With current uncertainly about the future direction of opera in Ireland, Ulysses Opera Company’s IKEA-inspired FLÅTPÄCK proposes a cheap, easy-to-construct, yet stylish model. That metaphor, however convenient, is also unfortunately flatpack. Although this production ignores the weighty heirloom of tradition by cheerfully replacing red carpet and chandeliers with plywood and Allen keys, it also lays bare IKEA’s empty catalogue promises of blissful living.
The Swedish company’s spiritual tradition might lie in the 1930s notion of the folkhemmet (people’s home), but however hard its marketing department might push that harmonious, classless ideal, IKEA has become a style hegemon, shaping our desires and daily routines. The now-universal language of its catalogue – read as much as Harry Potter – provides FLÅTPÄCK with a nonsensical libretto where singers portray domestic dramas only uttering the names of IKEA products.
Style identity is quickly constructable, but ultimately unsatisfying. The excellent cast reflect the empty emotional weight behind the instant gratification of a cheap makeover and do full justice to Tom Lane’s music, which is perfectly pitched, not only to the singers’ capabilities, but to the narrow dramatic tessitura.
And being opera, there were moments where the drama gave way to glorious singing, particularly in the closing sequence when all four voices basked in the CHQ’s generous acoustics. At this moment the perfect harmony was uplifted by combined individuality rather than IKEA-like conformity.