Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line

Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Some items
to consider

£11 post-free anywhere
Normal service resumed


100th birthday of Mieczyslaw Weinberg on December 8, 2019.
Renate Eggbrecht has recorded all 3 violin Sonatas


Recordings of the Month


Che fai tù? - Villanelles

Cyrillus KREEK
The suspended harp of Babel

violin concertos - Ibragimova

Peteris VASKS
Viola concerto - Maxim Rysanov

The Complete Lotte Schöne


Beethoven String Quartets

Produzioni Armoniche

Seven Symphonic Poems

Shostakovich VC1 Baiba Skride
Tchaikovsky Symph 5 Nelsons

Vivaldi Violin Concertos




Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical

Click to see New Releases
Get 10% off using code musicweb10

Nimbus Podcast

Obtain 10% discount

Special offer 50% off
15CDs £83 incl. postage

Musicweb sells the following labels

Altus 10% off
Atoll 10% off
CRD 10% off
Hallé 10% off
Lyrita 10% off
Nimbus 10% off
Nimbus Alliance
Prima voce 10% off
Red Priest 10% off
Retrospective 10% off
Saydisc 10% off
Sterling 10% off

Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing

Sample: See what you will get

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Seen & Heard
Editor Emeritus
   Bill Kenny
MusicWeb Webmaster
   David Barker
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger


CD: MDT AmazonUK AmazonUS
Sound Samples & Downloads

George Alexander MACFARREN (1813–1887)
Robin Hood - A romantic English Opera in three acts (performing edition by Dr. Valerie Langfield) (1860) [158:33]
Nicky Spence (tenor) - Robin Hood (in disguise as Locksley)
George Hulbert (baritone) - Sir Reginald d’Bracy (Sheriff of Nottingham)
Louis Hurst (bass) - Hugo (Sompnour, Collector of Abbey dues)
Andrew Mackenzie-Wicks (tenor) - Allan-a-Dale (a young peasant)
John Molloy (bass) - Little John
Alex Knox (baritone) - Much, the Miller’s son;
Kay Jordan (soprano) - Marian (daughter of Sheriff)
Magdalen Ashman (mezzo) - Alice (her attendant)
John Powell Singers and Victorian Opera Chorus and Orchestra/Ronald Corp
rec. Urmston Grammar School, Manchester, 6-7 March 2010
NAXOS 8.660306-07 [78:36 + 79:57]

Experience Classicsonline

I have to hold my hand up. In spite of thinking myself as being one of the world’s biggest enthusiasts of British music, I had my doubts about this opera when I heard that it was due to be released. I could not possibly imagine the claim that somehow this two and three quarter hour, three-act marathon by Sir George Alexander Macfarren could be anything other than a mediocre, third rate production from one of the ‘leading lights’ from the notorious ‘Land without Music’. Especially extravagant were claims that Robin Hood is ‘a work of musical genius superior to any works of Verdi or Donizetti, [and] doubtless the chef d’oeuvre of the English school’. Hardly likely, I thought. Perhaps, just perhaps, I was able to concede that this opera may have been ‘very full of good fun and on the way to Sullivan’. How utterly wrong-headed can I have been?

The critic of English opera can work in at least two directions. He can begin with John Blow’s masque Venus and Adonis followed by Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, The Fairy Queen and King Arthur and work down the years by considering the works of Thomas Arne, such as Thomas and Sally. He can then explore the influence of Handel whose operas were unbelievably popular in the middle of the eighteenth century although, it must be recalled that he was a German who had visited Italy! My edition of the Harvard Dictionary of Music quite boldly states that ‘the writing of serious operas by English composers of the first rank practically ceased until the 20th century.’ This prejudice tends to ignore works such as Michael Balfe’s The Bohemian Girl, W.V. Wallace’s Maritana and Julius Benedict’s The Lily of Killarney. These once extremely popular works were regarded as operas and not as operetta, in spite of their being ‘not too heavy’ in their theme and content. At the end of this period comes Sullivan – both with and without William Schwenck Gilbert.

Other critics will work backwards. Perhaps starting with Harrison Birtwistle’s Punch and Judy they regress through the great operas by Benjamin Britten and Ralph Vaughan Williams. There are sometimes a few digressions to Tippett, Berkeley and Maconchy. However at the end of the day, they too end up with Sullivan before promptly dismissing him. They then investigate the purer waters of Purcell.

Somewhere in the middle of all this historical exploration is Sir George Alexander Macfarren who wrote a number of operas including Allan of Aberfeldy, King Charles II, She Stoops to Conquer, Helvellyn and Robin Hood. David Chandler has defined the opera’s status as follows: -

Robin Hood certainly anticipates Ivanhoe and some later attempts at a truly English style of opera, but it also marks the end of an era. It belongs to the last and greatest period of the Victorian English romantic opera, along with Loder’s Raymond and Agnes (1855), Wallace’s exactly contemporaneous Lurline (1860), the same composer’s The Amber Witch (1861), and Benedict’s The Lily of Killarney (1862). It is totally distinct from these contemporary works however, and an impressive monument to Macfarren’s enduring and largely successful efforts to fashion a truly English species of musical theatre, at once looking back and looking forwards.’

It is a bold endeavour indeed to embark on reviving an opera that many people will regard as being well past its sell by date. To consider making a recording is heroic. It is almost certain this will be the one and only version produced in our lifetimes. It has to be good: it has to sell the music and create something well beyond the experience of visiting a ‘museum’. There was considerable work involved in restoring the performing edition: the parts had gone missing and the full score was written in a ‘spidery hand’. This mammoth task was undertaken by Dr. Valerie Langfield. It is not just a case of copying out the bars into Sibelius and pressing the ‘print score and parts’ button. There was a heap of technical issues, such as the fact the Macfarren used a three-stringed double bass and horns with interchangeable crooks.

