About this Recording
8.223406-07 - WALLACE: Maritana

William Vincent Wallace (1812-1865)

William Vincent Wallace (1812-1865)



The most enduring operatic legacy from Victorian England remains the canon of comic masterpieces produced by William Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan during the last quarter of the 19th century. But, wrapped around this period, there was a now largely forgotten school of Romantic English opera whose lifespan stretched from the mid-1830s through to the outbreak of World War I. Ironically, the foremost composers in the early decades of this period were two Irishmen, Michael William Balfe and William Vincent Wallace.


Maritana, which had a triumphant première at London's Drury Lane Theatre on 15th November, 1845, was both the first stage work composed by Waterford-born Wallace and the greatest achievement of his career, although he went on to write five further operas before his early death in 1865. The libretto, a poor thing by any standards, was the work of Edward Fitzball (with some help from the equally inept Alfred Bunn, who contributed the lyrics for "Scenes that are brightest" and "In happy moments"). Based on D'Ennery and Dumanoir's play Don César de Bazan, it is nothing more than a hotch-potch of cardboard characters caught in improbable situations, noticeably the central device wherein the eponymous heroine, heavily veiled, is married to the about-to-be-executed Don Caesar. And if that sounds familiar, it is because W.S. Gilbert used the same scenario in The Yeomen of the Guard some 40 years later, causing Punch to sub-title that work The Merryman and his Maritana.


But the fictitious escapades of the intrepid Don and his winsome, if gullible, gypsy bride are as nothing compared to the real life happenings in the career of the peripatetic musician who set them to music. William Wallace (the Vincent was added when he converted to Catholicism in 1830) was born in Waterford on 11th March, 1812. His father, a Scottish-born regimental bandmaster, gave the young Wallace lessons in piano and clarinet and these were supplemented later by violin and organ studies. By the time he reached his late teens he was already an accomplished violinist and pianist in Dublin, where he played in the orchestra at the Theatre Royal. In 1830 he secured a post as church organist in Thurles where he met and married Isabella Kelly, with whom he settled in Dublin before emigrating to Australia in late 1835. Within five years, though, he deserted his family in Sydney and is said to have complemented his earnings from music with stints at, among other things, sheep farming and whale hunting before heading further afield. There are also tales of how he narrowly escaped being eaten by cannibals, was mauled by a tiger in India and caught in an earthquake in the South Seas. But these may well have been embellished by the imaginative Waterford man himself. What is not in dispute is the extent of his travels during those years, an odyssey which took him all the way from the Antipodes to South America.


Back in Europe for a period of composing, including the completion of the music for Maritana, some of which had been in gestation since his time in Tasmania, and the beginning of Lureline (eventually finished in 1860), he was threatened by blindness and sent by his doctor back to South America for treatment. The following year, having survived the attentions of the Inquisition in Mexico and a shipboard explosion on route to North America (more fanciful invention?), he reached New York. In 1850 he became an American citizen and, in the same year, bigamously married the 23-year-old pianist Helen Stoepel. Returning again to this side of the Atlantic he settled in London where he lived for another 20 years before ill health forced him to head for the Pyrenees, where he died in 1865.


After its initial triumph at Drury Lane, where it played for more than 50 consecutive performances, Maritana was quickly taken up by opera houses abroad. Dublin and Philadelphia heard it in 1846 and it reached New York and Vienna two years later. Twelve years after Wallace's death, a Dublin revival was sung in Italian, with the obligatory recitatives composed by the Neapolitan writer and musicologist Severio Mattei. In this form that it was also heard at Her Majesty's Theatre in London in 1880 and, as recently as the early 1970s, with the recitatives back-translated into English, at Dublin's Gaiety Theatre.


The opera continued to pull in the punters all through the remaining years of the 19th century and right into the 1920s and early '30s when, together with Balfe's Bohemian Girl and Benedict's Lily of Killarney, it formed a trio of inseparable works known collectively as The English Ring, which appellation must surely have been applied jocularly, if not derisively, for the three operas are light years removed from the four music dramas that make up Wagner's Nibelungen Ring cycle. In fact, the only link, and it's a tenuous one, is that two of the operas were by Irish-born composers and the third, written by German, has an Irish setting. If we are looking for similarities, they are to be found in certain elements they have in common, not only with each other but with the general run of 'serious' English operas of their time: the plots are absurd, the characters two-dimensional and the versification risible, often sounding like bad translation rather than original English. But the tunes are marvellous; and this fund of bright melody was the real reason for their phenomenal popularity in their day.


