Edward LODER (1809-1865)
Raymond and Agnes, A Grand Opera in Three Acts
Majella Cullagh (Agnes), Mark Milhofer (Raymond), Andrew Greenan (The Baron of Lindenberg), Carolyn Dobbin (Madelina), Quentin Hayes (Antoni), Alessandro Fisher (Theodore, valet to Raymond) and Alexander Robin Baker (Francesco, valet to the Baron), Timothy Langston (Landlord), Phil Wilcox, David Horton (Antonio’s sons), Valerie Langfield (Ravella)
Retrospect Opera Chorus
Royal Ballet Sinfonia/Richard Bonynge
rec. St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London, 2017
RETROSPECT OPERA RO005 [72:44 + 75:52]
For many enthusiasts, English opera stopped with Purcell’s The Fairy Queen (1692) and began again when Britten’s Peter Grimes (1945) was first heard in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. Gilbert and Sullivan and possibly Edward German are exceptions to this analysis, yet what they wrote was (typically) operetta and not Grand Opera. A period especially despised is/was the Victorian/Edwardian era. Fortunately, in the last two decades aficionados have been encouraged to investigate works from this 250-odd year ‘interregnum’. Recent years have seen recordings of Ethel Smyth’s The Boatswain’s Mate and her The Wreckers. Even Sullivan’s efforts at Grand Opera have been revived: there are CDs of his Haddon Hall, Ivanhoe, The Yeoman of the Guard (not an operetta, in my opinion) and The Beauty Stone. A previous generation is represented by recordings of Michael Balfe’s The Bohemian Girl, William Vincent Wallace’s Maritana and George MacFarren’s Robin Hood. So, a premiere recording of Edward Loder’s Raymond and Agnes is greatly welcome. Over the years this work has come to be regarded by several critics as the composer’s operatic masterpiece.
Retrospect Opera who have produced and issued Raymond and Agnes is an organisation ‘devoted to researching and recording 18th, 19th and early 20th-century operas and related dramatic musical works by British composers’. They have previously issued CDs of Smyth’s
The Boatswain’s Mate, Burnand and Solomon’s
Pickwick and George Grossmith’s Cups and Saucers,
Christmas Gambols and The Musical Tour of Mr Dibdin by Charles Dibdin.
A few notes about the composer Edward Loder will be of interest. He was born in Bath on 10 July 1809. After youthful studies with Ferdinand Ries in Frankfurt, he enjoyed a relatively short career of composing and conducting. In 1846, Loder became musical director at the Princess’s Theatre in London and from 1851 at the Theatre Royal in Manchester. Although remembered today (if at all) for his operas, which were once popular, he did compose a cantata, The Island of Calypso, several string quartets, piano music and many songs. His operas include Deerstalkers (1845), The Night Dancers (1846), Puck (1848) and the present Raymond and Agnes (1855). Edward Loder died in London on 5 April 1865.
Raymond and Agnes was premiered at the Theatre Royal, Manchester on 14 August 1855 with the composer conducting. It was reasonably well-received. A subsequent performance of a revised version (three acts instead of four) in London some four years later, was ‘somewhat of a disaster’. After this, the opera was put to one side, and later deemed to be ‘lost’.
More than half a century ago, Raymond and Agnes was revived at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge on 2 May 1966. The music had been edited by nineteenth-century music specialist Nicholas Temperley based on a single copy of the vocal score. One of the problems faced was the loss of the libretto by Edward Fitzball, which meant that the spoken dialogue was missing. Temperley reconstructed the story with a new dialogue written by Max Miradin.
Despite Raymond and Agnes having limited critical success at its premiere and London performance, critics have begun to see this opera as presenting ‘a quality of invention and dramatic power that raises it to an unusual position in English nineteenth-century opera’ (Biddlescombe, English Opera from 1834 to 1864 (1994). One writer went as far as discovering music ‘that would not disgrace middle period Verdi’.
Retrospect Opera commissioned Valerie Langfield to prepare the present performing edition. It is based on the score prepared for the 1859 performance, which had been discovered in the Library of Congress, Washington, the printed vocal score and a copy of the libretto found since the 1966 revival. Langfield states that it is near impossible to reconstruct the original 1855 version. The scoring has been adjusted for consistency and some of the longer repeats in the choruses were cut. A new vocal score was created, as the original was hard to read, lacked bar numbers and rehearsal cues. It was collated with the full score. The published libretto was amended ‘in the interests of comprehensibility’.
I refuse to plot-spoil. But two things can be said without injuring the [melo]dramatic impact of the opera. Firstly the ‘book’ is loosely based on Matthew Lewis’s gothic horror story The Monk with elements from the same author’s The Castle Spectre. Basically, the story concerns the wicked Baron of Lindenberg who will not allow his ward to marry the Spanish nobleman Raymond. If this sounds a little bit like a Gilbert and Sullivan plot for a comedy such as Ruddigore, the big difference is that the Baron gets his comeuppance. Secondly, it must be noted that there are several subplots and symbols which include a Der Freischütz-ian wolf-hunt, an inherited curse, a Gothic castle, a bleeding nun, mistaken identity and an attempted murder. Predictably all ends happily for the Raymond and Agnes.
The actual performance is all that can be desired. It is a model of how an opera can be repristinated. The singing is superb from the first note to the last. The dialogue is convincingly enunciated and is essential to the progress of the plot. The orchestral playing is ideal, revealing a ‘forgotten’ composer who was clearly a master of his instrumental forces.
Musically, the score owes much to Carl Maria Weber who was Loder’s hero. As noted above, the elder German’s opera Der Freischütz is a major source of inspiration. Earlier operas such as Balfe’s The Bohemian Girl owed more to Italian composers than German. It is not difficult to look forward from Loder’s Raymond and Agnes towards the work of Arthur Sullivan and beyond. It could be added that Loder’s music is often more melodramatic and musically powerful than much of Sullivan’s.
Nicholas Temperley wrote: ‘Loder’s musical and dramatic gifts were far more impressive than those of Balfe and Wallace. [Raymond and Agnes] … maintains a high level of inspiration, variety, and continuity almost throughout. Loder reveals quite unexpected resources of harmony, while his orchestration is masterly; and he provides memorable tunes, both plain and ornate, when appropriate’ (Musical Times, April 1966).
The liner notes are a model of clarity and interest for an opera recording. There is an introduction by Richard Bonynge followed by a series of essays setting Raymond and Agnes in context, an explanation as to how it was revived and a discussion about the opera’s background and its literary and folk-lorish sources. Finally, Valerie Langfield contributes a major essay on the work’s Nineteenth-century Reception and Textual Sources. They provide a model for future discussions of ‘forgotten’ operas. A synopsis by David Chandler is included for those who wish to know the story before listening. The entire libretto is presented, and this includes the spoken dialogue. This is keyed into the CD tracks for ease of reference. Short biographies are given of the principals and the orchestra.
Finally, Nicholas Temperley in his article on Edward Loder for Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians wrote: ‘It remains to be seen how the work would be received if it were to be revived on stage in a full production faithful to the original.’ Based on this present recording, it would be an ideal next step to move from the recording studio to the opera house. I believe that it would make a stunning addition to the repertoire of one of the great opera companies.