The Tailor's Daughter

Graeme Stewart is away with the fairies at the Grand Opera House 

Loosely based on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Brian Irvine's award-winning opera The Tailor’s Daughter is a fairy-tale musical set within a Shakespearean forest of fairies and evil spirits. 

When a tailor falls in love with and marries a fairy princess - the daughter of the King of the Forest Fairies - his life begins to unravel. When the fairy princess dies, the tailor is left to raise his daughter alone. But what will become of the tailor's daughter? And will she ever learn about her tragic past?

In this production, librettist Greg Cullen creates a drama which aims to draw parallels between NI's violent history and the young persons' journey toward maturity. The theme of two opposing tribes and the central character as a neutral party reinforces the idea of conflict and separation, an integral aspect of the drama.

Underpinning this, Irvine’s score is a rich array of musical sounds that allow the drama to be constantly refreshed through dialogue - both spoken and sung - and dance, with many routines peppered throughout the production. 

Sarah Alexander of the Welsh National Opera has described Irvine’s score as '…feral music. A walk on the wild side'. Certainly much of Irvine’s work in the past has involved the weird and wonderful, but perhaps in the case of The Tailor’s Daughter he has refined this style, producing subtle tones.

In terms of dramatic influence the score balances subtle enchantment with brash, tribal expressions exceptionally well. But to say that the musical style is completely may be naïeve. Rather, individual parts can be seen to be influenced by many different styles, perhaps most notably jazz and impressionistic music.

Some of the best moments in the opera are provided by Irvine’s ingenuity and skill with different musical forms and genres. Irvine's attention to the character of the Wolf (played by Nathan Morrison) becomes apparent through the introduction of a 'tango'.  

There is brashness to the score, an assertive drive that carries the drama forward, and a musical directness which constantly shifts mood and tone. Musical Director Fergus Sheil’s interpretation of Irvine’s score is accomplished, handling tempo changes and shifts in genre very well.

The score is backed by a fantastic principal cast, lead by Rebekah Coffey as the tailor’s daughter. Coffey’s striking vocal range - robust and full of energy - offer some of the evening’s best moments. Helen O’Hare’s portrayal as the Queen firmly establishes her as a singer to be reckoned with, and some of the performances given by the younger members of the cast were also extremely competent.

As a production, The Tailor’s Daughter provides enchantment and magic, a reminder of the innocence of youth and a nostalgic glimpse back into childhood. This production successfully negotiates its way through Irvine's underlying message of awakening sexuality and the inexplicable power of love. At times the instrumentalists and cast could have been more integrated as a unit. But for the most part both musical and dramatic ideas worked well together.

Brian Irvine once described writing music as like being in a playground, and writing a piece like being on the witch's hat. His score for The Tailor’s Daughter is the embodiment of that statement, taking the audience on a journey of discovery through the many instrumental sounds and harmonies, dances and songs, manic rhythm and delicate nuance which makes the score a unique blending pot of rich flavours… rather than a witch’s brew.