Yeats comes alive again on Derry stage

By Grainne McCool

To mark the 150th birthday of W.B. Yeats in 2015, Michael Scott, Independent International theatre director, producer and composer, composed a new song cycle exploring the poetry of our national poet.

This cycle delves into the poetry of Yeats, focusing on the development of the Irish state and his unrequited love for Maude Gonne.

Last night he brought this song cycle to Derry’s Millennium Forum.

As I entered the intimate ‘studio’ at the forum and saw the stage setting, it all just seemed so apt on the anniversary of Yeats’ death.


With the oversized photo of Yeats in the background, it felt as if he might really be there himself.

As the musicians came on stage, Cormac De Barra (harpist), Michelle Mason (cellist) and Vincent Lynch (keyboards), we really were transported to another musical world.

It was eloquent, uplifting and yet so very mellow.

This was followed by the arrival of Sandra Oman (soprano), Anthony Norton (tenor), Des Cave (Abbey actor) and Mary McEvoy (actress).

The songs last night included ‘Evil in The Heart’, ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’, The Falling of the Leaves’, ‘When you are Old’ and many more.

The poems read by McEvoy and Cave included, ‘No Second Troy’, The Wild Swans at Coole’, ‘An Irishman Forsees His Death’, ‘September 1913’, ‘Easter 1916’, ‘An Image of a Past Life’ and ‘The Second Coming’. Each were special in their own way.

To lighten the mood McEvoy sang ‘The Chambermaid’s First Song’, ‘Second Song’ and ‘Third Song’ and really did give the audience something to smile (laugh) about.

To hear Yeats’ poetry sung by Oman and Norton assuredly gave his words a very real poignancy.

I actually wiped a tear as Sandra Oman sang ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’.

Sandra Oman, Soprano
Sandra Oman, Soprano

Such was the emotion in her voice and the very real imagery in my mind.

As soprano and tenor jointly closed the show with ‘Sailing to Byzantium’, it ultimately was a very intense and moving conclusion.

At all times, the phenomenal music complemented Yeats’ words to perfection.

This songs were premièred last year on the 150th birthday of W.B. Yeats.

It felt very fitting that it was premièred in Derry on the 77th anniversary of his death.

Mary Mc Evoy told me after the show ‘we didn’t realise that this was his anniversary and it makes my début appearance even more special’.

Former Glenroe actress Mary McEvoy
Former Glenroe actress Mary McEvoy

An avid Yeats fan I had eagerly awaited seeing this production.

I wasn’t disappointed. I tutor his poetry to Leaving Cert students annually.

I felt very privileged last night hearing his words read and sung to such exquisite music.

Michael Scott has created a lasting tribute to Yeats with this composition and I don’t doubt that the man himself would definitely give this his seal of approval.

‘A terrible beauty’ was indeed born on the Derry stage last night.

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