> Michael William Balfe - The Bohemian Girl [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- Sept 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Michael William BALFE (1808-1870)
The Bohemian Girl

Nova Thomas – Arline
Patrick Power – Thaddeus
Jonathan Summers – Count Arnheim
Bernadette Cullen – Queen of the Gipsies
John del Carlo – Devilshoof
Timothy German – Florestein
Radio Telefis Eireann Philharmonic Choir
National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland
Richard Bonynge
Recorded National Concert Hall, Dublin January 1991


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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 disappointment.

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.

Jonathan Woolf

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