William Vincent Wallace may not be a household name to today’s
music-lovers but from 1845 until the end of the 19th
century he was very popular as an operatic composer. He is not
completely forgotten, however, and I knew at least an excerpt
from his first opera, Maritana, from a Joan Sutherland
record. On Marco Polo there is also a complete recording of
the opera. Excerpts from Maritana coupled with music
from a couple of other roughly contemporaneous British operas
are available on EMI and on the Australian label Melba Deborah
Riedel sings several Wallace arias plus others by Balfe, Faraday
and Sullivan. Ms Riedel was scheduled to sing the role of Ghiva
on the present recording of Lurline but died before the
project could be carried through. The recording is dedicated
to her memory.
The libretto is based on the legend of Lorelei, the 132 metre
high rock on the eastern bank of the Rhine. In Heine’s
poem Die Lore-Ley a kind of siren sings from the outcrop
and distracts shipmen so that they crash into the rock. In this
opera she falls in love with a human being, a young nobleman.
When the River King hears this he knows that this will lead
to her death. How the story ends I won’t reveal, which
is a sneaky way of forcing readers to buy these two discs to
And it is worth the moderate costs, since the music is wholly
agreeable and the singing and playing, despite some blemishes,
on a quite high level. The performing edition is by Richard
Bonynge, who has done great things in dusting off long-forgotten
operas and giving them a new lease of life. One can at once
in the long overture hear that Wallace was a skilled orchestrator.
The opening is an atmospheric description of a moonlit night
on the Rhine, but the music becomes both lively and dramatic.
When the imaginary curtain rises we are exposed once more to
a serene and beautiful orchestral introduction, which is also
woven into the recitative that follows and sung at the end before
So what does the music sound like? The easiest way of describing
it is to see it as a forerunner of Sullivan. In a blindfold
test I am sure many listeners would believe some of the melodies
to be from one of the Savoy operas. Ingratiating and easy to
hum they could comfortably command a place in any programme
of light opera and operetta. What is missing is perhaps the
tongue-in-cheek quality of some of Sullivan’s best creations
and the glint in the eye. On the other hand the story doesn’t
exactly cry out for such qualities. There are also several rousing
choruses that remind me of G&S and the act finales are skilfully
structured to rise to slap-up climaxes. In particular it is
in the second act that Wallace’s inspiration flows at
its richest. Take the opening chorus (CD 1 tr. 19) or the Sullivanesque
Chorus From his Palace of Crystal (CD 1 tr. 22). Rupert’s
aria Sweet form (CD 1 tr. 23) is lovely and somewhat
later Ghiva’s song Gentle Troubadour (CD 2 tr.
2 is catchy. Rhineberg’s The nectar cup may yield delight
in ¾ time (CD 2 tr. 5) is another hit. No wonder it was
such a success in the 1860s.
Act III also has several highlights. Rupert’s ballad (CD
2 tr. 13) again recalls G&S and Lurline’s Grand Scena
(CD 2 tr. 18) should be a dream number for any high soprano.
The prayer, in particular, is noble and beautiful. The final
scene opens with a riveting chorus (CD 2 tr. 22) followed by
a long duet between Rupert and Lurline. In the ensemble that
concludes the opera Lurline returns to her opening solo in act
I but now heavily embellished.
Sally Silver in the title role has a bright lyrical voice, sailing
effortlessly up in the highest reaches of the soprano register.
She negotiates the coloratura passages with supreme ease. Hers
is a most sensitive reading of a role that is both other-worldly
and deeply human. Veteran Keith Lewis, best known perhaps as
a stylish Mozart singer, makes the most of Rupert’s role,
nuanced and sensitive, but today his beautiful voice is afflicted
by a disfiguring wobble on sustained notes. This is, however,
compensated for by his ravishing pianissimo singing. The end
of his air (CD 1 tr. 23) is excellent proof of his ability.
David Soar is a powerful and intense Rhineberg but slightly
strained at times. Donald Maxwell, another veteran, is a splendid
Baron Truenfels and even better is Roderick Earle as the Gnome.
Try CD 1 tr. 27 for proof. Fiona Janes is a vibrant and expressive
Ghiva. The orchestral and choral forces are splendid under Richard
Bonynge’s experienced leadership.
There is a synopsis in the booklet but the libretto - including
the original stage directions shown in the 1860 libretto - can
be bought separately. See below.
Victorian Opera Northwest, which ‘was formed to promote
the excellent music found in the operas and operettas of forgotten
19th Century British and Irish composers has
certainly lived up to their aim. Together with Naxos they have
enriched the operatic CD-catalogue. Maybe not a dramatic masterpiece
but all lovers of 19th century opera, and lovers
of good melodies should hasten to add this set to their collections.
This CD Commemorative libretto booklet is available at £3
(includes UK p&p) from 6 Lindow Fold, Wilmslow
Cheshire SK9 6DT with cheque made payable to 'Victorian
Overseas readers should e-mail Raymond Walker firstname.lastname@example.org