Victor Herbert, Eileen New World Records 80733-2
Victor Herbert: Eileen
(New World 80733-2)
American Record Guide–Review by Traubner (March/April 2013)
Founded in 1935, American Record Guide is America’s oldest classical music review magazine.
“The songs in Eileen (1917) are mostly variations of Herbert’s Irish songs. Some are well-known and wonderful. The song ‘Thine Alone’ is very popular and is sung well here. One remains amazingly popular: ‘The Irish Have a Great Day Tonight.’ This is a wondrous number–a rouser if ever there was one. There are others that are really outstanding, like ‘Free Trade and a Misty Moon.’ The piece is full of ebullient revolutionary choruses that are necessary to the plot.
“An outstanding booklet describing the history and this reconstruction of Eileen accompanies the set. It was prepared by Larry Moore and Sean O’Donoghue. Included are the libretto and a list of the complete numbers in the original work as well as numbers that were cut.
“…This recording has real Irish people in the cast, giving it a more authentic sound. If you accept this as Herbert’s ode to Ireland, you will enjoy it very much. He considered this work his best effort.”
Classics Today–Review by David Hurwitz
David Hurwitz’ summary was that both the artistic and sound quality rated a 10.
“Composed in 1916, Eileen remains highly esteemed by connoisseurs of operetta, and for good reason: It’s a delightful work. Victor Herbert used to be possibly America’s most popular composer. Bookended by Gilbert and Sullivan on the one hand, and the rise of the Broadway musical on the other, his posthumous reputation never really stood a chance. He’s long past due for a reappraisal, a job complicated by the horrendous amount of sheer work required to restore his scores to their original form. This last respect is just one way in which this new release is exemplary. You get the full score, plus an appendix of additional numbers, plus the orchestral fantasy on tunes from the opera arranged by Herbert’s assistant Harold Sanford. In other words, this is the complete Eileen, and then some.
“The performance is wonderful. As the two lovers, soprano Mary O’Sullivan and tenor Eamonn Mulhall lead an exceptionally strong cast. Lynda Lee has an audibly great time as Lady Estabrooke, as does Joe Corbett as Sir Reginald, who gets the big comic number, “If Eve Had Left the Apple on the Bough”. David Brophy conducts the Orchestra of Ireland in a genuinely vital, colorful reading of this luscious score. Herbert’s aesthetic runs closer to the sentimental Viennese style of Léhar than to the British school of Sullivan, and his scoring reflects that: plentiful harp, colorful percussion, and even a bass clarinet. An Irishman himself, he peppers the score with lightly folk-ish melody in spots, but never to the point of caricature. ***
“Look, no one listens to this stuff for the thrilling plot; it serves as an excellent framework for some delicious music, splendidly recorded. This is an important and, even better, irresistible release.”
Theatremania–Review by Andy Propst (10/29/12)
“A thorough job of detective work has resulted in this impressive first full-scale recording of Victor Herbert’s 1916 operetta, set against the backdrop of Irish rebellions at the end of the eighteenth century. Herbert’s felicity for lush melodies is in boundless evidence here. But what might be most extraordinary about his work is how it not only presupposes work by Jerome Kern and George Gershwin, but also draws on Irish airs and even John Philip Sousa. Backed by the Orchestra of Ireland, the principals all deliver robust performances, particularly tenor Eamonn Mulhall as the show’s hero.”
Fanfare Magazine–Review by Bill White (March/April 2013)
Bill White notes with regret and dismay that Herbert is not included in the American Music Hall of Fame;
“Hence it is refreshing to see one of Herbert’s works, the romantic comic opera Eileen, treated with some degree of musicological respect, as presented here by New World Records in their series on the foundations of American musical theater. Although called so, Eileen is not an opera; it has plenty of spoken dialogue and should more properly be termed an operetta or musical comedy. The producers of this recording have taken the trouble to trace the genesis of the work, originally titled Hearts of Erin, through try-outs in Cleveland and Boston before it arrived on Broadway in 1917 with some old music excised, some new music added , and a new title. The recording booklet provides a thorough discussion of changes to the work that were made during try-outs, and the discarded numbers are performed by the cast in an appendix following the operetta. The producers were also diligent enough to track down a rental set of the Herbert orchestrations, still held by his original publishers (Herbert’s autograph score is apparently lost).
