Drawn from an Irish saga of the Red Branch Knights of Ulster in the druidic era, the story tells of the doom of the ruthless Conochar, King of Ullah (Ulster), and the tragic death of Naisi and his brothers, the Princes of Ullah, as a result of the rivalry between Conochar and Naisi for the love of the foundling Deirdre. Since much of the original text was devoted to the description of action required by radio, revisions for stage trimmed the material extensively. Willan wrote in his customary late 19th-century harmonic idiom, creating a rich polyphonic texture that is effective on radio though problematic in the theatre, where it can overwhelm the singers. Dramatically and musically Deirdre is a Wagnerian opera, yet with a character distinctively its own. The libretto (Toronto 1944, revised 1965) and a vocal score (Berandol 1972) have been published.
Author Carl Morey
'Deirdre of the Sorrows, Canada's first full-length opera,' Canadian Review of Music and Art, vol 5, Feb 1946
Coulter, John. 'Words for music,' Opera Canada, Sep 1965
Clarke, F.R.C. Healey Willan: Life and Music (Toronto 1983)
'Opera in Montreal and Toronto'
Steblin, Rita. "Healey Willan's inscribed copy of John Coulter's 'Deirdre of the Sorrows'," Canadian University Music Review, Vol. 12 no. 1, 1992
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