Beecham conducted only two operas at Covent Garden after the
War – Die Meistersinger and The Bohemian Girl, of which
a tantalising snippet has apparently circulated amongst collectors. If
the juxtaposition seems absurd the works were, at least, mid-century and
near contemporaneous, Wagner’s dating from 1868 and Balfe’s from 1843.
In its day, of course, The Bohemian Girl was the most widely known
and successful of all British operas of the nineteenth century and contains
much still to admire, but its sub-Weberian aspirations can strike one
– they certainly struck me – as more than a little forced and its scenario
as more than usually far-fetched.
Balfe needs help if he’s not to sound convivially dull.
When Heddle Nash sang When other lips with such lyric ardour,
such expressive minstrelsy, one could imagine the opera consumed with
such moments. When one listens to the many inter-War sopranos who essayed
I dreamt that I dwelt expectations rise as to a series of delightful
and rewarding arias. But all too often, listening to this competent
but hardly stunning recording, Balfe seems bereft instrumentally, employing
the most prosaic and utilitarian of accompaniments. He’s often very
uneven melodically, with an unerring inability to maintain interest
throughout the entire span of an aria – all too often the line buckles
or meanders. I have to say that I began in expectation and ended in
The discs derive from a Dublin concert performance.
Performers are personable enough, sometimes more, and the men superior
to the women but Bonynge’s direction doesn’t manage to wring the charm
from Balfe’s score or limit the damage of some undistinguished writing.
Too often the score seems a rehash of Donizetti-Weber, energy generated
is dissipated, operatic momentum wasted. I enjoyed Patrick Power’s Thaddeus;
something in his tone hearkens back to the glory days of Nash, Walter
Widdop and Tudor Davies though he lacks their instinctive repose and
charisma. Jonathan Summers is reasonable as the Count; Timothy German
does a finely characterised drunk scene as Florestein; John del Carlo
is Devilshoof – unsubtle name, good singer. There are some spoken passages
by members of the Radio Telefis Eireann theatre company. I wish I could
be more enthusiastic. Much is strongly done but equally much is half-hearted,
in both work and performance, and little can convince me that The Bohemian
Girl is much more than cut-price Weber.