Cork Opera House

Irish Examiner - - People - Lisa Han­ni­gan Eoghan O’Sul­li­van

The Cork Opera House stage must feel like a sec­ond home to Lisa Han­ni­gan. At the first edi­tion of Sounds From a Safe Har­bour in 2015, she show­cased a lot of the songs which would form her ac­claimed third al­bum, At Swim, along­side col­lab­o­ra­tor Aaron Dess­ner, gui­tarist in The Na­tional.

Prior to Christ­mas 2016, she re­turned, a lit­tle raspy from a string of gigs, to put on a mas­ter­ful per­for­mance. And now she’s back again, as the first of three big Opera House shows for the sec­ond Sounds From a Safe Har­bour fes­ti­val. She’s joined by the RTÉ Sym­phony Con­cert Orches­tra, which be­gins with a stun­ning per­for­mance of ‘Ever Last’ by Mica Levi (only the sec­ond time it’s been per­formed, ac­cord­ing to Bryce Dess­ner, in­tro­duc­ing pro­ceed­ings).

Han­ni­gan’s songs of dis­place­ment, love, and prayers for the dy­ing hardly need more emo­tional heft, but the orches­tra adds ex­cit­ing swells and a sense of awe. Af­ter a quiet ren­di­tion of ‘Ana­ho­r­ish’ by Sea­mus Heaney, the formerly twee ‘Lit­tle Bird’ be­comes an emo­tive punch. ‘Knots’, her first hit, has Han­ni­gan beam­ing widely, singing about high heels and old dresses as the crescendo arrives. It feels like she’s go­ing to take off, such is the en­ergy. “Now it’s time for a sad song,” she jokes, pluck­ing her way into ‘Lille’. Nearby, Bryce’s brother, Aaron Dess­ner, is an in­con­spic­u­ous pres­ence, switch­ing from pi­ano to elec­tric gui­tar.

Han­ni­gan sings in a low reg­is­ter, but when she hits the high notes, as she does on the re­strained ‘Bar­ton’, they’re ma­jes­tic.

She’s an en­thralling yet unas­sum­ing, per­former (“These songs were writ­ten in my kitchen”). The show is a short one at a lit­tle over an hour, Han­ni­gan re­turn­ing alone with a mandolin for ‘Pas­sen­ger’ — ‘Where’s my orches­tra?!” she de­mands.

The thing is, Han­ni­gan is such an amaz­ing tal­ent that she doesn’t re­ally need one. Here’s to her next Opera House per­for­mance.

Pic­ture: Brid O’Dono­van

Lisa Han­ni­gan and Aaron Dess­ner with the RTÉ Na­tional Sym­phony Orches­tra.

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