First Studio Recording of CV Stanford’s Comic Opera – Shamus O’Brien – Released for Composer’s Centenary

On 8 March 2024, the first studio recording of Charles Villiers Stanford’s romantic comic opera Shamus O’Brien will be released on the Retrospect Opera label,marking the centenary of the composerand issuedin the label’s 10th anniversary year. 

Featuring the Orchestra of Scottish Opera under the baton of David Parry, the opera features Irish piper Jarlath Henderson; baritone Brendan Collins as Shamus; Anna Brady (dialogue) and mezzo-soprano Gemma Ní Bhriain as Nora; soprano Ami Hewitt as Kitty; tenor Joseph Doody as Captain Trevor; tenor Andrew Gavin as Mike Murphy; and bass-baritone Rory Dunne as Father O’Flynn.

Composed in 1895, Shamus O’Brien was easily CV Stanford’s most successful opera, described as ‘a little masterpiece’ in a review by the Musical Times in 1896. Based on a poem by fellow Anglo-Irishman Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, and set against the backdrop of the Irish Rebellion of 1798, Shamus presents the Irish as proud patriots who outwit the rather dim English soldiers charged with keeping order, although this straightforward plot is complicated by the betrayal of Shamus by fellow villager Mike Murphy and the inter-communal romance between Irish ‘colleen’ Kitty O’Toole and Captain Trevor.

Shortly before the First World War, Stanford withdrew the opera for political reasons. As an ardent Unionist, Stanford worried that it may stir up Irish nationalism and anti-English sentiment at a time when the politics of Home Rule were intensifying. The ban remained in place until Stanford’s death in 1924 and less than five months later, Shamus returned to the stage for a production in Dublin.

Conductor David Parry said: ‘I am very excited to help modern audiences rediscover this Stanford opera with this, its first recording. The opera was extraordinarily popular in its day, to the extent that it had to be withdrawn by the composer in case it instigated a political uprising. It is a thriller, a romance, and a comedy, full of wonderful music that marks out Stanford as a truly significant opera composer.’

This release also marks the 10th anniversary of Retrospect Opera. Retrospect Opera is a charity with a clear mission: to advance appreciation and knowledge of British opera and related musical works from the mid-1700s to the mid-1900s. Led by a board of expert Trustees, Retrospect Opera focuses on researching, recording, and releasing professional recordings of neglected works, ensuring their rediscovery and preservation for future generations. Retrospect Opera have championed, amongst others, Ethel Smyth, Charles Dibdin, Edward Loder, and Charles Villiers Stanford. Current projects include the recording of Marjory Kennedy-Fraser and Granville Bantock’s The Seal-Woman. For more details visit retrospectopera.org.uk.