|About this Recording
8.660378-79 - BALFE, M.W.: Satanella [Opera] (Silver, Kang Wang, Hayes, John Powell Singers, Victorian Opera Orchestra, Bonynge)
Michael William Balfe (1808–1870)
A romantic English Opera in four acts
WORLD PREMIÈRE RECORDING
Count Rupert, a landowner – Kang Wang, Tenor
It has been said that Victorian Britain was “A Land without music”. This spiteful remark was coined by Munich journalist, Oskar Schmitz, who even used it for the title of his 1904 book, at a time when anti-British sentiment was strong in Germany. It suited those trying to promote the upcoming Wagnerian school.
The truth is very different as we find that the mid-Victorian period was a particularly fertile time for operatic invention where composers built on the classical style of Italian masters Mayr, Donizetti, Bellini and Verdi. Balfe and Barnett were the first British composers to involve themselves with this romantic operatic movement.
When only a teenager Balfe had played in the theatre orchestras of Drury Lane and Her Majesty’s, where he would later conduct. This gave him a perfect grounding for studying operatic writing and quality of staging well before he turned his hand to composing. Balfe had studied composition in Italy where, from 1829 to 1833, he had one ballet and three operas performed. Balfe possessed an excellent baritone voice and sang at La Scala, Milan in 1833, playing opposite diva, Maria Malibran, before making later appearances with her at the Paris Opéra. Balfe returned to London in October 1835 to première The Siege of Rochelle at Drury Lane’s Theatre Royal. Its music was such a success that he followed the following year with a second London opera, The Maid of Artois written expressly for Maria Malibran.
Satanella, or The Power of Love comes during a prolific writing period in the Autumn of Balfe’s life. It followed his successful The Rose of Castille (1857), with a principal soprano part written for Louisa Pyne. Her friendship with Balfe came in useful when a year later she and William Harrison formed their own opera company and hired the Covent Garden theatre for six winter seasons.
The Satanella plot comes from Jacques Cazotte’s 1772 tale of the supernatural, Le Diable amoureux. Its first stage use is believed to have been in 1842 when Flippo and Marie Taglioni presented a ballet at La Scala, Milan. The same year, a version was played at the Paris Opéra with Pauline Leroux and brought to England the following year with the same dancers and billed, The Devil in Love. Their son, Paul Taglioni took the ballet round Europe and brought it to London as Metamorphoses, in 1850 (with music by Cesare Pugni). ‘Satanella’ was the character of the principal dancer. In fact when the ballet was played in Vienna its title was Satanella oder Metamorphofen.
Separately, an 1840 ballet of Le Diable amoureux appeared in Paris and was brought to London three years later with Pauline Leroux in the principal rôle. Billed The Devil in Love, it played alongside Balfe’s première production of the Bohemian Girl. We can be sure that Balfe would have been familiar with every detail of the piece. Neither author nor composer is credited for the The Devil in Love but from a review of its French production two small-time composers, Benoist and Reber, are mentioned. The cast and scenes match those of Balfe’s Satanella, so this will have been his major source for the plot. Harris and Falconer who take the credit for writing the book will only have provided the dialogue.
A different unfinished version of a ‘Satanella’ opera exists: written by musician, Charles Coote, it was found when he died in 1880, in manuscript form. Amazingly, Coote’s librettist was none other than Edward Fitzball who had also been Balfe’s librettist for The Siege of Rochelle back in 1835. One wonders whether Balfe had worked with Coote at some stage and for some reason had changed his librettist. Reviewers approved of the opera despite its inordinate length: yet the audience warmed to its abundance of good melody. A number of reviewers disliked all opera with dialogue, believing that Covent Garden opera should be ‘through-composed’ (where recitatives replace the spoken word) and sung in Italian. The dramatic effects and Act IV finale transformation scene would have impressed the audiences.
Satanella enjoyed a substantial run of 57 performances in the first Pyne-Harrison Covent Garden season with an additional five nights during the second season. The opera later went on international tour: Sydney (1862), New York (1863), and Philadelphia (1871). It was revived in London, first by the Carl Rosa Company at the Gaiety Theatre in 1873 and later by the Charles Durand Company in the late 1870s. A Covent Garden revival by the Royal English Opera Company, with J. W. Turner as Rupert, followed in 1884 and later in 1900 the Carl Rosa and John Ridding companies further revived the work. Grand orchestral and organ selections were regularly played at Alexandra Palace and the Theatre Royal’s Promenade Concerts between 1877–83. The name ‘Satanella’ was given to a show dog, a horse, and a yacht.
