Melba Recordings

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La somnambule

01/11/2006
American Record Guide (US)
Steven J. Haller

Louis Ferdinand Hérold remains well known today only for the overture to Zampa and the ballet La Fille Mal Gardee. Though that is still in the repertoire of several ballet companies, what is heard today bears scant relation to what audiences heartily applauded at the 1828 premiere. On records we only have John Lanchberry's arrangement for Frederick Ashton's 1960 Covent Garden production. Much of Hérold's music was retained, but some was replaced by excerpts from an earlier score by Peter Ludwig Hertel (most notably the popular clog dance), and a few passages were improvised by Lanchberry himself. Yet it is accepted by audiences today as the work of Hérold.
 
I'm sure even experienced balletomanes will be surprised to learn that in 1827 - four years before Vincenzo Bellini - Hérold set to music the very same story of the distraught maiden who walks in her sleep. Certainly its appearance on silver disc is as welcome as it is unexpected - part of a new series "The Richard Bonynge Edition", issued under the auspices of the Melbourne-based Melba Foundation formed three years ago in honour of the legendary (and Melbourne-born) soprano Dame Nellie Melba. Other pictured recordings, including DVDs, are pictured in the booklet and at their website.
 
Richard Bonynge has established his credentials many times over both in ballet and opera, and I am glad he has brought us this wonderfully spirited and tuneful work of Hérold that has not been heard - let alone staged - in over 150 years. He has already put balletomanes the world over forever in his debt ...
 
The plot is pretty close to Bellini's. The sleepwalking scene is set to a melody familiar from Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, while another strain is taken from Auber's Le Macon along with "some themes by Rossini" - including what sounds like a direct heist from the Barber of Sevelle ... I also recognise one melody from Beethoven's Creatures of Premetheus ...
 
Special praise for the splendid sound of the winds and horns ... superlative playing by Orchestra Victoria ... I must also single out the exquisite interplay of winds and solo cello that points out the Andante sostenuto of Act 1 (track 4), no doubt a pas de deux for the young lovers.
 
Without question this is a major addition to the ballet repertory on records, and - we may hope - only the first entry in a long line of recordings with Bonynge that will do for Hérold what Andrew Mogrelia on Naxos is currently doing for Adam. Perhaps Bonynge and the Melba Foundation could do balletomanes everywhere a great service and bring out La Fille Mal Gardee in the form originally conceived by its composer.