Looking at the most recent entry on this blog, I see that somehow I’ve let six months slip by between posts. Time to start catching up.
Back in October, I was lucky enough to cover a unique event for the Journal of Music: a restoration of a century-old opera written in the Irish language, Eithne, by Robert O’Dwyer. While the music didn’t work for me, the night was one to remember. Audience and musicians alike seemed to feel that they were participating in something special:
In hearing the music, perhaps the most striking thing is often the language itself. There was a minor vogue in the early twentieth century for writing opera in the Irish language, but, for a variety of reasons, it never caught on. It is a pity, because the language suits the medium, perhaps surprisingly well. It is bold, earthy and rich, with hard, throaty consonants and long, warm vowels.
When it came to the music, I couldn’t help but feel out-of-step with the audience’s rapturous response, in spite of both the historical significance of the work and the quality of its performance. A review of the 1909 première described O’Dwyer, somewhat damningly, as influenced by ‘what he knows of Wagner’. That more or less gets at the core of the music, in ways both positive and negative. The music of Eithne is superficially Wagnerian: it has Wagner’s warmth of tone, his full-bodied orchestral sound, but it lacks Wagner’s mastery of structure and counterpoint.
What it really lacks, though, is Wagner’s adventurousness. Any time the harmony approaches something daring, it gets cold feet and backs away. In the turbulent musical climate a century ago, it must have felt downright old-fashioned.