The great Mokanna, o’er his features hung
The veil, the silver veil, which he had flung
In mercy there, to hide from mortal sight
His dazzling brow, till man could bear its light.
-Lalla Rookh, Thomas Moore
The Veiled Prophet by Irish composer Charles Villiers Stanford is based on Irish poet and songwriter Thomas Moore's most famous poetic romance Lalla Rookh. The opera is set in the Merou and the Prophet's Palace in Persia and the title is taken from the name of the heroine of the story, the daughter of the 17th-century Mughal emperor Aurangzeb.
Very few professional performances have been given of Irish composer Charles Villiers Stanford’s operas in the last century. Stanford was a prolific opera composer, much more interested in the lyric stage than most of his contemporaries in Britain (his career was largely divided between Cambridge and London). But recognising the hopelessness of pursuing an operatic career at home, he turned to Germany – he had studied with Reinecke in Leipzig in the 1870s – and it was in Hanover that the first of his ten operas, The Veiled Prophet of Khorassan, was premiered in 1881. Given there as Der verschleierte Prophet, it had been translated again as Il profeta velato by the time it reached Covent Garden.
Among those who made musical settings before Stanford were Spontini, Félicien David, Anton Rubinstein and – most famous of all – Schumann, in what became his Das Paradies und die Peri. Cosmopolitan in its pre-Wagnerian manner. The Veiled Prophet is attractive, despite sometimes coming under suspicion for its shades of Meyerbeer. But it was well-received in its day, with the Musical Times of 1 March 1881 saying of Stanford, ‘He has come before the world in a new light, as the composer of a grand opera, a work of greater importance than has hitherto appeared from his pen.’
Presented by Wexford Festival Opera in association with Heritage Music Productions (Una Hunt, founder and producer)
Sung in English with English surtitles
Two short talks will take place before the 28 October performance:
Una Hunt: “Adapting Thomas Moore’s Lalla Rookh for the Operatic Stage”
3–3.45 p.m. | Jerome Hynes Theatre
Jeremy Dibble: “Stanford’s Veiled Prophet: A Pioneering Landmark in English-Language Opera”
3.45-4.30 p.m. | Jerome Hynes Theatre
Una Hunt is one of Ireland’s most versatile concert pianists and has toured extensively in Ireland, the UK, Europe, USA, and Russia. Particularly committed to rediscovering the music of Ireland’s neglected composers, Una has recorded an unrivalled world-premiere collection of CDs and has presented Irish operas by Balfe and Wallace to critical acclaim. She is also a distinguished author and has published on many aspects of music in Ireland, including a seminal publication on Thomas Moore. Una is an experienced broadcaster and award-winning documentary maker and is Professor of Performance Research at Technological University Dublin Conservatory of Music and Drama.
Jeremy Dibble is a Professor of Music at Durham University. An expert on British and Irish music of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, he has developed a particular interest in the life and work of Charles Villiers Stanford which includes a book published in 2002 with Oxford University Press. His work as an editor of Stanford’s music, much of which still remains unpublished, has led to numerous recordings with companies such as Hyperion, Chandos, SOMM and Lyrita.
The Veiled Prophet - first performance 2 June, 1881, Hoftheater, Hannover
Libretto by W. Barclay Squire after Moore