

World premiere performances of Irish National Opera’s first youth opera

Friday 24 June
Time: 8pm
Solstice Arts Centre, Navan
046-909 2300 |

Sunday 26 June
Time: 8pm
Aula Maxima, St Patrick's College, Maynooth

For the last six months, a group of young people from Music Generation Kildare and Music Generation Meath has been preparing to appear in Irish National Opera's first-ever, specially commissioned youth opera. They are all now ready for the world premiere production of Horse Ape Bird by composer David Coonan and writer Dylan Coburn Gray in Navan on Friday 24 June and Maynooth on Sunday 26 June.

The work, which is ambitious, playful and thought-provoking, tells three true stories. All are about scientists adopting animals, treating them like humans, and abandoning them when they fail to learn to act like humans. But who is really failing here? The opera poses the question, “Are animals animals because they lack something we possess, or vice versa?” This is an opera for anyone who has ever wondered if their dog loves them back.

Horse Ape Bird features soprano Amy Ni Fhearraigh, mezzo-soprano Sharon Carty and actor and sign performer Caoimhe Coburn Gray, together with a youth chorus drawn from counties Kildare and Meath and the Irish National Opera Orchestra. The work is conducted by INO’s resident conductor Elaine Kelly. Dublin theatre and film maker Zoe Ní Riordáin directs, Zia Bergin-Holly has designed the set and the costumes are by Clodagh Deegan.

For composer David Coonan “In one sense Horse Ape Bird is a condensation of a year of my life — one year for one hour of music, of which I’m intensely proud. In another sense, it’s a beautiful magnification. Something that, at one point, only existed in my head is now being brought to life by sixteen passionate young musicians who fling themselves into everything; by three adult performers, who balance the dynamism of the young people with poise; and by a creative team, who make vivid a world that’s hitherto existed only in my imagination. I’m tremendously excited to have it staged and to introduce audiences to these wonderful young singers.”

Aoife O'Connell, Music Development Officer in Music Generation Meath, says "Here at Music Generation Meath we are thrilled to be involved in the commissioning and producing of Horse Ape Bird, our first youth opera. Partnering with such great organisations like Irish National Opera, Maynooth University, Music Generation Kildare and Solstice Arts Centre is what makes opportunities like this possible. What better way to give young people valuable and memorable musical opportunities than to give them their very own professional production! We are very proud of the young people from Meath and all the work they've put in. Having heard them rehearse over the last few months I cannot wait to see the finished product.”

"Music Generation Kildare is delighted to present Horse, Ape, Bird, a ground-breaking youth opera devised, composed and produced specifically for our young singers from Music Generation Kildare. Alongside our wonderful partners at Irish National Opera, Music Generation Meath, Maynooth University Music Department and Solstice Arts Centre we are incredibly excited to introduce a new generation of young people to the joys of opera and the theatre. We are incredibly proud of the young performers from Music Generation Kildare and we hope this experience will live long in their memories and inspire them in the coming years to realise their future possible selves." Alan Costello, Music Development Officer of Music Generation Kildare

Music Generation caught up with young singers Lily Kilmartin–Gath (Music Generation Meath) and Cathal Brennan (Music Generation Kildare) about their experience so far ahead of their busy month of production in June!

What sparked your interest in auditioning for Horse Ape Bird?

I’ve been singing for as long as I remember. I was involved in shows in primary school, and I wanted to get involved in this as soon as I heard of it! Amazing! I’ve performed in school plays, but this is the first I’ve ever performed in an Opera before. Cathal

I have been involved with acting since primary school and I enjoy singing. They had Horse Ape Bird posters up in the home room and I thought this would be good craic! I’ve been in productions before in primary school and secondary school but nothing this professional. Lily

How has your experience been so far?

The days are going really quick. It’s good fun. It’s amazing to hear it all come together, the harmonies and everything. I enjoy learning some of the music and getting in the groove. Cathal

It has been really good fun and it has been great hearing how things come together and come together with the piano as well. I’ve made a couple of friends so far, people who I’ve never met who aren’t in my school.
We’re singing backing lines to the Opera singers, and we’ll be on stage for acting and dancing soon too. We’ll be doing intense workshops in June! Lily

How has it been to work with Irish National Opera?

It’s been amazing working with Irish National Opera. Elaine our conductor is just so lovely and Richard our pianist is just amazing. Cathal

Elaine has been really positive and encouraging the whole way through and Richard too. Lily

What have you found the most challenging in your preparation?

I’m not the best dancer but I’m going to give it a go! Cathal

Some of the notes are very high and they can be challenging to reach on point. Lily

What are you excited about the most for the premier?

I'm excited for production workshops to see how it all comes together and meet the leads. And making it an opera! Cathal

"I'm excited to see what we will have to do on stage, it feels like we have all these little clues in the chorus script but we haven’t got the full yet, we’re still kind of in the dark! I look forward to seeing the costumes as well. It'll be great to see family and friends in the crowd!" Lily

How does performing make you feel?

It’s just a’s nearly like ...I can’t describe it. Once you start you don’t want to stop. It’s an amazing feeling. Cathal

It’s the excitement and the buzz. I really enjoy the lead up as well. And seeing how everything comes together again. Lily

Horse Ape Bird is produced in association with Music Generation Kildare, Music Generation Meath and Solstice Arts Centre, in partnership with the Music Department, Maynooth University, supported by St Patrick’s College, Maynooth.

Irish National Opera
is funded by The Art Council/An Chomhairle Ealaíon. 

Music Generation Kildare
is managed by Kildare Local Music Education Partnership, led by Kildare and Wicklow Education and Training Board in partnership.

Music Generation Meath
is managed by Meath Local Music Education Partnership, led by Louth and Meath Education and Training Board in partnership with Meath.

IMAGE 1: Music Generation Kildare and Music Generation Meath Youth Chorus

IMAGE 2: Young Performers Cathal Bennett (Kildare), Lily Kilmartin -Gath(Meath) and Music Generation Kildare Music Development Officer Alan Costello

IMAGE 3: Cathal Bennett (Kildare) with Music Generation Kildare and Music Generation Meath

All photo credits – Dave Keegan