William Vincent WALLACE (1812-1865)
Lurline - A Grand Legendary Opera in three acts (1848; revised 1859; premiered 1860)
Keith Lewis (tenor) - Rupert (a young Nobleman); Paul Ferris (tenor) - Guilhelm (his friend); David Soar (bass-baritone) - Rhineberg (The River King); Donald Maxwell (baritone) - The Baron Truenfels; Roderick Earle (bass) - Zelieck (A Gnome); Sally Silver (soprano) - Lurline (Nymph of the Rhine); Fiona Janes (mezzo) - Ghiva (the Baron’s Daughter); Bernadette Cullen (mezzo) - Liba (a Spirit of the Rhine)
Victorian Opera Chorus and Orchestra/Richard Bonynge
rec. Cosmo Rodewald Hall, Martin Harris Centre, University of Manchester, 27-28 June 2009. DDD
NAXOS 8.660293-94 [74:58 + 75:25]
British Opera of the mid-nineteenth century enjoyed a small vogue throughout continental Europe and garnered a fair amount of critical esteem. One thinks of Balfe’s The Bohemian Girl and its 1846 appearance in Vienna. Julius Benedict was active, naturally, as were other composers of lesser status. But dig deeper and one finds J.L. Hatton’s Pasqual Bruno in the same Imperial capital in 1844; and William Vincent Wallace’s Maritana in 1848.
Wallace’s Maritana was accorded the honour of an abridged recording in the days of the 78, but no such benefit accrued to Lurline, his watery grand opera of 1848, that revolutionary year, and which saw revision a decade later before its 1860 premiere. The Rhenish story needn’t particularly detain us, but of rather more interest is the quality of the music, and indeed the performances.
The influences on Wallace – who nevertheless had a strong compositional voice of his own – were Weber, Mendelssohn to a degree, and maybe also Meyerbeer. Wallace was admired by Berlioz, no less, and his craftsmanship is evident throughout this opera which gathers pace – dramatically and musically – as it goes along. The quite extensive overture certainly reveals Weber-like traits and evocations. There’s a deftly rocking introduction to the Act I Scene 1 All is silent, subtle use of the harp in the Rhine-rich writing of the recitative Where is Lurline? Meanwhile the romance When the night winds has a nicely spun Romantic arc. Wallace ensures that the horns are appositely engaged for a preening aria in Scene 2’s Bring the mirror with melodies that are spruce and crisp. The trio I see by the grey of the morn is saturated in a light-hearted ethos, and variety is further cemented by the barcarolle evoked in Our barque in silence, though – and not for the first time – one wishes Wallace had been more adventurous in his orchestration.
It is certainly a just criticism that by the Rondo Take this cup - a cheery affair – the operatic tone has become decidedly uneven and that the dramatic trajectory of the music has been somewhat derailed. There are however some virtuosically coloratura moments, Italianate in impress and demanding a sure exponent to do them justice. Fortunately soprano Sally Silver does just that.
The brass fires some decidedly Weberian moments in the chorus Come away to the chase and there’s a good, seriously-orientated chorus in Ave Maria. What impresses perhaps most strongly above these localised gestures, however, is the way in which Wallace marshals the material for his Act finales with their textured lyric lines and involved independence. If seldom truly memorable he remains a fine and engaging composer, whose exciting qualities can be judged in the finale to Act Two but whose best moments are reserved for something like Act III’s Grand Scena Sad as my soul, cogently put together and a scene that indicates how adept he was at coalescing thematic material and directing them towards a strongly controlled conclusion. The unaccompanied quartet, Though the world (Act III Scene 2), comes as a welcome surprise. It adds another gloss to his armoury of light, almost ballad, arias, jolly choruses, virtuosic roulades and the like.
We hear Lurline in Richard Bonynge’s edition. The band sounds relatively small – the string complement is 8-6-4-5-2 so it’s not especially so and is in fact probably authentically sized – but could do with rather greater tone and weight. The wind principals are good. The chorus is a touch lightweight. The singers vary. As Lurline Silver is excellent, conquering the technical demands placed on her with sang froid and gleaming tone. The two baritones David Soar (actually a bass-baritone) and Donald Maxwell acquit themselves finely whilst Roderick Earle’s bass is strong and convincing. Tenors Paul Ferris and Keith Lewis offer a study in contrasts; the former is more youthful and steadier; the latter however offers excellent musicality in compensation.
It’s interesting to note that one of the pallbearers at Wallace’s funeral in London in 1865 was one Arthur Sullivan, then just 23. He certainly owed something to Wallace and for that we should be thankful to Lurline and to its brother and sister operas nourished in the mid-century.
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Craftsmanship is evident throughout this opera which gathers pace – dramatically and musically – as it goes along. Reveals Weber-like traits and evocations.