Music with Ease > Other 19th Century Opera (Russian, English, Czech, etc.) > The Lily of Killarney (Benedict)
The Lily of Killarney
An Opera by Sir Julius Benedict
The name of Sir Julius Benedict was for many years like a household word in musical England. Born at Stuttgart in 1804, Benedict, like Mendelssohn and Meyerbeer, was the son of a Jewish banker. He is said to have been a cousin of Heine. His studies were at first pursued under Hummel, the virtuoso pianist and composer, and he became the favourite pupil of Weber, of whom he wrote a short biography. With Rossini, Meyerbeer, Verdi, Mendelssohn, Bellini, and Donizetti, he was more or less intimate. He was probably the last survivor of those who ever saw and spoke to Beethoven. The "saucy little fellow," as the composer of "Fidelio" called him, was the innocent means of the reconciliation between Beethoven and Weber. This was in 1823. At Baden he and Weber once passed some delightful moments with Beethoven in a dingy room furnished with a dilapidated Broadwood.
When studying with Hummel at Weimar, he watched, with boyish reverence, Goethe walking with the Grand Duke. He was present at a private rehearsal at which Weber sang through the whole of his new "Der Freischütz," with poor enough voice, but with infectious earnestness and fire. Benedict practised his profession first in Vienna, Naples, and Paris; but he settled in London in 1835, and from that time he "became thoroughly English, so that only very few knew that he was a born German." He was in turn conductor at the Lyceum; at Drury Lane, where "The Bohemian Girl" and "Maritana" were brought out under his baton; and at Her Majestys Theatre. In 1850 he toured America with Jenny Lind, and shared in her triumphs in a series of 122 concerts. He was an excellent pianist, and his annual concert was looked upon for fifty years as one of the great festivals of the London musical season. His merits were fully acknowledged. He was knighted in 1871, and was decorated with many foreign orders. Late in life he married a pupil, Miss Forty ("a union of piano and forte," said a wag), and King Edward VII., as Prince of Wales, was sponsor to his son. His death took place in London, in June 1885.
Benedicts first English opera, "The Gipsys Warning," was produced in 1838 with notable success. The fine song, "Rage, thou angry storm," used to be a high favourite with bassos. Other operas enjoyed long runs, but only "The Lily of Killarney" has retained a place on the stage. It was produced at Covent Garden in 1862, soon after the success of Boucicaults play, "The Colleen Bawn," upon which the excellent libretto is founded. It was subsequently staged at the principal theatres in Germany.
Briefly the story is as follows. Harry Cregan, an Irish landowner, has secretly married Eily OConnor, a pretty peasant girl of Killarney. But the fortunes of Harrys house need repairing, and, seeing an opportunity for contracting a rich marriage, he thinks of repudiating Eily. Eily declines to give up her marriage certificate; whereupon Danny Mann, a friend of Harry, tries to drown her in the lake. She is saved by Myles na Copalleen, a smuggler and hunter, who shoots Danny. Eilys narrow escape from death brings Harry to his senses. He gives up the idea of his contemplated marriage with the wealthy Thekla, and publicly intimates that he is the husband of Eily.
There is much dramatic attractiveness about the music, with an abundance of delicious, tender melody, refined harmony, and effective instrumental scoring. Naturally, the work shows the influence of Weber, but the vein of "plaintive melancholy" which runs through it is entirely Benedicts own.