This disc is a rarity. It first appeared in 2000 but has now been re-mastered for SACD and a freshly designed and newly typeset booklet provided. It was originally available for less than three years due to unprecedented sales. A project inspired by Richard Bonynge, we are fortunate in being introduced to these forgotten composers and the excellent material they wrote. To many, the works on this disc will be totally unknown and much the same can be said of the composers except Sullivan. There is a lot here to interest lovers of romantic nineteenth century music.
The operas from which these arias are drawn were played to packed houses in London and the provincial theatres and hearing the music one can understand why. A British opera movement grew up around them and great hopes were laid in store for a continued promotion of the genre. For too long these melodious arias and their parent operas have been neglected. Amongst them are real operatic gems with catchy melodies as good as any of those of the continental masters. In their heyday, between the 1830s and 1890s, most of the operas were presented at the Haymarket, Drury Lane, Covent Garden - then known as the Royal Italian Opera, or the English Opera House - now the Palace Theatre. We have forgotten that in 1951 Balfe’s “Rose of Castille”, represented here opened the very first Wexford Festival.
The pieces on this disc are well-chosen highlight arias and provide the listener with music in various styles. These styles have some commonality with Rossini, Donizetti and Auber.
Richard Bonynge needs no introduction and conducts with his usual panache. Australian-born Deborah Riedel won singing awards at the New South Wales Conservatorium of Music before developing a wide repertoire from Gounod to Wagner. With an international reputation she has played in all the major opera houses. Her versatility makes her a good choice of singer to handle the widely differing styles and the range required in the Malibran favourite The rapture dwelling. Her lyrical singing has purity and wide compass and is delivered with much ease and feeling.
A maroon card case is provided in place of the usual jewel case. It features an integral booklet and the whole is as elegant and as sumptuous as a typical Opera Rara volume. The booklet contains lyrics for the songs, together with a fascinating archive of colour pictures.
CD labels need to be aware of an increasing national interest in traditional British composers and this forgotten genre, which Bonynge has unearthed. Currently the only professional recordings of the genre are: Balfe’s Bohemian Girl, Wallace’s Maritana and a semi-professional recording of Sullivan’s Ivanhoe. A Balfe/Wallace/Benedict highlights disc has been reissued. When you have heard this disc you’ll wonder why so few recordings exist.
I look forward to a sequel to this disc amid an increasing interest in lost Victorian operatic works. It is to be hoped that Wexford will once again select a Balfe or Wallace opera to perform and this can then be recorded.