By John Clancy
Nature of event: The Central Victorian Irish Association Inc. (CVIA) annual St. Patrick’s Weekend Concert.
Where: Bendigo South East College Theatre, Ellis Street Bendigo, Victoria
When: Sunday 15th March from 4.00pm to 6.00pm
The Central Victorian Irish Association Inc. (CVIA) is finalising plans for its annual St. Patrick’s Weekend Concert. The concert will be a showcase of Irish culture in various forms – music, dance, drama, and song. The dramatic content will feature a couple of extracts from plays by Sean O’ Casey and Brian Friel. A new feature in this year’s concert will be an extract from what can best be described as an Irish opera.
The opera in question is ‘The Travlling Man, with text by Lady Augusta Gregory and music by English composer Fritz Hart. Lady Gregory was of course one of the leading personages of the Irish Literary Renaissance, and one of the co-founders of the Abbey Theatre, Dublin. Fritz Hart has been described by Anne-Marie H. Forbes in her paper on the composer as ‘Melboune’s Celtic “Composer-in -Residence.”‘ He resided in Melbourne from 1909 to the 1920s. During this period he set a number of plays by Irish playwrights to operas. Yeats, Synge, and Lady Gregory appear to have been among his favoured playwrights. Sadly, most of these operas have not been performed. They have lain in the State Library of Victoria, gathering dust, unpublished and unrecorded via the medium of sound.
The extract being presented at the CVIA concert is taken from the one act opera ‘The Travelling Man’ by Lady Gregory. It is set in a cottage in the west of Ireland in the late 19th century, and is described as a miracle play. The story features the mother, her son, and the travelling man. Each year on Samhain night the mother prepares a special feast for an elevated personage who assisted her when she was making a dangerous journey some years prior to this, and whom she knew to be a man ‘not of this world.’ He promised her then that he would visit her and her yet- to-be family on some Samhain night in the future. Early in the opera she has to leave the house to obtain some ingrediants for the feast. She leaves the young boy alone with strict instructions about some tasks which he must do. He is interrupted in these tasks by the arrival of a travelling man, the equivalent of a swagman in Australian culture. What happens then? To find out come and see the concert and the extract from the opera!
The authoritative Groves Dictionary of Music does not indicate that ‘The Travelling Man‘ has ever been performed as an opera, so this extract will most likely be a world premiere of this operatic scene. It is being directed, as is the whole concert, by Bendigo based musician and Irish scholar, John Clancy. John has in the past presented commemorative concerts to honour Irish soprano Catherine Hayes; Irish composer, William Vincent Wallace and Australian – Irish soprano Amy Castles. The role of the travelling man is being sung by Bendigo tenor David Stephensen. Featured in the leading role of the boy will be talented boy soprano Jacob McKenzie. John Clancy himself will accompany the extract on the piano.
As the score of this opera has never been published, John Clancy has transcribed by hand the extract from the original score, literally written by Fritz Hart in 1918, in the State Library of Victoria. John strongly believes that the operas of Fritz Hart on Irish themes deserve to be better known.