The Oldest Woman in Limerick

By Rose Rushe

World premier this weekend at Lime Tree Theatre, Friday 12 and Saturday 13
World premier this weekend at Lime Tree Theatre, Friday 12 and Saturday 13

THE final production to emerge from the lush Made in Limerick section of City of Culture is an opera with five professional singers, choir, orchestra and .. a cracking storyline. Bring on ‘The Oldest Woman in Limerick’.

Being opera, the subject matter has to be wild and brilliant. A search of Limerick’s oldest woman arrived at Sr Anthony, now 104 and retired to a nursing home from her order, The Little Companions of Mary.

She’s a woman who lived in Rome and hid Jews from genocide, saw Mussolini and Hitler with her own eyes and lived her rich life of holy vows.

Yet Sr Anthony is but one element in this piece, storytelling in harmonies and multiples by gifted singers, among them RIAM graduate Sarah Shine from Rhebogue Meadows.

Sign up for the weekly Limerick Post newsletter

A student of Veronica Dunne and Dearbhla Collins, Sarah’s latest accolade was received from Rathkeale Arts Centre: the Christopher Lynch Singing Bursary, shared with Enda Walsh. In February she won the Irene Sandford Award.

“All five of us came together for first rehearsals three weeks ago,”  this Limerick nightingale told Arts page recently. She won her part after a previous suite of short operas created by this show’s  composer Brian Irvine with writer/ director John McIduff. “It’s kind of work in progress, new ideas are being added and it’s good, really good, improvising, all of us feeding off each other”.

Sarah Shine, opera singer
Sarah Shine, opera singer

She describes the performers’ parts as “essentially all playing ourselves as we tell the story”: changing character to realise Irvine’s exchange of stories in a Limerick shop or  something researched by theatre practitioner Maria Larkin, another local involved in the making.

A Limerick choir and children singing will provide amplification, steered by Marie Keary-Scanlon. Costuming is a surprise.

“For the camogie song, we play camogie players of the 1940s and don their shirts, skirts, ties. For St Anthony, there’s a scene where she is drying out orange peel to make tea and we are dressed as the [religious] order”.

Killian Farrell conducts this novel musical enterprise by Wide Open Opera with guitar, piano, accordion and more to effect the sounds of music in different eras, beautifully.

‘The Oldest Woman in Limerick’ premiers at Lime Tree Theatre, Friday 12 and Saturday 13 at 8pm.