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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Victor HERBERT (1859-1924)
Eileen musical (1917)
Libretto: Henry Blossom
Suzanne Woods (Eileen), John Pickle (Barry O’Day), Catherine Robinson (Lady Maude), Alan Payne (Shaun Dhu), Boyd Mackus (Sir Reggie), Damian Savarino (Colonel Lester)
Ohio Light Opera Chorus, College of Wooster, Ohio
Ohio Light Opera Orchestra/Michael Butterman
NEWPORT CLASSICS NPD85615/2 [CD1 47.25, CD2 58.25]


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Ohio Light Opera is an amateur/semi-professional group that has a growing reputation for mounting productions of romantic musicals and comic operas that have long-disappeared from the catalogues. They have harnessed the productions with high-class complete recordings with dialogue.

Those that know of the Ohio LO will remember their excellent recordings of The Arcadians and Princess Ida. Eileen was released in 1998, but has been only available in America until recently.

Victor Herbert was born the son of an Irish painter who died when Victor was quite young. From his roots in Dublin the family moved to Stuttgart where the young Victor grew up after his mother’s remarriage to a wealthy German physician. It was in Stuttgart that he received his musical education, firmly that of the German School. Herbert then embarked on a career as a cellist and composer and joined New York's Metropolitan Opera as principal cellist when his wife was contracted as a solo singer there. He was a friend of Dvořák and had composed a number of serious works, played in New York concert halls before turning to the more lucrative returns of theatre scores.

His first production for the Broadway stage was Prince Ananias (1894), a musical which suffered from a libretto as unappealing as its title. Babes in Toyland (1903) received more respect and launched a style for others to follow (The Red Mill, Naughty Marietta).

Eileen opened in 1917 as Hearts of Erin, a show set in Ireland and spiced with shamrockery. Of it Herbert told a newspaper–

There is no place in all the world where there is more music than in Ireland. Why shouldn’t an Irishman make an opera of it?

A New York reviewer observed that the music was in Herbert’s ‘best vein’ with its Irish flavour contributing to much of its charm. The production was transferred from Cleveland to Broadway where it was declared a success though it only ran for a meagre 54 performances. After a short three months of touring, a fire at a Drayton theatre had destroyed scenery costumes and instruments. As so often happens, when an opening run or tour is interrupted it causes many a death knell of new musicals and operas. Eileen was soon forgotten. The fact that the show has been resurrected by Ohio Opera is due to a ‘love affair’ the director had with it when first introduced to the music some decades earlier.

The production here is much more than what it might at first seem. The band parts were found to have disappeared when the decision to present Eileen was finally made and the full score couldn’t be traced. Although the vocal score had been printed, musician and composer, Quade Winter, offered to re-orchestrate the material using the piano vocal score, with a Library of Congress holograph as a guide. The vocal score itself was not representative of all the original numbers in Eileen, and the missing numbers, Blarney is our Birthright, When Love at last Awakens, Too-ra-loo-ra and When shall I again see Ireland have been reinstated. The notes omit to tell us that Winter was not working totally in the dark. In 1917 Victor had recorded 13 numbers in their medley of the show. This would have given Winter a fair idea of Herbert’s orchestration. This sequence of numbers has been transcribed and re-released in Pearl’s Broadway through the Gramophone series, Vol. III. GEMS 0084.

The plot of Eileen is set in 1798 and concerns a band of smugglers on the Western coast of Ireland, led by Shaun Dhu. One of their number is Barry O’Day. Their booty is stored at Biddy’s Black Bull Inn where much of the action takes place. Lady Maude, accompanied by her niece, Eileen, appears, their carriage having broken down. They are rescued from the village drunks by Barry O’Day and as a result he wins their affection. This comes in handy as Colonel Lester has been tipped off that Barry is in the area and arrives to arrest him. Barry escapes as Lady Maude’s groom.

Act II shifts the action to Lady Maude’s castle where she admits her longing for Barry. Eileen reveals to her his true identity as a rogue. To help Barry escape Maude decides to thwart the Colonel by cajoling her guest, Sir Reggie, to put on a coachman’s uniform and act as a decoy. But Sir Reggie is arrested and is about to die when the Colonel is informed that he has been fooled and the real Barry O’Day has escaped.

Maude’s birthday celebrations open Act III. By now Eileen and Barry have fallen in love. However, the Colonel has surrounded the castle knowing that Barry is inside. Barry surrenders, when a messenger arrives with the news that a new Lord has been appointed and brings with him the King’s pardon for the rebels. The arrest is forgotten and Barry is united with Eileen (along with other sundry couples that have provided a sub-plot) with a finale declaring that ‘Ireland shall stand among all nations of the world’.

Herbert has remembered his Irish roots and has achieved some success in colouring his music with an atmosphere of the Emerald Isle. The overture is unusual for it opens abruptly, without introduction, with an offbeat jig that is as ‘Irish as the hills’, then moves into a romantic theme of one of the love arias. A second hearing of the score reveals more delights: a convincing Reel (CD1 tk10) of good character is well caught by the Ohio orchestra. The orchestra plays well under Butterman, but occasionally I did notice some pitching difficulties with the cello part.

Suzanne Woods is a strong soprano and conveys an appealing personality through her chirpy character of Eileen. Tenor, John Pickle as Barry keeps up his Irish accent remarkably well yet in his singing has a tendency to force his notes. He can also at times irritate with enunciation reminiscent of Derek Oldham’s affected 1930s RADA diction. Lady Maude is good vocally but in the dialogue she perhaps sounds younger than her superior station would lead you to expect. In previous productions Ohio had worked hard to free itself from any American accents, but here one is aware that the production is most definitely American. Quade Winter’s score is fitting but generally without depth. Herbert could have benefited by putting more decoration between lines and verses. Of Herbert’s works (as far as we know them) this is not the most memorable, but by settling down to listen to it complete one is provided with an enjoyable experience.

Convincing dialogue links the numbers but this a production with much stage business and the absence of a stage cloth makes the actors sound as if they are wearing clogs – quite realistic I suppose for an Irish setting of this period. On the majority of other Ohio recordings this has never been a problem so its distraction here is disappointing. A slight 50Hz hum is discernible on the higher gain dialogue passages.

The notes come with full libretto in English and production details.

Raymond Walker


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