What a wonderful surprise this disc turned out to be. I had heard occasional songs or arias by Michael Balfe and William Wallace, but did not give them as much attention as I evidently should have. Any lover of Romantic opera should have this disc, and will derive much pleasure from it.
From the evidence here, Balfe and Wallace were extraordinarily gifted melodists. The first aria from Maritana could almost have come from the pen of Donizetti, and the second one (‘Scenes that are brightest’) could even find a home in an early Verdi opera. Balfe’s Satanella aria similarly spins a gorgeous bel canto line. ‘Bliss for ever past’ from The Puritan’s Daughter is another Balfe gem—a finely spun piece of vocal writing that would do Bellini or Donizetti proud. What surprises is the fairly consistent level of inspiration found here. Perhaps if heard all the way through, these operas would not stand up to scrutiny, though David Johnson liked The Bohemian Girl of Balfe in Fanfare 16:2 (that opera is not represented here). But whether or not these operas work in their entirety is beside the point for this disc. These arias provide lovely tunes, one after the other, and in very fine performances as well.
Clearly an important force in this recording is Richard Bonynge, who did much of the detective work to unearth the repertoire, and who conducts it with great sympathy and affection. His influence on Deborah Riedel is also clear ... these are lovely performances of some gorgeous and little-known music.
Melba provides extensive and intelligent notes, and complete texts ... a really lovely recording. I have already returned to it more often than was necessary for review purposes, because of the pleasure it has brought me.