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
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
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
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
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
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