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Sky was the limit for Esposito -- so he moved to Dublin

'May you live in interesting times", reputed to be a Chinese curse, would certainly have applied to anyone who was around in Ireland a hundred or more years ago. They were interesting times in the sphere of music here too.

The Royal Irish Academy of Music in Westland Row in Dublin had an international reputation, and in the spring of 1882 added an Italian, by no means the first, to its teaching staff.

Michele Esposito, a native of Naples and a terrific pianist, was just 26 when he moved to Ireland with his Russian wife and young daughter to take up the position of professor of composition.

Esposito, who was born on this day in 1855, came highly recommended. Anton Rubinstein, then the top exponent of the piano and a prolific composer to boot, was flamboyant in his lavish praise after hearing Esposito perform in his hometown.

You are young, the doyen said, and the skies of Naples are too beautiful to let you work. You must go abroad. Dublin became his destination.

For almost 50 years, as the political landscape was changing, Esposito worked as an inspiring teacher, and built a career as a composer alongside. In the circumstances, it's hardly surprising his music has a distinctly local flavour.

At the first Feis Ceoil in 1897, his cantata Deirdre took first prize, and he repeated the feat five years later, winning the category for a symphony based on traditional tunes.

Esposito became the dominant figure in the musical life of the capital. He ran chamber concerts at the RDS and set up the Dublin Orchestral Society, Ireland's first professional orchestra.

He was friendly with James Joyce, and turns up in an early letter of the author's to his new girlfriend Nora Barnacle. Joyce had to go out to Sandymount, he wrote, to "some Italian who wants to see me"!

In the way of these things, changing tastes have dulled the appetite for his music. But it's a measure of his importance to the cultural life of Dublin over nearly half a century that his portrait by the Co Down artist Sarah Harrison hangs in the National Gallery.

• One of Ireland's greatest love stories is coming home for the first time in 60 years. Over the coming week, there'll be three opportunities to experience Richard Wagner's epic Tristan and Isolde at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre in Dublin.

The story of the Irish princess and the English knight gets the full five-hour treatment in a production by Wide Open Opera, a new Irish company.

Miriam Murphy and Lars Cleveman take the lead roles . . . and speaking of rolls, luxurious picnic baskets will be on sale to enhance the experience of a full-blown operatic night out.

As part of the Dublin Theatre Festival, Tristan and Isolde features tomorrow, Wednesday, and Saturday. More at www.dublintheatrefestival.com.

RTÉ lyric fm features The Hamilton Scores from 9.30 each Saturday morning, and George Hamilton's Full Score on Sundays at 3.00pm.


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