Romance, Rebellion and a Free Ireland

Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Victoria
Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Victoria

In November, Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Victoria performs Dublin-born Victor Herbert’s only Irish themed operetta, Eileen (1917), at Forest Hill College.

The operetta is loosely based on the 1835 novel Rory O’Moore by Herbert’s grandfather, Samuel Lover. The story is set in 1798, a decade after the start of the French Revolution and the year of the brutal uprisings of the United Irishmen. Convent-raised Eileen returns to Sligo Bay after her formative years in France to the home of her Aunt Maude, an attractive widow. Barry O’Day, chip off the old block of a legendary freedom fighter father, comes back to lead his cronies in a fight for independence from the British and to reclaim his land, with the anticipated help of soon-to-arrive French forces. Though he’s been flirtatious with the charming Maude, it’s Eileen he loves. Maude is sympathetic to the rebels’ cause, and keeps the English Colonel Lester at bay, allowing Barry to go undercover as her groom. In the end, the king pardons all rebels, and Eileen can marry Barry in a grand finale that unites the opposing camps – at least for the moment.

Herbert, arguably the most important theatrical composer of the early 20th century, spearheaded the transformation from the traditional Viennese operetta form of the past to the musical comedies that dominated the decades to follow. Herbert was born in Dublin in 1859. Aged three, after his father’s death, he went to live with his grandmother in Kent, later re-joining his mother in Stuttgart in 1867. After playing cello in orchestras throughout Europe – including with Eduard Strauss in Vienna – he returned home to study composition at Stuttgart Conservatory. After marrying Therese Forster, a soprano with the Stuttgart Opera, he followed her to America where she worked with the New York Metropolitan Opera.

Directed by versatile auteur Suzanne Barton, with musical direction from multi-award nominee Kent Ross, and featuring choreography and performers from the Cosgriff Irish Dancing School, this superb production makes its Australian premiere. Herbert’s Eileen is a grand Irish ode to his maternal homeland with captivating characters and a joyful score.

Venue: Kel Watson Theatre
Forest Hill College, 178 Mahoneys Road, Burwood East.

Five performances: Thursday-Saturday 15-17 November 8pm; Saturday-Sunday 17-18 November 2pm.