The CD liner-notes provide a synopsis of the opera and the full libretto is available on the Naxos website. However it will do no harm to give a thumbnail sketch of the story. The libretto was written by John Oxenford (1812–1877) who made use of a number of motifs from the corpus of Robin Hood stories as well as Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe.

The first act sees Robin Hood disguised as Locksley, who is a suitor of Marian, the Sheriff of Nottingham’s daughter. The second act portrays the robbery of the Abbot or as presented here the ‘sompnour’ and this is followed by the archery contest which Robin/Locksley wins and receives the hand of Marian. However the sompnour recognizes Robin who is cast into prison. The third act has Marian fleeing to the forest to summon Robin Hood’s followers who naturally come to the rescue. All ends happily with the death warrant received from King John actually being a pardon. Robin and Marion are reunited and there is ‘general rejoicing.’ Naturally there are many sub-plots and events worked into the story such as the ‘feasting in the forest’ and the ‘town fair’ scenes.

The score is full of attractive and often beautiful music that will leave the doubter speechless. It may not be Verdi or Donizetti - was all Verdi great? - but there is a quality of musical endeavour here that must surely strike the listener as being well beyond the perceived ‘dry as dust’ or overly sentimental qualities that have attached themselves to this period of British music. For example listen to Robin’s beautiful aria ‘My own, my guiding star’ from Act Two (CD2 Track 3) or to Marian’s gorgeous offering of True Love in Act 1 (CD1 Track 6). This is operatic music at its best, not over the top, but moving and attractive. The patriotic ballad ‘Englishmen by birth are free’ (CD1 Track 9) must be one of the highlights of the opera: one can imagine it going down exceptionally well at the height of the Victorian era. It is certainly as good as any of Sullivan’s arias such as Lord Mountararat’s ‘When Britain really ruled the waves’. One of the hits at the time of the first performance was Robin and the Greenwood men’s ‘The Grasping Normans’ (CD1 Track 14). It is difficult to say that any part of the opera is weak or falls below the standards set by these ‘hits’.

The performers in this groundbreaking recording are the Victorian Opera Chorus and Orchestra. Their mission is to record lost or forgotten operatic works by British composers. They are joined by the John Powell Singers. The soloists are professional and the chorus and orchestra are drawn from a variety of local groups and societies. The quality of the singing from the principals and chorus is excellent. All the players are kept in order by Ronald Corp, who has drawn an outstanding performance from all concerned.

The liner-notes are first-rate, the sound quality superb and the cover picture of ‘The Edge of Sherwood Forest’ is totally appropriate. Altogether a great production.

Let us hope that one day this work will be seen in all its glory on the stage: it is just the sort of opera that would go down a treat at the Buxton Festival. Meanwhile, the story of Robin Hood is so well known that even the least imaginative of listeners can provide the mental backcloth, scenery and props to this well-loved story.

So I was wrong. Robin Hood has seriously impressed me. As preparation for this review I have listened to it two or three times as well as picking out the purple passages. The more I hear this music the more it appears competent, attractive, often beautiful, sometimes moving and always interesting. And I am not an opera buff! In fact, I am coming to love it as much as I love G&S.

This is a CD that all opera fans ought to have. Some people will ignore it simply because it was written by an Englishman during Queen Victoria’s reign. They would be utterly misguided to do so. This is a great work; possibly the composer’s masterpiece and is a light opera (not operetta) that can hold its best up against anything offered by the Italians and the French and the Germans from the same period.

John France

see also review by Ian Lace




























































Making a Donation to MusicWeb

Writing CD reviews for MWI

About MWI
Who we are, where we have come from and how we do it.

Site Map

How to find a review

How to find articles on MusicWeb
Listed in date order

Review Indexes
   By Label
      Select a label and all reviews are listed in Catalogue order
   By Masterwork
            Links from composer names (eg Sibelius) are to resource pages with links to the review indexes for the individual works as well as other resources.

Themed Review pages

Jazz reviews


      Composer surveys
      Unique to MusicWeb -
a comprehensive listing of all LP and CD recordings of given works
Prepared by Michael Herman

The Collector’s Guide to Gramophone Company Record Labels 1898 - 1925
Howard Friedman

Book Reviews

Complete Books
We have a number of out of print complete books on-line

With Composers, Conductors, Singers, Instumentalists and others
Includes those on the Seen and Heard site


Nostalgia CD reviews

Records Of The Year
Each reviewer is given the opportunity to select the best of the releases

Monthly Best Buys
Recordings of the Month and Bargains of the Month

Arthur Butterworth Writes

An occasional column

Phil Scowcroft's Garlands
British Light Music articles

Classical blogs
A listing of Classical Music Blogs external to MusicWeb International

Reviewers Logs
What they have been listening to for pleasure



Bulletin Board

Give your opinions or seek answers

Pat and present

Helpers invited!

How Did I Miss That?

Currently suspended but there are a lot there with sound clips

Composer Resources

British Composers

British Light Music Composers

Other composers

Film Music (Archive)
Film Music on the Web (Closed in December 2006)

Programme Notes
For concert organizers

External sites
British Music Society
The BBC Proms
Orchestra Sites
Recording Companies & Retailers
Online Music
Agents & Marketing
Other links
Web News sites etc

A pot-pourri of articles

MW Listening Room
MW Office

Advice to Windows Vista users  
Site History  
What they say about us
What we say about us!
Where to get help on the Internet
CD orders By Special Request
Graphics archive
Currency Converter
Web Ring
Translation Service

Rules for potential reviewers :-)
Do Not Go Here!
April Fools

Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.