In the middle of the 19th century, roughly a generation
before Gilbert and Sullivan, there were three composers of English
operas, who in some respects must be regarded as forerunners
of G&S. They were Julius Benedict (1804 – 1885), Michael
William Balfe (1808 – 1870) and William Vincent Wallace. Their
best works continued to be played all through the century and
into the 1930s: Balfe’s Bohemian Girl, Benedict’s Lily
of Killarney and Wallace’s Maritana. They have
been performed also in our time but a search on Operabase for
the period January 2010 – December 2014 gave no hits for any
of them. Maritana is probably the best of them and
even though the libretto is weak it is well worth a listen for
the melodious score. It was Wallace’s first attempt at writing
an opera and he composed another five operas, of which Lurline
was recorded and issued in 2010 with Richard Bonynge conducting.
The present recording of Maritana was previously released
on Marco Polo 8.223406-07.
The opera is set in Spain and the story is full of complications
and misunderstandings. Maritana is a Gipsy girl and street singer
in Madrid. The King of Spain hears her and gives her a gold
coin. His minister, Don José, observes this and thinks he can
take advantage of the King’s interest in the young girl, since
Don José in his turn has an eye for the King’s wife. Now appears
Count Don Caesar de Bazan and intervenes when a captain tries
to catch a young apprentice boy who is trying to run away from
his master. Don Caesar wounds the captain and since it is Holy
Week, and duelling is strictly prohibited at that time, he is
arrested and taken to jail to be executed.
In act II Don Caesar is in his cell together with the apprentice.
Don José joins them and Don Caesar expresses his wish to die
more nobly than being decapitated. José has an idea. If Caesar
agrees to marry a veiled lady José will change the sentence
so he will be executed by a firing squad. Caesar agrees and
a veiled lady is brought in. It is Maritana, whom José has talked
into marrying an anonymous husband. When Caesar is executed
Maritana will be a widow and José’s plan is to entice the King
into a compromising situation with Maritana. Then José will
be able to woo the Queen. Time for the wedding but first the
bride- and bridegroom-to-be take a drink with the firing squad.
In the meantime the apprentice removes the bullets from their
The next scene takes place in a palace where there is a party
in honour of Maritana, Countess of Bazan. The King enters and
explains that he is the mysterious man she married. Don José
appears and tells the King to leave before he is recognized.
José will arrange for him to meet Maritana later. Suddenly a
monk climbs in through a window. José is horrified when the
monk turns out to be Don Caesar. Caesar is looking for the woman
he just married. Suddenly he hears a voice singing in an adjacent
room and recognizes it as belonging to his wife. Maritana is
confused and the act ends with Don Caesar being arrested again
and Maritana is taken to the King.
The final act takes place in an apartment in the Villa d’Aranjuez.
Maritana is alone and longs for the man she married. The King
appears and also Don Caesar and they become friendly. The King
explains that he had already granted Don Caesar royal pardon,
which Don José never informed him about. The King leaves for
a while and Maritana and Don Caesar find out that they are in
love. Having discovered Don José’s perfidy Don Caesar kills
him and the King rewards him by making him Governor of Valencia.
And so, everyone, bar Don José, rejoices in the act II finale:
With rapture glowing.
This libretto, based on the play Don César de Bazan
by Adolph d’Ennery and Philippe François Pinel Dumanoir, is
no masterpiece but it is interesting to mention that Gilbert
and Sullivan were inspired by the plot when writing The
Yeomen of the Guard. Jules Massenet based his Don César
de Bazan on the same play, and a curiosity is that in Florida
there is a beach resort named Don Cesar; the restaurant there
is named Maritana!
I found a lot to admire in the recording of Lurline
and the same qualities can be found here as well: beautiful,
hummable melodies, at times rhythmically interesting, good orchestration.
The reverse side of the coin is lack of true dramatic power
and harmonically the music is unadventurous. Those who expect
Spanish flavour will also be disappointed. Instead they will
be able to enjoy a beautiful chorus Angelus (CD 1 tr.
5) in the first act, Don Caesar’s Yes! Let me like a Soldier
fall (CD 1 tr. 13) in act II, a marching song with martial
snare drum opening and the beautiful ballad that follows, In
happy moments day by day (CD 1 tr. 14) sung by the evil
The opening chorus of act II scene 2 (CD 2 tr. 1) is also catchy,
and it is followed by a strutting waltz. The King’s song Hear
me, gentle Maritana (CD 2 tr. 3) is another beautiful melody
with a fine violin solo in the orchestral introduction. Don
Caesar’s There is a flow’r that bloometh (CD 2 tr.
4) is another winner and in the third act Maritana’s ballad
Scenes that are brightest (CD 2 tr. 7) is the one song
a lot of readers probably will know through Joan Sutherland’s
recording. The Prayer-Duet Sainted Mother (CD 2 tr.
11) is also something to savour.
The chorus and orchestra are first class and Proinnsias Ó Duinn
keeps good pace throughout. The solo singing is also fully worthy
of the music with Majella Cullagh is brilliant in the title
role. She also has the lion’s share of the solos, taking part
in no fewer than 12 numbers. Paul Charles Clarke as Don Caesar
does many good things but is quite strained at times. In the
trouser role of Lazarillo, the apprentice boy, Lynda Lee sings
with fine rounded tone.
There is no dialogue but the synopsis is quite detailed and
makes it easy to follow the proceedings – unless one just leaves
the story aside and listens to the music. It is good to have
this recording available again – and at an affordable price.
See also review by Christopher