|The lassies: Joanie Brittingham, Vira Slywotzky, and Katherine Corle
The lads: Jason Robinette, Ross Brown, Anthony Maida, David Seatter, Richard Holmes and Jovani McCleary
No, no, no, we are not angry. Au contraire, we are absolutely tickled with our evening spent with Victor Herbert Renaissance Project LIVE! about whom we have written before. VHRPL is celebrated for bringing the works of this early 20th c. composer to lively life. Last night's concert, in anticipation of St. Patrick's Day, presented a selection of his songs celebrating his Irish heritage. Imagine the shock of finding out that Mr. Herbert probably never set foot in Ireland, a rather new discovery!
Still, he had an Irish soul, thanks to his mother and maternal grandfather with whom he lived for a period in England. As a matter of fact, he set some of his grandfather's poetry and we were fortunate to hear some of Samuel Lover's text, one of which was sung by the excellent and versatile soprano Vira Slywotzky (one of the founding members of VHRPL) who also narrated the evening with great style and dulcet tone. The song, entitled "Angel's Whisper" was based on the legend that when a baby smiles in his/her sleep it's because of conversation with an angel. In the song, which touched our heart, a mother is reassured about the safety of her mariner husband when her baby smiles. Awwww!
Mr. Lover also wrote humorous songs and we just loved "The Birth of St. Patrick" which described the embattled Irish temperament with two camps disagreeing about the date St. Patrick was born. A diplomatic priest added the two dates together and came up with the 17th, thus solving the problem. Too bad "the troubles" could not have been so easily sorted out! The song was performed by tenor Anthony Maida and baritones Jovani McCleary and David Seatter.
Another favorite of ours involving the grandfather's poetry was the romantic "Live in My Heart and Pay No Rent", for which the versatile fellow also wrote the music. Mr. Maida gave it a fine performance.
Of all the gentlemen, the one whose timbre was closest to what one expects in an Irish tenor was Jason Robinette, whose delivery of "Mary Came Over to Me" touched the heart with the joy of a reunion of two lovers when the woman finally arrives in America.
Tenor Ross Brown shone as the Irish Don Juan in "Barney Maguire" from Mr. Herbert's 1906 show "Miss Dolly Dollars". The charming choreography by Director/Choreographer Emily Cornelius brought in the lovely sopranos Joanie Brittingham and Katherine Corle.
The ensemble work was in every instance delightful, particularly when all six men joined in for the drinking song "The Cruiskeen Lawn" which was performed a cappella. The admirably crisp enunciation we had enjoyed in solo pieces carried over and we understood every rowdy word of this folk song arranged by Mr. Herbert.
We wish to alert our readers to the upcoming performance of Herbert's 1917 operetta Eileen on April 25th and 26th because the songs on last night's program taken from that show were so special. If you've never heard "My Little Irish Rose", you will be enchanted. Ms. Corle sang it beautifully. There were three other songs from the show on the program, all memorably melodic. Notably, Eileen will have an orchestra!
Some of the songs were about Ireland's struggle for freedom from oppression and some were about the contributions of the Irish to America's cause in The Great War.
There was still more to interest the listener. Adding to Herbert's Irish heart were the skills of composition that he learned growing up in his father's Germany. Ireland had never produced a song cycle before and Mr. Herbert wrote one entitled The Bards of Ireland which was performed in 1908 for the Society of Friends of the Sons of Ireland. Thomas Moore's lyrics to Old Irish Airs were arranged by Mr. Herbert. We make no claims that this cycle rivals those of Schubert and Schumann but it was surely a treat to hear a work that was never published. Leave it to Artistic Director Alyce Mott!
Strangely, however, our favorite part of this song cycle was the piano solo "Lament for Owen Roe O'Neill" played on the piano by Music Director Michael Thomas. Sometimes words are superfluous. Baritone Richard Holmes gave a lovely performance of "Remember the Glories of Brien the Brave".
We believe it is important, particularly at this time in our history, to acknowledge the contributions made to the USA by the Irish. Every ethnic group that has come to our great nation has been at first despised, later accepted, and eventually celebrated. Let us not forget that! It's time to make America great again! Yes, by welcoming immigrants. And you can quote us on that one!
(c) meche kroop