Deirdre, a chamber opera

Instrumentation: flute, oboe (dbl. English horn), clarinet (dbl. bass clarinet), bassoon, horn, percussion, harp, piano, two violins, viola, cello, bass

Cast – five principle roles, three secondary roles

Full Score Excerpt Vocal Score Excerpt


Listen: Excerpts from various scenes of the opera. For voice and piano.

Performance History: Encompass New Opera Theatre, Greenfield Hall, Manhattan School of Music, New York NY, March 14, 2013, Nancy Rhodes, Stage Direction, Mara Waldman, music direction. Cast – Brittany Palmer, Deirdre; Jane Shaulis, Musician; Eapen Leubner, Naoise; David Salsbery Fry, Conchubar; Mara Waldman, piano

Duration: Two acts, 120 minutes total

Background Information: Deirdre is a chamber opera in two acts from the play by W.B. Yeats. The tale has its origins in medieval Irish literature and legend and is one of the more well-known tales to come from the Ulster Cycle of mythology. Yeats dramatized the story in his play written in 1907 during a period when he began to gain interest in promoting and championing the Irish dramatic movement. The play premiered at Dublin’s legendary Abbey Theatre, of which Yeats was one of the founders.

Before the Action: The story takes place in Celtic Ireland. Conchubar, the High King of Ulster, found the infant Deirdre in the forest and had her brought up in seclusion. Her circumstance was a mystery and her beauty made some wonder if she was human. He intended to marry her one day when she was of age. Before the wedding day, in defiance of Conchubar, she ran off and married the young king Naoise. Enraged and obsessed, Conchubar chased them far and wide for seven years before reluctantly agreeing to make peace. The setting of the opera is an isolated house in the forest where all parties have agreed to meet.

Composer’s Note: I was attracted to the archaic nature of the story; I felt that there was a quality of mystery surrounding the time-period and setting. All the while, Yeats’ play was very much grounded in reality – the struggles and feelings of the characters seemed very real and present. I saw a dichotomy in these two elements, of mystery and reality, and I felt that I could construct a serious but enchanting piece of musical theater around them. The story had a thematic human element that was familiar enough to engage an audience on a basic level. The world of Deirdre seemed to be filled with danger, drama, beauty and magic. There is poetry in the language of the work, which is to be expected from Yeats, but there is also a lofty dignity that brings weight to the characters and the narrative. I felt that these characters spoke with an original and exciting voice.