“Eileen is Herbert’s Irish operetta. At first glance the often bloody and brutally suppressed struggles of Irish partisans to gain independence from Britain does not seem much like an appropriate subject for romantic comedy, but Irish born Herbert was an avid nationalist who supported the cause and was active in Irish-American organizations sympathetic to Irish independence. Besides all that, his granddaddy wrote the book on which the libretto is loosely based. In any case, Herbert wanted to write some Irish music, and Eileen turned out to be his vehicle, whether the story is completely amenable or not. After all the pre-Broadway tinkering in the hinterlands, Henry Blossom’s book for the operetta proves a disappointment, no more than a utilitarian framework on which to hang Herbert’s quite tuneful and felicitous score.
“The nearly all Irish and British cast assembled here, along with Irish orchestra and chorus could hardly be bettered. They all sing very well and bring authentic Irish brogues and proper Brit speak to the proceedings. Especially notable for their fine singing are the light Irish tenor Eamonn Mulhall and soprano Mary O’Sullivan in the two lead roles.
“So, there you have it. This new recording of Eileen on New World Records offers a more authentic musical score, overall better singing, and much more idiomatic dialect (and better documentation).”
Opera News (March 2013)
The reviewer is not noted:
“Victor Herbert’s operetta Eileen, first heard on Broadway in 1917, may not have the name recognition of his earlier Naughty Marietta, but this New World Records production suggests that it deserves comparable popularity. Perhaps some have incorrectly assumed that its Irish setting produces ‘ethnic’ cuteness, though the 1798 Rebellion would hardly be fertile ground for such. It certainly didn’t inhibit Herbert’s gift for appealing, vocally grateful melody, here including ardent patriotic anthems–echoed by the chorus with striding fervor–along with the customary love duets and comic songs. The composer’s device of moving through high notes as expressive colorings, rather than making them the actual climaxes, works particularly well in this score.
“David Brophy conducts with a fine feel for the score’s lilt, atmosphere and heartfelt, sometimes melancholy lyricism. He supports the soloists flexibly and sees to it that the interplay of parts emerges clearly in choruses and principal ensembles. The Orchestra of Ireland, pared down to authentic pit proportions, responds with alert rhythmic address and projects the layered textures with relish. Their renditions of the dance postludes appended to some numbers gives the production a charming, vaudevillian flavor. The upper strings’ vibrant sheen in the overture should dispel any fears that the players might be too few.
“The top-heavy lineup of principals, taking in three sopranos and three tenors, has been cast with care.
“The booklet notes are unusually informative.”
Operetta Research Center–Review by Kevin Clarke (4 September 2014)
“The Irish are always good for a song. Or so the saying goes. And Dublin-born Victor Herbert’s only ‘Irish’ themed operetta, Eileen (1917), certainly contains many great songs, one of them a world-famous standard, recorded many times over: ‘Thine Alone.’ The operetta with lyrics and book by Henry Blossom 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 home to Sligo Bay from her formative years in France to the home of her Aunt Maude, an attractive British 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. A visiting English fuddy-duddy Lord Reggie –who accompanied Eileen from France – adds the comic touch. In the end, the King of England pardons all rebels, and Eileen can marry Barry in a grand finale that unites – at least for the moment – the opposing camps. After two Cleveland performances at the Colonial Theatre in January 1917 under the name of Hearts of Erin, the show moved on to Boston, changing its title to Eileen. It then opened at the Shubert Theatre on March 19, 1917 and ran for only 64 performances. It was produced by Joe Weber, formerly of the comedy duo Weber and Fields. It then toured, but a fire destroyed its sets and costumes three months into the tour.