The music is derivative, of course, Aficionados of early romantic opera playing 'spot the source' will find echoes of Auber, Weber, Marschner and Meyerbeer alongside the more obvious ottocento Italians. Not that this worried the original audiences. They liked their tunes short and sweet and preferably free of chromatic harmonies or heavy characterisation. And they weren't content to just listen. Many a Victorian drawing room enjoyed the strains of "Scenes that are brightest", "Alas, those chimes" and "Sainted Mother" warbled by aspiring sopranos and mezzos. Not to be outdone, the male contingent wooed with soft renderings of "In happy moments" and "There is a flower", while the more adventurous thundered out "Yes, let me like a soldier fall", unwritten high C and all!


The three operas continued to flourish up to the outbreak of the Great war. Even after they had disappeared from the world's major opera stages, they remained in the repertories of touring companies in the English-speaking countries. In the early days of the Vic/Wells they were trotted out regularly on Saturday nights. They even crossed to Sadler's Wells in North London when Lilian Baylis moved her opera company there in 1931, but quickly disappeared. In our time the works have been kept alive mainly by amateurs, often with professional bolstering, with Maritana, probably the best of the three, being given most frequently.


© John Allen 1996





[1] Overture


[2]-[9] Act I: A square in Madrid


We are in the heart of Madrid on a beautiful Spring morning. People have gathered in one of the city's great squares. They have come to listen to the singing of Maritana (soprano), a young Gypsy girl who entertains them in exchange for a few small coins (Chorus: "Sing, pretty maiden, sing"). Lurking in the crowd, heavily disguised, is no less a personage than the King of Spain (bass) himself. His Spanish Majesty, it would appear, is not just an avid music lover, he also has an eye for a pretty face when he sees one (Romance and chorus: "It was a knight of princely mien").


The King rewards Maritana for her song with a gold coin, but his gesture is spotted by an unserupulous courtier, one Don José de Santarem (baritone). As it happens, Don José has his eye on the King's wife and he is in the process of hatching a plan to win her for himself by disgracing her husband. But first, he asks Maritana to sing again, which she duly does (Romance and chorus: "'Tis the harp in the air").


And after he has presented her with yet another gold coin, everyone pauses for prayer as the Angelus rings out (Chorus: "Angels that around us hover"). While others are praying, Don José's thoughts have been focused on less edifying matters. He senses that he can somehow use the King's interest in this charming young Gypsy to further his plans. Drawing her out in conversation, he gets her to tell him about her aspirations of a better life for herself. And as she sings, his cunning mind ponders on the possibilities (Duet "Of fairy wand had I the power").


While Maritana nurses these dreams, Don José's plot is rapidly developing in his mind. He will somehow acquire a title for the girl, then use the King's infatuation with her to persuade the Queen of her husband's infidelity. But first, he needs a dupe. Some un-married nobleman gullible enough to wed the Gypsy girl and then conveniently disappear.


Enter, on cue, Don Caesar de Bazan (tenor), a happy-go-lucky knight who survives on his wits, his nifty way of avoiding creditors, and his duelling skills. It is this penchant for swordplay which will shortly get him into trouble, for he soon finds himself rushing to the defence of a terrified apprentice boy, Lazarillo (travesti mezzo), who is pursued by guards whilst trying to escape from his cruel master (Quartet and chorus: "See the culprit").


Pausing only to hear Maritana offer her listeners some matrimonial advice in yet another song, (Solo and chorus: "Pretty Gitana"), Don Caesar challenges and wounds the pursuing Captain (baritone). Unfortunately, he has forgotten that this is Holy Week, and in Holy Week duelling is a capital offence, punishable by hanging. He is arrested on the spot, much to the horror of the onlookers, including Maritana, who vows to find money for his ransom as he is ignominiously hauled off to jail (Finale Act I: "Farewell my gallant Captain").


