The Rising of the Moon is Nicholas Maw's second opera, and like its predecessor, One Man Show, it is a comedy. As far as subject matter and its treatment go, however, the resemblance ends there. One Man Show is a farce, based on a flimsy comic idea by Saki. The Rising of the Moon is a romantic comedy whose central situation—though necessarily presented in high theatrical relief—is essentially realistic and depends for its effect on the portrayal of a number of true-to-life three-dimensional characters. Beverley Cross's libretto, based on an entirely original idea, is set in Ireland in the year 1875. This was a tragic period in Irish history. After years of unavailing struggle for home rule and for the emancipation of a Catholic people from minority government by Protestants, Ireland had found herself in the mid-nineteenth century still bound in a most unfavourable union with England. Her economic and industrial growth was deliberately kept down by legislation in Westminster, prompted by fears of competition with home industry. The poverty of most Irish peasants was extreme, as it had been even before the potato famine of the late 1840s, and many were still suffering at the hands of unscrupulous landlords who were quite prepared to implement laws which made eviction the normal penalty for non-payment of rent. In these circumstances the English were naturally both hated and feared. Yet those who tried to stir popular feeling into action—Daniel O'Connell, the Young Irelanders, the Fenians—found their hands tied by Ireland's internal religious and social divisions, and by the listlessness of an underfed, underclothed, even underhoused people. Such revolutionary outbreaks as took place were isolated and poorly organised, and although the English executive in Ireland—including the army—might tend to regard all Irish peasants as potential rebels, they had long since learnt that the rebel bark was a good deal worse than the insurgent bite, and so they treated the natives accordingly.
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