The Lass of Galway – Opera in one act (1994)
Libretto by the composer based on the story “The Dead,” from Dubliners, by James Joyce
Orchestra: fl/picc, ob/Eh, cl/b. cl., bn, hn, tpt, tba hp pno/cel. 1p solo strings
Cast of Characters
Gabriel Conroy, a middle-aged Dublin journalist – Lyric Baritone
Gretta Conroy, his wife – Mezzo-soprano
Kate Morkan, Gabriel’s aunt – Soprano
Julia Morkan, Kate’s frail older sister – Contralto
Mary Jane, Kate and Julia’s unmarried 35-year-old niece, Gabriel’s cousin – High soprano
Lily, the Morkan’s young maid – Mezzo-soprano
Freddy Malins – Tenor buffo
Molly Ivors, a school teacher and Irish nationalist – Soprano
Bartell D’Arcy, a young , dark-complexioned opera singer with a mustache – Tenor
Mr. Browne, an elderly Protestant gentleman – Bass
Michael Furey, a seventeen-year-old boy from Gretta’s girlhood – Lyric tenor
Chorus of guests
Duration: approximately one hour
The action takes place on a snowy evening after Christmas in Dublin around the turn of the twentieth century.
Gabriel and Gretta Conroy are entering their room in Dublin’s Hotel Gresham. Gabriel is feeling amorous, and asks the porter to take with him the room’s only light, but his wife Gretta is distant for some reason, a reason hinted at by an offstage voice. Could it be something that happened at the party earlier that night?
Earlier that evening: A Christmas party is in progress at the house of Gabriel’s aunts, the elderly Morkan sisters, Kate and Julia, and their niece Mary Jane. There are quadrilles in the drawing room and guests milling about on the upper level and arriving on the lower. Kate is nervous because the Conroys, as well as the intemperate Freddy Malins, have not arrived. When they do arrive, Gabriel upsets Lily, the maid, with a too-familiar reference to her former boyfriend. Freddy Malins arrives, drunk as feared. On Kate’s orders, Gabriel escorts him upstairs to fix him a glass of lemonade, while Freddy tries Gabriel’s patience with a tall tale.
While Mary Jane entertains the crowd with a piano piece, Molly Ivors, a nationalist, takes Gabriel aside, ribbing him about his contempt for his native land. She invites him to go for an excursion to the Aran Isles, in the West. Gretta, hearing of the trip, is transported to a girlhood memory of Galway. Kate asks D’Arcy, an opera singer, to sing, but he declines, claiming illness. When the pompous Browne and inebriated Freddy praise Julia’s bel canto singing, Kate is provoked into a tirade against the church.
Gabriel withdraws to run over the main points he will make in his after-dinner speech: praise of his relations, of good fellowship, of Irish hospitality.
The dinner conversation includes a debate of the relative merits of various tenors of past and present (a topic particularly distressing to D’Arcy) and the austere habits of the monks of Mt. Melleray, where Freddy is to take the cure.
A portrait of Gabriel the orator.
Gabriel discovers Gretta on the stairs listening to D’Arcy as he sings an old Irish song from the back room. Gabriel’s ardor is aroused, but the others interrupt and D’Arcy breaks off. Gretta, visibly moved, asks D’Arcy the name of the song. The guests leave.
A portrait of Gretta as the song reverberates in her memory.
Back in the hotel room, Gabriel questions Gretta about her reticence. She breaks into tears, thinking of the song, she says, and of the young boy, Michael Furey, who long ago appeared outside her window in the rain, on the night before she was to leave Galway for Dublin; he sang that same song to her then. As Gretta falls asleep, Gabriel realizes the shallowness of his own feelings for Gretta in comparison with the passion young Gretta and Michael shared.
The falling snow gently covers all of creation, living and dead alike.