[10]-[15] Act II, Scene 1: A prison cell


In a cell in one of Madrid's prison fortresses, Don Caesar is sleeping soundly, watched over by the faithful Lazarillo. And as a clock chimes five, and the hour of execution gets nearer, the boy laments his companion's fate and sings a gentle lullaby over his sleeping form (Romance: "Alas, those chimes so sweetly stealing"). As Lazarillo's song comes to an end, the condemned man wakes up. While he is assuring the lad that nobody apart from his creditors, that is - will mourn his death, they are joined by Don José (Duet: "Hither as I came" and trio: "Turn on old time").


When Caesar expresses his desire for a chance to die nobly like a soldier, rather than face the ignominy of the scaffold (Song: "Yes! Let me like a soldier fall"), Don José promptly comes up with an offer. If Don Caesar will agree to go through a marriage ceremony with a certain veiled lady, he, Don José, will see to it that the sentence is amended to one of death by firing squad.


Left to himself, Don José gloats at the way his scheme is progressing. Unknown to anyone, he has intercepted a pardon sent to Don Caesar by the King in recognition of some former services to the crown. And he has persuaded Maritana to marry an un-named husband. So, Don Caesar will die; his widow will be used to lure the King into a compromising situation; and the way will be clear for Don José to proceed with his wooing of the Queen. He pauses while he recalls the happy moment when he first set his eyes on the lady who is the object of his desires (Ballad: "In happy moments day by day").


Now it is time for the wedding, but not before the bridegroom and his veiled bride-to-be take a celebratory drink with the members of the firing squad. And, while the main characters voice their thoughts on these strange happening, the enterprising Lazarillo quietly replaces the soldiers' bullets with dummy rounds. Then it's off to the nuptials, and the supposed execution. (Quartet and chorus: "Health to the lady")




[1]-[5] Act II, Scene 2: A room in a palace


The scene has changed to a salon in a palace where a party in honour of Maritana, now the Countess of Bazan, is in full swing (Chorus: "Oh! What pleasure" and orchestral waltz). As the courtiers and attendant nobles make their exit, the King enters. Maritana has no idea who this man is, but he assures her that he is, in fact, the mysterious knight she married, and proceeds to woo her (Song: "Hear me, gentle Maritana").


The King's wooing is short-lived, however, because Don José arrives and advises him to scarper before he is recognised. He will, he assures the infatuated monarch, deliver the young Countess to him in a more discreet location later that same evening. As the King and Maritana exit through different doorways, a cowled monk enters through a window. To the horror of Don José, who thinks he is seeing a ghost, the monk reveals himself as Don Caesar, very much alive and now seeking the lady he married shortly before his mock execution. Although she was heavily veiled during the wedding ceremony, he feels sure he will know her as soon as he sets he eyes on her (Song: "There is a flower that bloometh").


Suddenly, Don Caesar hears a voice singing in another room. He instantly recognises it as that of his wife and demands that she be produced. Naturally, the unfortunate girl is now thoroughly confused and quite unsure who her husband actually is, especially when the crafty Don José tries to persuade her that a certain elderly Marchioness is in fact Don Caesar's wife. As the scene develops into a classic operatic ensemble de perplexité, Don Caesar is re-arrested and Maritana is led away to her assignment with the King. (Finale Act II: "That voice! 'Tis hers").


[6]-[12] Act III: A room in the Villa d'Aranguez


Maritana is alone in a magnificent apartment. Unhappily, as she observes the splendid fabrics and other trappings of wealth, she realises that all these riches mean nothing if she cannot be re-united with the man she married earlier that day (Recitative and ballad: "How dreary to my heart... Scenes that are brightest").


As Maritana departs, Don José enters and sings of his gratification at the way his plans are progressing (Song: "So! My courage now regaining"). Now the King arrives, eager to have his carnal way with the lovely Maritana. But as he makes his advances, posing as her unknown spouse, the real husband makes another of his sudden appearances and orders his royal liege to desist. In the exchanges that follow, the King says that he is Don Caesar, while the real Don Caesar, ever ready with a quick riposte, claims that, in that case, he is the King of Spain (Cabaletta: I am the King of Spain).


During their duet, in the course of which the King appears to take rather a liking to the debonair knight, Don Caesar learns about the royal pardon which was never delivered, thus proving that Don José should not have carried out the execution in the first place, Don Caesar and Maritana are left alone. This time he has no difficulty in persuading her that he is, indeed, the man she married; and the two join in a rapturous love duet (Duet: "A Stranger here¡K O Maritana").


