William Vincent WALLACE (1812 – 1865)
Majella Cullagh (soprano) – Maritana; Lynda Lee (mezzo) – Lazarillo; Paul Charles Clarke (tenor) – Don Caesar de Bazan; Ian Caddy (baritone) – Don José de Santarém; Damien Smith (baritone) – Captain of the Guard/Alcade; Quentin Hayes (bass) – Charles II, KIng of Spain; RTÉ Philharmonic Choir and Concert Orchestra/Proinnsías Ó Duinn
rec. O’Reilly Hall, University College Dublin, Ireland, 19-20 September 1995
The libretto can be accessed at www.naxos.com/libretti/660308.htm
NAXOS 8.660308-09 [64:19 + 44:55]
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 (1860) 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 guns.
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 Don José.
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.
Beautiful, hummable melodies, rhythmically interesting, good orchestration but lakcing in true dramatic power.