could such fine music as this have remained neglected until
now with this premiére recording? In his time, Hérold was a
well-respected musician who followed in the vein of Rossini
and Auber. As hinted in the notes, he may have been a source
of inspiration for Bellini’s La Sonnambula, to be written
four years later. Interestingly, the plot for this charming
ballet was written anonymously by the well-known writer, Scribe,
who wrote many libretti for successful European operas. Here,
with his usual enthusiasm, Richard Bonynge has researched and
unearthed a gem. Not played for 150 years, this music contains
haunting and romantic ideas. Add to this those hummable melody
lines that are such a feature of the stage works we enjoy from
this Romantic period of European music.
composer Hérold brings to mind only La Fille de Mal Gardée
and the Zampa overture, yet he wrote large amounts of
theatre music that have been totally forgotten. In this ballet
we hear a freshness of tuneful invention, warm undertones, and
strong rhythm in the French tradition. Apparently, some of Hérold’s
music in La Somnambule contains ideas borrowed
from Auber and Rossini, but they must be so well reworked that
none sound familiar to me. Certainly, the style of tracks 17
and 18 conveys strong Rossinian characteristics, yet with their
kaleidoscope of orchestral colour I feel that this music is
on a level with that found in the Tchaikovsky ballets. Tracks
5 and 8 (Allegro) suggest to me that Delibes was influenced
by Hérold, for one of the movements contain characteristics
that remind one of the ‘Animated Clockworks’ scene in Coppélia
(1870), a ballet that came nearly fifty years after La
Somnambule. Even the ever-popular Giselle,
by Adam, contains similar colouring yet chronologically speaking
this also followed the Hérold ballet.
plot concerns a sleep-walking bride who in a trance happens
to climb a ladder conveniently left outside the Inn window.
She is later found in bed at the Inn and is accused by her fiancée
of being unfaithful. A red shawl in the wrong hands and witness
to a further sleep-walking escapade on the adjoining Mill roof
explains the situation to everyone’s satisfaction.
Melbourne-based Orchestra Victoria responds intuitively to Bonynge’s
direction and delicacy of touch since much warmth is teased
out of Hérold’s rich score. In one passage, an unusual effect
of rapid staccato notes delivered by the horns is played with
perfection despite the obvious difficulty of being consistent
over a duration of bars.
word should be said about Melba. This Australian label came to
note with three issues in the summer of 2000; of Massenet, Strauss,
and 19th Century English opera arias, the latter being
a most interesting compilation (sung by Deborah Riedel) from forgotten
English Operas (see reviews of The
Power of Love and the Massenet).
Power of Love remains
one of my favourite CDs and led to the Victorian Opera’s decision
to record Balfe’s The Maid of Artois (see review)
four years later. These discs went out of print in 2002 after
which little was heard of Melba. It is not only good to see this
new Hérold release and know that the label is alive and well,
but also to know that the other recordings have been repressed
and are available again.
SACD sound is excellent with good separation and a warm, yet
spacious, acoustic that brings out flattering qualities in the
woodwind and strings. The handsome full-colour booklet, put
together on Opera Rara lines, contains interesting historical
notes researched by Richard Bonynge and Patrick O’Connor. No
doubt the notes on Hérold in the Grove Dictionary of Music
will now have to be updated as a result of the fresh information.
The notes are in English and French.