As Maritana and Don Caesar exult in their happiness, Lazarillo arrives with more bad news. Armed guards are approaching. Maritana urges Don Caesar to run to the Queen, who is now their last hope of justice. Caesar rushes out, leaving Maritana and Lazarillo to pray for a happy outcome. (Duet: "Sainted Mother")


Don Caesar returns, followed immediately by the King. His Majesty has discovered the full extent of Don José's perfidy and needs help in defending his throne - and, presumably, his marriage. But the doughty Don Caesar has anticipated the danger and, armed with the evidence of José's multiple treachery, has already run the villain through. The delighted King promptly re-pardons his saviour and rewards him by appointing him Governor of Valencia. Whereupon the entire company, led by Maritana, burst into a great song of rejoicing (Finale Act III: "With rapture glowing").


Majella Cullagh


A native of Cork, she studied under Maeve Coughlan at the Cork School of Music and at the National Opera Studio in London. Her wide repertoire embraces rôles in French, Italian, German and English operas from Gluck's Iphigénie en Tauride, in which she appeared for the English Bach Festival at the Royal Opera House, to Menotti's Amahl and the Night Visitors and James Wilson's Swift opera A Passionate Man, in which she created the rôle of Vanessa in Dublin in 1995. For DGOS Opera Ireland she has sung Mozart's Barbarina and Puccini's Musetta, and she returns this winter to sing Adina in L'elisir d'amore. In 1994 she sang Dorella in Wagner's Das Liebesverbol at Wexford Festival Opera and last year she was Elsie Maynard in Welsh National Opera's production of The Yeomen of the Guard. Her most recent success was as the sorceress Melissa in Handel's Amadigi with Opera Theatre Company. She also appears extensively on the concert platform throughout Ireland and the UK.


Lynda Lee


Antrim-born soprano Lynda Lee trained originally as a mezzo at the Dublin College of Music with Dr. Veronica Dunne and has participated in master classes in Italy with Carlo Bergonzi and Paolo Molinari. In addition to achieving a place as a finalist at the 1992 Belvedere Competition in Vienna, where she won the Irish Radio Prize, she has received many important singing awards and scholarships. In 1993 she represented BBC Northern Ireland at the Cardiff Singer of the World Competition. In addition to engagements at home with Opera Northern Ireland, Opera Theatre Company, Wexford Festival and DGOS Opera Ireland, Lynda has sung with Kamer Opera Transparent in Antwerp and Musica nel chiostro in Batignano as well as appearing at the Festival de l'Abbaye d'Ambronay, the Bath International Festival (at Covent Garden) and the Glasgow Mayfest. Her rôles include Purcell's Dido, Handel's Vitige, Mozart's Sesto and Dorabella and Strauss's Composer. She also sang in the première of Frank Agsteribbe's D'Amour pique on tour in Belgium and France.


Paul Charles Clarke


Paul Charles Clarke, who was born and educated in Liverpool, studied with Neil Mackie at the Royal College of Music where he became the first recipient of the Peter Pears Scholarship, and this was followed in 1989 with first prize in the Kathleen Ferrier Competition. In the UK he appears regularly with the Royal Opera at Covent Garden as well as with Opera North, Scottish Opera and Welsh National Opera, where he recently starred in the title rôle of Gounod's Faust. Abroad he has sung in Japan, France and Seattle, where he made his USA debut as the Duke in Rigoletto, and later as Rodolfo in La bohème. Other romantic tenor rôles in his repertoire include Donizetti's Nemorino and Ernesto; and Verdi's Alfredo and Fenton. He has also sung Dimitri in Boris Godunov for Opera North and Cassio in Otello and Froh in Das Rheingold at the Royal Opera. In 1996/97 he will add Gabriele Adorno in Verdi's Simone Boccanegra.


Ian Caddy


Southampton-born bass-baritone Ian Caddy studied at the Royal Academy of Music where he won the President's Prize in 1970. After further training with Otakar Krauss, he made his opera debut with Glyndebourne Touring Opera in 1973. Although he has appeared with the major UK companies in a wide variety of operas, ranging from Peri's Euridice, the oldest known work in the repertory, through Gilbert and Sullivan's Mikado, to contemporary works, he is best known for his work in baroque opera, particularly in the many Rameau rôles he has sung for the English Bach Festival.


