Opera Scotland

Diarmid

Music

Hamish James MacCunn (born Greenock, 22 March 1868; died London, 2 August 1916.

Text

J G Campbell, Marquis of Lorne, Duke of Argyll.

Source

Celtic mythology.

 

Premieres

First Performance: London (Covent Garden), 23 October 1897.

First Performance in Scotland: Edinburgh (Royal Lyceum Theatre), 6 November 1897.

Scottish Opera premiere: N/A.

 

Background

Jeanie Deans had enjoyed a modest success in its opening run, so it was no surprise that the Carl Rosa company should demand a follow-up from MacCunn. The choice of subject matter does not seem to have been ideal - Celtic, though arguably Irish rather than Scottish. Inevitably there were suggestions that the dramatic elements of his music were now Wagnerian, with an uneasy alliance with the lyrical elements.

The main criticism, however, was aimed at the libretto. The Marquis of Lorne, was husband to Princess Louise, therefore son-in-law of Queen Victoria and brother-in-law of the Prince of Wales. The social standing of the opening night audience was somewhat higher than the Carl Rosa team was accustomed to facing, but the author's literary talent was inevitably open to question. There were complaints that the severe editing of the text to make it of manageable length had also rendered the plot illogical. There was also the implied threat that he was believed to have sketched out a continuation ofthe story over a further three libretti.

 

Main Characters

Diarmid, a celtic warrior, chief of the Feinne (tenor)

Fionn, King of the Feinne (baritone)

Grania, his Queen (soprano)

Eila, his daughter, her stepdaughter (mezzo-soprano)

Eragon, King of the Norsemen (bass)

Freya, Goddess of Love (soprano)

 

Plot Summary

The Scots  (though at this period they were presumably still resident in Erin) construct a broch as a defence against the expected Danish attack. A mystic chorus of immortals appears, and they pronounce that Diarmid, leader of the warriors, is now invulnerable to injury (except for the soles of his feet). As he sleeps, the goddess Freya conveys upon him the rather dubious blessing that all women will fall in love with him. However he is already the object of Eila's affection without any supernatural aid.

The King and Queen of the Celts quarrel over policy, but at last Eila is sent to the Vikings with gifts to buy them off and prevent the attack. The offer is rejected and war breaks out, reduced to a fight between two groups of selected champions. In single combat Diarmid defeats and kills the Viking leader, Eragon.

A ballet is performed by gnomes, hobgoblins and fairies who surround Diarmid as he sleeps. He is then found by Queen Grania, who, under the influence of Freya's spell, declares her love for him. He resists for some time, but eventually they sing a rapturous duet.

Diarmid is soon reconciled to Eila. But the angry King, jealous at his involvement with the Queen, sends Diarmid on a boar hunt. The bristles on the boar's hide have been poisoned, so when the triumphant hero places an unshod foot on his trophy to measure it (at the King's command), the poison enters his system through the vulnerable sole, and he dies.

The Cast

Diarmid
 a Celtic hero, chief of the Feinne
Eila
 daughter of Fionn, stepdaughter of Grania
Eragon
 King of the Norsemen
Fionn
 King of the Feinne
Freya
 Goddess of Love
Grania
 Fionn's Queen

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