The Immortal Hour
"The Immortal Hour" is a
fairy taleor fairy opera, with a mood and theme similar to Dvořák's Rusalka and Mozart's The Magic Flute. Magic and nature spirits play important roles in the storyline. The Faery people are not mischievous, childlike sprites, but are proud and powerful: immortal demigods who are feared by mortals and who can (and do) interfere with the lives of men and women. The story of Eochaidh is typical of myths (like that of Icarus) where humans seek the divine and are destroyed by it. Alternatively, the progression of Etain into the mortal realm and her pursuit and redemption by Midir has similarities with the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice. [ [http://www.sundown.pair.com/SundownShores/Volume_VII/TITLE.HTM Fiona Macleod's introduction to the play The Immortal Hour] ]
In this work, Boughton combined
Wagnerianapproaches to musical themes and symbolism with a folk-like modalapproach to the musicitself, reflective of the Celtic origins of the tale.
"The Immortal Hour" was first performed in
Glastonburyon 23 August 1914, at the inaugural Glastonbury Festival which Boughton co-founded. Michael Hurd, programme notes of 1983 Hyperion recording.] It was hugely popular, running in Londonfor 216 consecutive performances in 1922, and for a further 160 performances the following year, and was staged in New York Cityin 1926. Latterly, however, it has been largely forgotten.
Eochaidh, "the heroic king" baritone
Etain, "the faery princess who is eternally fair and youthful" soprano
Dalua, "the Lord of Shadow" bass
*Midir, "Etain's eternal lover"
*Manus, "a peasant" bass
*Maive, "Manus's wife"
Dalua, the Lord of Shadow, is seen in a dark and mysterious wood. He is known as the Amadan-Dhu, the Faery Fool, the Dark One, and is an agent of unseen and fateful powers, whose touch brings madness and death to mortals. He has come there under some compulsion, following visions, but does not know for what purpose. He is mocked by invisible spirits of the woods, who recognise him as an outcast, feared even by the gods themselves. He ripostes that he is the instrument of powers beyond even the gods, and bids the voices be silent. A woman's voice is heard and Etain enters the clearing, looking bewildered and singing about the wonderful place she came from, where death is only a "drifting shadow" and where the Faery folk - the Shee - hold court. She resolves to return but is waylaid by Dalua. As he touches her with a shadow she forgets all of where she came from barring her name. Dalua realises that the reason for their meeting is now clear to him; a mortal king has sought immortal love and is led towards them under similar compulsion to theirs. He bids Etain to go and awaits the king. Eochaidh, who is High King of Eiré, enters and is welcomed by Dalua. Dalua shows him visions of the legendary Fount of Beauty which the king has pursued in dreams. Spirit voices warn Eochaidh to return to his people, but by then he is under Dalua's spell and follows him blindly into the wood.
In a hut, the peasant Manus and his wife Maive sit with Etain, who is sheltering from a stormy night. A stranger - Dalua - has given them gold for Etain's accommodation and for their silence. They are nervous not just from the storm but from fear of the Faery folk, whom they avoid talking of or even naming. When Eochaidh appears and asks for shelter, they are terrified, especially as he has been out in the storm but is not even damp! He assures them he is mortal just like them, but then sees Etain and forgets everything else. Etain and Eochaidh sing a love duet, interrupted by a mocking laugh from outside. Etain tells him it was an owl. As they sit together, the faint voices of the Faeries can be heard singing.
A year has passed in Eochaidh's court, and he has called a celebration for the anniversary of his winning of Etain. Choruses of druids, maidens, bards and warriors sing and raise toasts to the royal couple. In the middle of this, Etain announces that she is weary and has been troubled by strange dreams. She bids them goodnight. Eochaidh admits that he too has had unsettling dreams, in which he saw the Faeries marching, beautiful, powerful and frightening. He begs her not to go but she insists. As soon as she has retired to her room, a stranger appears at the door - Midir, Etain's immortal lover, disguised as a harpist. He is welcomed warily by Eochaidh, who is upset when the stranger will not give his name. Midir asks a favour of the king and Eochaidh assents. He is unhappy when he learns it is to kiss the queen's hand and serenade her with a song, but his word was given so Etain is roused. Midir sings the Faery song heard at the end of Act I. Etain, awakened to her immortal origins, leaves with Midir to the sounds of a Faery chorus. Only the heartbroken king remains, and as he begs for his dreams back, Dalua steps in and touches him soundlessly. He collapses, dead.
The most famous highlight is the song "How beautiful they are", which appears first in a chorus by unseen spirits, then is reprised by
Midirof the "Shee" ( Tuatha Dé Danann) as a solo ariaaccompanied by a harp.
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