Quentin Hayes


Quentin Hayes first studied singing under Charles Brett and then at Darlington Arts College, the Guildhall School of Music and the National Opera Studio on a Countess of Munster Scholarship. In 1992 he was winner of the VARA Dutch Radio Prize at the Belvedere Singing Competition in Vienna. Festival appearances include Edinburgh, Munich, Malvern, Three Choirs and Almeida. His rôles with leading UK companies include Rossini's Figaro with Glyndebourne Touring opera; and Verdi's Ford, and Mozart's Papageno at ENO, where he also sang the part of Marcel Proust in Schnittke's Life of an Idiot, a rôle he repeated with Scottish opera. He also has a busy concert schedule and is much in demand for the oratorios of Bach and Handel as well as later romantic and modern composers. He has recorded the leading rôle in Mark-Anthony Turnage's opera Greek.


Damien Smith


One of Ireland's leading baritones, he has performed with many of the country's best musical societies and has received awards at the Festivals of Light Opera in Waterford and Bangor. He has appeared with the RTÉCO in many presentations, including the acclaimed Champagne Nights series, The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber, the Theatre Nights Lerner & Loewe concert in Limerick and the 150th anniversary tour of Wallace's Maritana. A regular performer at the Proms, he has sung the rôles of Schaunard in La Bohème, Duphol in La traviata, Malatesta in Don Pasquale and Sharpless in Madama Butterfly.


Radio Telefis Éireann Philharmonic Choir


Founded in 1985, the RTE Philharmonic Choir has achieved a reputation as one of the country's finest large-scale vocal ensembles. The Choir has built up an extensive repertoire, including Brit ten's War Requiem; Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms; Poulenc's Gloria and Prokofiev's Alexander Nevsky. It performed the first commerical recording of Balfe's 'The Bohemian Girl' for the Argo label, under Richard Bonynge, and was the core at the remarkable performance of Mahler's Eighth Symphony at the Point Depot in Dublin. This was followed by another commercial recording of Verdi's 'Aida' for Naxos. The RTE Philharmonic Choir's performance of Gerard Victory's 'Ultima Rerum' is now available on the Marco Polo label and the choir has undertaken a further recording for the company of Stanford's Requiem. In June 1996, New Zealander Mark Duley succeeded Colin Mawby as Choral Director and one of his first undertakings a concert and recording for Naxos of Rachmaninov's 'The Bells' Choral Symphony, choir is joined by the National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Principal Guest Conductor Alexander Anissimov.


Radio Telefis Éireann Concert Orchestra


The RTE Concert Orchestra works right across the musical spectrum, being equally at home with classics and pop, opera and musicals. This enthusiastic and flexible approach to music has earned the orchestra and its Principal Conductor, Proinnsias Ó Duinn, an enviable reputation at home and abroad. The RTE Concert Orchestra is wholly funded by Radio Telefis Éireann, Ireland's national broadcasting service. In addition to its radio and television commitments, it gives concerts throughout Ireland, including the major music festivals and is the resident orchestra for Opera Ireland's twice-yearly opera seasons. For Naxos and Marco polo, the orchestra has recorded numerous discs, including a much-acclaimed series of incidental music by Sir Arthur Sullivan and a disc of miniatures by Irish composers.


Proinnsias Ó Duinn


Over the years, Proinnsias Ó Duinn has worked with top-class artists in every sphere of the musical profession. Because of his long association with both symphony and concert orchestras, his repertoire covers the entire spectrum from popular to symphonic - taking in opera, oratorio and ballet - and includes many national and world premières. Born in Dublin, he has been Principal Conductor of the RTÉ Concert Orchestra since 1978 and has played a major role in helping it become one of the most versatile radio orchestras in Europe. Previously he held positions as Principal Conductor and Music Director of the National Symphony Orchestra of Equador and as Principal Conductor of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra. In addition, he has conducted in London, (the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra) Denmark, Sweden and Norway. In the early 1970s he was appointed vocal adviser and conductor of the RTÉ Chamber Choir. In this capacity he was awarded the Radio and Television Critics' Award: "for his distinction as a conductor and for the success of his fresh approach to the work".

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