On 26 January 1884, the Royal English Opera opened with a revival of the opera at Covent Garden, played by Mr Friend’s Company (an extension of the Carl Rosa Opera Company) with Madame Lina Balfe, the composer’s widow, attending its first performance. She must have been disappointed to find a scene cut, the dialogue condensed to a barely recognisable minimum, the material under-rehearsed, and its singers failing to make the words audible. The Times critic noticed that the majority of singers “sung their songs and gave nothing more”. This revival ran for only a few performances and did little to help promote further stagings. This change does not suggest that Satanella was incompetently constructed, however. A loophole in the law had allowed a Mr H. Wall to buy the performing rights and impose fees for all performances, not only of the full opera but for any songs used from the score. This constraint curtailed future performances and encouraged a neglect over the mists of time.
The Opera score
The score is a hybrid of classical opera with a sprinkling of stand-alone ballads, beloved by singers of the day for sheet sales promotion. The Italianate flow of recitatives, concerted pieces and ensembles is evident. Important singers found Balfe an easy composer to manipulate for writing a particular ballad to suit their fancy. In fact, after Balfe’s death in 1870 we know that singer, Henry Phillips and others interpolated ballads of their own choice when playing in a Balfe opera. This is proved by the fact that some band parts have pencilled “Insert Mr Phillip’s number”.
Writing the score commenced on 21 August, 1858 and was finished two months later on 14 October, 1858: Balfe clearly had the ability to compose with speed, even though we know a draft had been started as early as 1842. Much of the writing is in shorthand and the style of each number is particularly varied in key, melody and metre.
Victorian libretti are generally notorious for dire writing and this resulted in the downfall of many an opera. But Satanella fortunately is not one of them. A libretto was printed in time for the opening night, an occasion when critics reported that the opera ran for over four hours, and went on until after midnight. When the libretto is compared with the first engraving of the vocal score some time later, we find that No. 3 has been shortened, Nos. 10 and 17 removed, and the second Act finale has been considerably shortened. Victorian Opera scrutinised these missing numbers (extant in the autograph), but the material was not deemed impressive, nor did it help to advance the plot. A decision was taken, therefore, not reinstate this original material.
After the 1858 opening night, work took place to refine the lyrics and improve the flow of recitatives. Dialogue and scenas were condensed. Hortensius and Karl were originally given a duetto buffo (originally No. 17) with recitative that was transferred more appropriately to the end of Act II. This duet never reached the vocal score. In the autograph, we find, written at the end of No. 1, that Balfe had added, “Segue intro into Concerted Piece Quartett and Chorus”, revealing that two pages of dialogue had been cut to shorten the running time. Dialogue essentially reinforces any lyrics that advance the plot since all words rarely come across when sung.
In this new performing edition by Richard Bonynge, the opera has been further improved by replacing antiquated terms and adjusting the flow of words to sit more comfortably with the voice.
Raymond J Walker
Setting Balfe’s manuscript
A large pile of original, somewhat tattered, band parts to initially work from were given to me. Starting in the summer of 2013 the first violin, cello and bass parts from the 1858 band parts were transferred to a new score. Several problems became apparent—the 1858 parts had several sections pasted over with blank paper, indicating that the music had been shortened: there were many cuts to the original production.
Some parts did not ‘fit’ with the vocal score while some band parts were incomplete, with many pages missing. A copy of the autograph ultimately provided the missing bits. With no rehearsal letters or bar numbering, bar counting was necessary. The autograph contained two extra numbers, but it was decided not to record them, and so ‘numbering’ had to be altered for consistency. Balfe’s handwritten manuscript has an unconventional instrument order; yet the order approximates in descending order of instrument pitch: from top down they are piccolo, flutes, oboes, clarinets, trumpets, horns, bassoons, trombones, percussion, violin 1 and 2, viola, then the singers’ lines and, lastly, cello and bass. Autograph pages within a number do not carry instrument names and so the only clue was the bracketing of staves (for two horns).
The clarinets, originally in C, A and Bb, were transposed for either A or Bb depending on their key signature. The horns were written, as was the fashion, in many keys. The new full score has horns in F throughout. The trumpets originally in Bb, A, C and even F, have been rewritten for Bb instruments throughout. The timpani were written as C and G irrespective of the actual notes played, the notes being designated at the start of the number. It has been a learning experience of nearly two years, but I think well worth it.
Scene 2: A Gothic library in the Demon’s tower
Act II: Scene 1: A magnificent hall
Scene 2: A sea coast
Scene 3: Lelia’s cottage by the coast
Act III: Scene 1: A Cavern
Scene 2: The bazaar and slave market
Act IV: The Demon’s tower
Raymond J Walker
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