The novelist Colm Tóibín may need no introduction, but his deep love and appreciation of opera may still catch some unaware.
Opera in one act
Libretto by Colm Tóibín
Sung in English
Wexford Festival Opera, 2022
There is nowhere better to make this discovery than in Wexford, since Tóibín’s family had connections with the festival from its very start, and he himself saw his first opera — Les Pêcheurs de perles, with Christiane Eda-Pierre — at Wexford as long ago as 1971. In every sense, then, The Master is something of a homecoming.
Tóibín’s own libretto for The Master is based on his fifth novel (2004), and as in the book the protagonist is the writer Henry James, caught in a conflict between his exterior and interior selves. The score, by the composer Alberto Caruso, was completed in 2016. More recently, Tóibín has collaborated with the composer Ludovico Einaudi on Winter Journey, an opera exploring the conflicts felt by those caught up in Europe’s migrant crisis and premiered in 2019 in Palermo.
The American novelist Henry James, by now fully entrenched in English society, is seeking seclusion in the town of Rye. Humiliated by the failure of his play Guy Domville, he flees to Ireland, but even here he suffers social embarrassment. Throwing himself into work is the only solution, and returning to England he begins a ghost story based on his family and friends — his invalid sister Alice, his bubbly cousin Minnie Temple and his close friend Constance Fennimore Woolson, all now dead — a story that reveals his own guilt at having failed them. Social demands also mean that Henry is repressing his homosexuality, and although he escapes some of these confines while visiting Italy, he resolves to settle back at Rye where he is watched over by objects from his past.