Michael Scott trained in Paris and has been Theatre Director of Project Arts Centre, Program Director of Dublin Theatre Festival and Director of the Tivoli Theatre and RHA Downstairs. Currently Artistic Director of City Theatre Dublin his productions have been seen in Ireland, England, Germany, USA, Iceland, Wales, Scotland and France.
Productions include John B Keane’s The Matchmaker (Dublin, Edinburgh and New York), Sisters with Anna Manahan (Dublin, New York), The Field, The Cuchulain Cycle (W.B.Yeats), his own plays Dracula and Dancing at the Ballroom of Romance, for City Theatre Dublin. Bent, The Antigone, Trafford Tanzi, The Normal Heart (Project), and Thomas Kilroy’s version of Ghosts at the Abbey.
Recently, he composed a song cycle of based on the poetry of W.B.Yeats ‘Songs from the Swans at Coole’ to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of W.B Yeats Birthday.
We chatted to him in advance of his show coming to The Civic this June.
Tell us a little bit about your musical background – and influences?
I was brought up in a musical family – my mother and father met in the O’Connell’s Musical Society. Music was part of every day at home. When I was 14, I decided to write a rock opera “as you do” and dragged loads of school friends and cousins into play and sing – I would dread to hear it now – we taped it on several old revox tape machines. Early influences were Sean O Riada, David Bowie, Brian Eno, Yes, Broadway musicals and Iolanthe by Gilbert & Sullivan (the first show I ever saw).
What would you say is your favourite instrument to write for, play?
The piano – the overtones and reverberations are like drowning in a bath of chocolate – and sometimes so gently.
How did this show come about?
I had the idea for this show when I was working on HUMEWOOD OPERA in 1996 – Wilhelminia Fernandez (the Singer from DIVA the Movie) sang an amazing selection of music in one of the concerts and as I had begun working with the poetry of W.B Yeats in 1992 – it occurred to me that a new song cycle based on his poetry would be cool to do – on the way though I wrote 3 hours of music and underscore for The Cuchulain Cycle and two operas based on his plays Purgatory and The Dreaming of The Bones.
I try not to force the words into a particular time structure, because they are alive, they breathe, and respond to the human voice. So it takes a long and painstaking process to find a musical language that can be as elastic as the words.
The singers always ask “What’s the time signature?” and I reply – “There is none, sing it as you would speak it. The music and the musicians will fit around for you, as the words breathe and reverberate in your voice”.
Do you have a favourite poem by W.B. Yeats?
Perhaps Aedh seeks the Cloths of Heaven though usually the one I am working on at that time – I fall in love with it and it sings to me kind of …
Do you think an essential ingredient of a good poem is that it should be able to be read/sung aloud effectively?
No I think a good poem is a thing of itself – sometimes it can become a great song – with this song cycle I picked the poems by flicking through my favourite “Complete Poems of Yeats” (I have several but I can only write from one in particular in the other books the words dont seem the same). So I flick through the book trying to clear my mind and when I light on one that’s it – and I’m stuck with setting it – until it lets me go by being finished. I tired to pick a few on purpose and it didn’t work at all. Innisfree took 18 years and When You Are Old took two and half years – others just as long as it took to read them …
Can you tell us a little bit about the singers & musicians who will be performing in the show?
Yvonne Brennan (Soprano) has worked with me a lot on The Sound of Music at the Cork Opera House and at The Olympia Theatre and then in Carousel with Michael Praed at The Tivoli Theatre. Yvonne has just returned from the USA where she was living for 20 years. She is a fantastic singer. She is a wonderfully emotional singer. Anthony Norton sang the part of the Young Man in my opera (also based on a Yeats play, The Dreaming of the Bones. He has a fantastic voice and is great to work with – he’s not afraid to dive into the unknown. He was one of the Irish Tenors for a while. We are also delighted to have Des Cave and Deirdre Donnelly, two very experienced actors as part of the show. Both are seasoned players of Yeats from their years working at the Abbey Theatre. They understand how to speak his verse and that is not easy as each poem need to be taken in its own right – and has its own rules.
What can people expect from ‘Songs from the Swans at Coole’ at The Civic?
We intend to create a magical show of music and verse, that brings W.B Yeats into the 21st Century and opens his work to a wide audience. I have been working with his words for along time now and its exciting to hear my little dots come to life in the voices of Yvonne and Anthony. We also want to show the whimsical and fun side of his writing. Yeats is such a great writer that his words and verse need re-evaluating for each generation- he’s constantly testing and provoking and pushing the envelope. Most of all we want people to enjoy themselves and be a little surprised and relaxed at how much joy and beauty there are in his magical words.
Songs from the Swans at Coole opens at The Civic on Wednesday, 17th June 2015 at The Civic. Tickets are €20 and are on sale from our box office – 01 4627477 or online here.