THE ANTIENT CONCERT
A Dramatic Recital for Four Singers
Music by Daron Hagen
Libretto by Paul Muldoon
The story told by The Antient Concert concerns itself with the 1904 Feis Ceoil competition recital on 27 August 1904 in the Antient Concert Rooms in Dublin, Ireland. Legend has it that John McCormack and James Joyce competed that night in the Tenor singing competition. There is no documentary evidence of this; however, Joyce did win the Bronz Medal that year (it is said that he did not agree with the stipulation that competitors demonstrate their musicianship by doing some sight-reading, and left the stage). Many believe that it was McCormack's 1903 win of the Gold Medal that launched his career.
For the purpose of telling a story about the collision of words, music, performance, sex, death, and nationalism, the authors chose five traditional ballads that Joyce and McCormack may have performed that evening, and used them as the musical and textual foundation upon which the piece is built. Consequently, throughout the recital, the characters shift between "performance mode" and the expression of their internal thoughts.
James Joyce takes the stage to sing a tune called "Salley Gardens" as part of the singing competition. As his mind wanders, he imagines that his dead mother May is speaking to him. She sings to him from the audience.
[William Butler Yeats' poem on which this scene is based was published in Crossways in 1889, and was probably inspired by an eighteenth-century song called The Rambling Boys of Pleasure. The air is the traditional Irish ballad The Maids of Mourne Shore. A salley is a willow tree. It was once common to have gardens of willows for osiers (willow rods), which were used for basket-making and thatching cottage roofs. The Gaelic for willow is saileach; the English useage of sally, or salley, for willow tree may be derived from the Gaelic.]
Fellow competitor John McCormack takes to the stage to sing "The Harp That Once" and, as his mind wanders, he reminisces about his career and motivation.
[Irish poet and barrister Thomas Moore's ballad has long been associated with the traditional air Gramachree, which may be found in M'Gibbon's Scots Tunes Bk. II (1716) as Will You Go to Flanders. Tara is the hilltop site in County Meath that was once home to the Irish high kings.]
May Joyce rises from the audience and sings of her disapproval of Jim's dalliance with Nora Barnacle. Jim finishes the scene in duet with his dead mother.
[The original song You're as Welcome as the Flow'rs in May was written (words and music) by Daniel J. Sullivan early in the twentieth century.]
It is Jim's turn to sing again. As he performs "Tho' the Last Glimpse of Erin," his inner dialogue with John intensifies. They are joined by Nora, who rises form the audience to pull them apart.
[In 1543, Henry VIII passed laws regarding the dress of the Irish. Thomas Moore set his words to the traditional air Coulin, which concerned an Irish virgin who preferred her "Coulin" (an Irish youth with long hair) to strangers. The song is about preferring exile to the oppression of English law.]
Nora comes to the fore and ruminates on her relationship with Jim. She and May sing a duet on one plane as Jim and John re-enact the story of the "Croppy Boy" on another. Jim is forced to confront the guilt and anger he feels towards his mother. Jim is left alone with his thoughts.
[Although there is a resemblance to an Elizabethan lute tune called Callino Custurame, it is more likely that this air is an adaptation of an Irish song of the 1700s called Cailín O'Chois 't Siure Mé. New Geneva, in County Waterford, was used as a prison and torture house by the British in 1798.]
The New York cast of The Antient Concert photographed by Ric Kallaher backstage at Symphony Space just prior to the 2007 world broadcast premiere as centerpiece of Bloomsday on Broadway XXVI. (l. to r.) Jocelyn Dueck, James Demler, Elaine Valby, Daron Hagen, Gilda Lyons, Elem Eley.
McCormack (Sean Effinger-Dean) and Joyce (Matthew Bernier) face off in the Princeton Atelier staged workshop.
17 April 2005
The Princeton Atelier / Borromeo String Quartet /Daron Hagen
concert broadcast premiere
16 June 2007
Bloomsday on Broadway XXVI
Peter Sharp Theater
Symphony Space, NYC
6 November 2007
The Phoenix Players
The Century Association, NYC
Click here for more cast information.
64 minutes, with no intermission
James Joyce (lyric baritone)
John McCormack (tenor)
May Joyce (mezzo-soprano)
Nora Barnacle (soprano)
RECORDING / PRODUCTION STILLS
This opera has not yet been commercially recorded.
to see production photos.
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Click here for an article about the Princeton Atelier production.
May Joyce (Gilda Lyons) in the 2007 New York staged premiere.