“Because of its short initial run, the show was rarely revived until 1997, when it was produced and recorded by the Ohio Light Opera, using Herbert’s original orchestrations, reconstructed by Quade Winter from Herbert’s manuscripts, held in the collection of the Library of Congress. That recording was the first complete modern Eileen. There had been eight highlights recorded by Al Goodman’s orchestra and soloists on a set of 78 RPM records, but these selections have been out-of-print since the late 1950s. Now, there is another new version issued by New World Records and recorded – how fittingly! – in Ireland with various Irish soloists. The Orchestra of Ireland is conducted by David Brophy, and the sound is much lustier and opulent than the OLO forces on the 1997 recording. The same can be said about the singing which comes across less stilted.
“However, on the older disc you can follow the story more easily, something that’s a bit difficult on the new version. There are slices of dialogue included, but not enough to make the plot clear. Also, the numbers are often not performed in an especially characteristic or atmospheric way. So you need to guess whether you’re hearing smugglers, freedom fighters, the British etc. Still, when Herbert unleashes some Irish whirlwind dances, all of this doesn’t matter, because it’s so much fun to listen to this music even without quite understanding the context.
“The heroine, Mary O’Sullivan as Eileen, sounds charming but a bit shrill at the top. Her beloved, Eamonn Mulhall as Barry O’Day, has a very ‘Irish’ sounding tenor with a noticeable quick flicker. It’s appealing, in a folkloristic kind of way, and he creates many intimate moments that are a joy to listen to. He’s also fabulous leading the Irish into the big song-and-dance numbers.
“If you compare this New World Records release with their later Dearest Enemy – the Rodgers & Hart American operetta – I find the Herbert works better, because the soloists do not have to battle with double entendres and risqué lyrics. Blossom’s words are straight-forward, as is Herbert’s music. And that suits everyone here perfectly. This includes Lynda Lee as Lady Maude, Joe Corbett as Sir Reginald Stribling and Philip O’Reilly as Colonel Lester. If you compare this full-cast recording with full (and rousing) orchestra to the cpo operetta releases, based on concert performances in Austria and Germany, it is striking how much fresher everyone involved here sounds, how stylistically more secure. There could be a bit more character singing, admittedly, to make the story more acoustically appealing. But that’s a minor quibble.
“All in all, the show is a charmer, and this recording a welcome alternative to the under-energized OLO discs. The only track that truly lacks glamour is ‘Thine Alone,’ probably because there are so many well-known recordings of this, and O’Sullivan and Mulhall are not really on that world-class level as interpreters, winningly as they sing. There is a dimension lacking here that turns Herbert’s music from “interesting” to “spectacular.” There is an appendix with six tracks, “Cupid, the Cunnin’ Paudeen,” “Hearts of Erin” (opening of act 2), “Stars and Rosebuds,” an ensemble, “Reveries,” and orchestra selections in a historic arrangement by Harold Sanford. The CD was originally released in 2012, when Eileen was also performed, in March, by the Light Opera of New York (LOONY). If you want to read about that performance – starring the always-watchable Stephen Faulk as the lead-tenor –click here to read Harry Forbes’s review.”
Cast Album Reviews–Review by Marc Miller (March 11, 2015)
“Producer Larry Moore traveled to Ireland to record this complete, sumptuous rendering of the 1917 Herbert operetta. The Hibernian spirit comes through loud and clear; if you’re not Irish, you will be by the final chorus of “The Irish Have a Great Day Tonight.” Herbert’s orchestrations are luscious (so much harp!), and the cast is excellent, with particularly fine work from Lynda Lee as Lady Maude and Dean Power as Dinny Doyle. Moore’s notes on the recording are informative, there are bonus tracks cataloging some beautiful cut material, and it’s all capped by a rousing orchestral suite. Plus, you don’t have to sit through all that uninteresting text, as with the Ohio Light Opera version. This would be a five-star recording but for one thing: David Brophy’s conducting tends toward the lethargic. “Too-re-loo-re” sounds like it’s heaving a one-ton weight behind it, and “Life’s a Game at Best” drags fearfully. — M.M.”