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Ivar HALLSTRÖM (1826-1901)
Duke Magnus and the Mermaid (Hertig Magnus) Romantic Operetta in 3 Acts (1867)
With book by Frans Hedberg (1828-1908) Critical Edition: Anders Wiklund
Duke Magnus, Lars Johansson (bar);Sten Åkeson, constable, Johan Rydh, (bar); Brynolf, his son, Mattias Ermedahl, (ten); Peder, an old fisherman, Staffan Alveteg, (bass); Ingrid, his wife, Eva Marklund, (m.sop); Anna, their daughter, Ingela Bohlin, (sop); Lisa, a fisherman's daughter, Emelie Sigelius, (sop);
Ulf, cook to the Duke, Jonas Olofsson, (ten); A monk, Marco Stella, (bar); A fisherman, Robin Svanvik, (bar)
Vadstena Academy Choir
Norrköping Symphony Orchestra/Niklas Willén
Rec. Louis De Geer Concert Hall, Norrköping, Sweden. August 2000
MARCO POLO 8.225214-15 [44.22+69.00]


Although the name of Ivar Hallström was known to me before this set arrived for review, his music was not. As far as I can ascertain this is the first recording of any of the composers stage works to be issued here. I say this knowing that my collection of CD Catalogues from 1983 to date is representative rather than complete - all for the sake of domestic harmony. The informative essay in the booklet suggests the music is reminiscent of Mendelssohn and Schumann. However unlike Hallström they were not renowned composers of stage works. The booklet mentions the composer’s ballads for soloists and choir of 1860 and 1865, with texts by the future King Oscar II as precursors. These ballads and the current opera derive from Swedish folktales. Hallström seems to have been well connected: the libretto of his operetta ‘Neaga’ (1885) was by the Queen of Romania no less. In fact, Hallström was a prolific composer of opera and operetta often choosing Scandinavian legend and folk story as his subject. Other notable operatic works include (giving the English names) ‘The White Lady of Drottingham’, (1847); ‘The Miller Wolf’ (1871); ‘The Vikings’ (1877); ‘The Silver Ring’, (1880) and ‘The Devil’s Snares’, (1900). With ‘Duke Magnus’ (1867), Hallström, and his librettist, set out to create ‘The First Romantic Swedish Opera’. The work is described as an operetta, although spoken dialogue plays no great part. As to the music, it is melodic, largely light in texture, but with dramatic overtones when the plot demands (CD2 tr.12). It is more akin to Lortzing than Offenbach.

In his review of this performance, elsewhere on this site, Raymond Walker outlines the plot in detail and I won’t repeat the information here. As to the singers, most were born between 1965 and 1973 and one would expect them to be at their individual vocal peak. Indeed, whilst there are no future international stars to be heard nor are there glaring weaknesses. The oldest singer is Emelie Sigelius (b.1960) as Lisa. She is a light lyric coloratura type soprano who, at first hearing (CD1 tr.4), could do with a touch more colour to her tone. However, that might make for complications in distinguishing her from the fuller-toned Anna (b.1970) when the two are in duet (CD2 tr.3), an unusual but effective piece. Of the male singers, the Peder of Staffan Alveteg has a steady well-covered bass (CD2 tr.2) but no great range of expression, whilst the tenor of Mattias Ermedahl, as Brynolf, is light, graceful in phrasing (CD1 tr.7), but thin and not ideally steady at the top of the voice (CD2 tr.8). However, the soloists’ total is greater than the sum of their parts, and with their excellent diction they make it easy to follow the English translation of the Swedish libretto, both being included in the booklet, thus adding to the overall enjoyment to be derived from this issue. The voices are recorded well forward but not to the detriment of the orchestra (CD1 tr.1), the whole in a clear warm acoustic. The chorus is vibrant and plays a significant part in the drama (CD1 tr.10 and CD2 tr.5). It is a pity that the synopsis is not track-related.

Marco Polo are to be congratulated for providing the opportunity to hear this work from a composer who, were he to have operated in Paris, for example, would have a significant following and many more recordings. I recommend purchase to all lovers of operetta and romantic opera.

Robert J Farr

see also review by Raymond Walker



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