To celebrate the week of St. Patrick’s Day, listening to “Danny Boy” or the Irish Rovers is fine. But why stop there?
What about opera?
On Wednesday, the Buffalo Chamber Players are presenting two chamber operas. One of them is John Harbison’s “Full Moon in March.” The other is “The Cat and the Moon” by composer Roland Martin, whose romantic music has won him a strong local following. Both operas are based on the work of Irish poet William Butler Yeats.
The two works are very different but balance each other nicely, says Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra violist Janz Castelo, who leads the confederation known as the Chamber Players.
“Whereas Ron Martin’s ‘Cat and the Moon’ is a comedy, ‘The Full Moon in March’ is pretty heavy drama,” he says. “It follows the story of ‘Salome’ a little bit. A swineherd tries to woo the queen with a song, she doesn’t like it, so she has him executed and dances with his head. There’s a dance where the queen dances with the head of the swineherd. It’s not quite ‘The Dance of the Seven Veils,’ but it’s similar to it. It’s definitely a more serious text.
“You get to see two sides of Yeats.”
Yeats would not have minded music to his words. Like many Irishmen, he was in love with music.
“Yeats actually calls for musicians and music in his plays,” Castelo points out. “He doesn’t stipulate what music. But it’s in there already.”
Harbison’s piece is what we usually think of as opera, made up entirely of song. Martin’s piece alternates music with the spoken word.
“Martin maintains some of the spoken dialogue,” Castelo says.
Both operas are the same length, about 35 minutes each. The Harbison work, written in 1977, has unique textures, owing in part to a prepared piano.
“The way he uses the piano, it sounds like a percussion instrument,” says Castelo. “I think he was trying to go for kind of Middle Eastern timbres. He creates a new sonic world, with pennies and nickels and screws and rubber mutes inside the piano. He makes very creative use of it, kind of like Britten can get a huge sound out of eight players.”
The public enjoys the work of Martin, who is music director at St. Joseph University Church and one of three candidates being considered for director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus. His Neruda Songs, part of an artistic collaboration with the late painter Catherine Parker, illustrate his overt romanticism.
Castelo is considering collaborating next season with Vocalis, the virtuosic singing group. He is also considering more operas for the future, including perhaps Henry Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas” or – “I’m dreaming” – Benjamin Britten’s suspenseful “The Turn of the Screw.”
“I’d like to start doing one opera a year. Maybe next year, go for baroque,” he jokes.
The Yeats evening is a start. “I’m excited about this concert. It’s our first operatic production, and hopefully the audience will like it, and will tell us they like it by coming to the concert.”
With luck, the concert will have an added attraction. Castelo has found a film online of Yeats reading his poetry, and plans on showing it to the audience. “You can really hear the flow of the music,” he says. “It’s very musical. The audience will pick up on that. It’ll put them in a Yeats frame of mind.”
The cast includes sopranos Angela Haas and Colleen Marcello, tenor Joe Dan Harper and baritone Alexander Hurd.
Castelo points out surprisingly that, although this concert coincides with the high St. Patrick’s Day season, the relevance is strictly coincidental.
“It’s really by accident that we’re doing it in March,” he says. “You can’t do ‘Full Moon in March’ in April.”
What: The Buffalo Chamber Players, Music For Yeats
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Buffalo Seminary, 205 Bidwell Parkway
Tickets: $15 general, $5 students
Info: www.buffalochamber- players.org