The Emerald Isle

The Emerald Isle; or, The Caves of Carrig-Cleena, is a two-act comic opera, with music by Arthur Sullivan and Edward German, and a libretto by Basil Hood. The plot concerns the efforts of an Irish patriot to resist the oppressive “re-education” programme of the English, which has robbed the Irish of their cultural heritage. A quirky “Professor of Elocution” who is hired by the English to continue this “re-education” of the Irish switches sides to help the Irish defend their culture. Romantic complications cause a confrontation between the Irish patriots and the superstitious English at the supposedly haunted caves of Carric-Cleena, and disguises are employed to hold the English off; but the professor ultimately comes up with a solution that works out happily for all.

This article is about the comic opera. For other uses, see Emerald Isle (disambiguation).
Louie Pounds: Molly in disguise as the “Fairy Clena”

The opera premiered at the Savoy Theatre on 27 April 1901, closing on 9 November 1901 after a run of 205 performances. The opening night cast included such Savoy regulars as Robert Evett, Walter Passmore, Henry Lytton, Rosina Brandram, Isabel Jay and Louie Pounds. The opera was given a production in New York City at the Herald Square Theatre for 50 performances, opening on 1 September 1902 and closing on 18 October 1902. The New York cast included Kate Condon as Molly and Jefferson De Angelis as Bunn.[1] It was revived in 1935 at the Prince’s Theatre (now the Shaftesbury Theatre) in London.

Modern professional productions of the work have been rare. The Prince Consort (an Edinburgh-based performing group) recorded the piece in Britain live in performance at the fringe of the Edinburgh Festival in 1982.[2] The piece was also given in Edinburgh and then Torquay, England, in 1998. Another live recording (with dialogue) was made in 2001 as a centenary production at the Alexander Theatre of the Monash University, Clayton, Victoria, Australia, by the Gilbert and Sullivan Society of Victoria (now known as Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Victoria).[3] Amateur groups in Britain produced the piece regularly through the 1920s and occasionally thereafter.[4] A concert of the opera was performed by Valley Light Opera in Amherst, Massachusetts on 8 March 2008 with a narration written by Jonathan Strong. This was the first known U.S. performance of the opera with full orchestra since 1902.[5]

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For much of the 1890s, impresario Richard D’Oyly Carte and his wife Helen Carte had struggled to find successful shows to fill the Savoy. They finally found a winning formula in The Rose of Persia by Arthur Sullivan and Basil Hood in 1899, and the two men quickly agreed to collaborate again.[6] However, Sullivan, who had increasingly struggled with ill health, died on 22 November 1900. At his death, Sullivan had finished two musical numbers from The Emerald Isle in their entirety, leaving behind sketches of at least the voice parts for about half of the others. The D’Oyly Carte Opera Company commissioned Edward German to complete the numbers Sullivan had sketched and to compose the rest of the opera himself.[7] Carte himself died on 27 April 1901, and the opera was produced by his widow, Helen, who engaged William Greet as manager of the Savoy Theatre during the run of The Emerald Isle.[6][7]

German, to this point, was known chiefly as a composer of orchestral and incidental music.[8]The Emerald Isle was sufficiently successful to launch German on an operatic career. German’s most famous opera was Merrie England (1902), also written with Hood,[9][8] and Hood went on to a very successful career as an adapter of European operettas for the English stage.[10]

Unlike Hood’s first opera with Sullivan, The Rose of Persia, The Emerald Isle does not pay much homage to the Gilbert and Sullivan comic tradition, except for the mistaken identities and the fact that the opera was written for the same opera company and its regular performers. The plot is not reminiscent of Gilbert’s topsy-turvy style, nor is there any obvious satiric point. With its Irish jigs and broad comedy, the work was more at home in the musical comedy style that had become prevalent on the London stage by the end of the 1890s.[11] Sullivan’s music, while containing much to admire, is “reminiscent rather than fresh”, while German’s contributions to the score, though partly imitative of Sullivan, marked him as a comic opera composer of promise.[7]

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