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Jeremy Dibble
Gramophone, February 2016

THE SPECIALIST’S GUIDE TO… Forgotten works of Victorian Britain

Named as a work of ‘the highest distinction’ by Berlioz, Lurline was first given in London in 1860 under the management of Pyne and Harrison, pioneers in the performance of opera in English. In 1890 it was successfully revived. A colourful character and widely travelled, William Vincent Wallace possessed a vibrant affinity with the theatre and, though Maritana remains his bestknown stage work, this ‘Grand Legendary Opera’ is undoubtedly his most creative utterance. © 2016 Gramophone

Bill Marsh
The Delian, June 2011

This new performing edition of a celebrated Victorian opera by Richard Bonynge is of course another story of the Lorelei who seduces sailors and fishermen to an unhappy end. Who said there was no significant composer between Purcell and Elgar? There was Wallace, Balfe, and Benedict among others. Again, we have a committed presentation by all concerned with this tuneful work said to be more melodic than Maritana. No libretto is supplied; you can get it as a download. But there is a synopsis and excellent notes and extensive track listings.

Andrew Lamb
Gramophone, December 2010

Admirable as Chandos’s recording of Sullivan’s Ivanhoe is, I go for Naxos’s even more enterprising revival of William Vincent Wallace’s romantic Lurline (alias Lorelei), with Sally River, soloists and full-scale forces under Richard Bonynge.

Charles H Parsons
American Record Guide, November 2010

The opera and the performance are both a delight. There is an innocent beauty to both that beguiles the ear. It’s all quite lovely and charming.

To read complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

Andrew Collins
Opera Now, September 2010

This premiere recording makes a persuasive vase for the score’s pretty, distinctly Victorian charms. A wonderful cast…[and] and the Victorian Opera Chorus and orchestra provided committed, spirited support in a rarity that is reasonably prices and well worth seeking out.

Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, September 2010

British Opera of the mid-nineteenth century enjoyed a small vogue throughout continental Europe and garnered a fair amount of critical esteem. One thinks of Balfe’s The Bohemian Girl and its 1846 appearance in Vienna. Julius Benedict was active, naturally, as were other composers of lesser status. But dig deeper and one finds J.L. Hatton’s Pasqual Bruno in the same Imperial capital in 1844; and William Vincent Wallace’s Maritana in 1848.

Wallace’s Maritana was accorded the honour of an abridged recording in the days of the 78, but no such benefit accrued to Lurline, his watery grand opera of 1848, that revolutionary year, and which saw revision a decade later before its 1860 premiere. The Rhenish story needn’t particularly detain us, but of rather more interest is the quality of the music, and indeed the performances.

The influences on Wallace—who nevertheless had a strong compositional voice of his own—were Weber, Mendelssohn to a degree, and maybe also Meyerbeer. Wallace was admired by Berlioz, no less, and his craftsmanship is evident throughout this opera which gathers pace—dramatically and musically—as it goes along. The quite extensive overture certainly reveals Weber-like traits and evocations. There’s a deftly rocking introduction to the Act I Scene 1 All is silent, subtle use of the harp in the Rhine-rich writing of the recitative Where is Lurline? Meanwhile the romance When the night winds has a nicely spun Romantic arc. Wallace ensures that the horns are appositely engaged for a preening aria in Scene 2’s Bring the mirror with melodies that are spruce and crisp. The trio I see by the grey of the morn is saturated in a light-hearted ethos, and variety is further cemented by the barcarolle evoked in Our barque in silence, though—and not for the first time—one wishes Wallace had been more adventurous in his orchestration.

It is certainly a just criticism that by the Rondo Take this cup—a cheery affair—the operatic tone has become decidedly uneven and that the dramatic trajectory of the music has been somewhat derailed. There are however some virtuosically coloratura moments, Italianate in impress and demanding a sure exponent to do them justice. Fortunately soprano Sally Silver does just that.

The brass fires some decidedly Weberian moments in the chorus Come away to the chase and there’s a good, seriously-orientated chorus in Ave Maria. What impresses perhaps most strongly above these localised gestures, however, is the way in which Wallace marshals the material for his Act finales with their textured lyric lines and involved independence. If seldom truly memorable he remains a fine and engaging composer, whose exciting qualities can be judged in the finale to Act Two but whose best moments are reserved for something like Act III’s Grand Scena Sad as my soul, cogently put together and a scene that indicates how adept he was at coalescing thematic material and directing them towards a strongly controlled conclusion. The unaccompanied quartet, Though the world (Act III Scene 2), comes as a welcome surprise. It adds another gloss to his armoury of light, almost ballad, arias, jolly choruses, virtuosic roulades and the like.

We hear Lurline in Richard Bonynge’s edition. The band sounds relatively small—the string complement is 8-6-4-5-2 so it’s not especially so and is in fact probably authentically sized—but could do with rather greater tone and weight. The wind principals are good. The chorus is a touch lightweight. The singers vary. As Lurline Silver is excellent, conquering the technical demands placed on her with sang froid and gleaming tone. The two baritones David Soar (actually a bass-baritone) and Donald Maxwell acquit themselves finely whilst Roderick Earle’s bass is strong and convincing. Tenors Paul Ferris and Keith Lewis offer a study in contrasts; the former is more youthful and steadier; the latter however offers excellent musicality in compensation.

It’s interesting to note that one of the pallbearers at Wallace’s funeral in London in 1865 was one Arthur Sullivan, then just 23. He certainly owed something to Wallace and for that we should be thankful to Lurline and to its brother and sister operas nourished in the mid-century.

Richard Fairman
Gramophone, August 2010

You have to hand it to Naxos: at a time when it might seem there can be no more unrecorded operas to go, they come forward with another rarity worth hearing.

Stephen Eddins, August 2010

British composer William Wallace’s grand opera Lurline (1848) never quite achieved the success of his 1845 Maritana, which remained in the repertoire of many English opera companies into the early 20th century, but it’s fascinating to hear an example of mid-19th century English opera, a genre that’s virtually unknown to modern audiences. Its conventions are perhaps most familiar as the style that Arthur Sullivan so savagely and brilliantly lampooned, so even listeners who have never heard this music itself will probably experience a sense of recognition, recalling Gilbert and Sullivan...a listener who attempts to hear the work as a product of its time can appreciate its virtues: an easy lyricism, melodic generosity, and expert text-setting and orchestration. The advocacy of Richard Bonynge, who prepared a new performing edition of the score, lends the enterprise a seriousness that demands respect. This performance featuring the Victorian Opera Chorus and Orchestra makes about as strong a case as possible for the work. The orchestra and chorus...are more than adequate in this material, which does not make excessive demands. Most of the vocal performances are quite fine, particularly soprano Sally Silver, mezzo-soprano Fiona James, and bass-baritone David Soar. The sound is clean and open...This album should interest fans of obscure 19th century operatic repertoire. It may well also please Gilbert and Sullivan fans because of the clever light music, and the libretto by Edward Fitzball, which sometimes inadvertently approaches the sublime absurdity of Gilbert’s silliest texts.

Göran Forsling
MusicWeb International, August 2010

...the music is wholly agreeable...The performing edition is by Richard Bonynge, who has done great things in dusting off long-forgotten operas and giving them a new lease of life. One can at once in the long overture hear that Wallace was a skilled orchestrator. The opening is an atmospheric description of a moonlit night on the Rhine, but the music becomes both lively and dramatic. When the imaginary curtain rises we are exposed once more to a serene and beautiful orchestral introduction, which is also woven into the recitative that follows and sung at the end before the aria.

So what does the music sound like? The easiest way of describing it is to see it as a forerunner of Sullivan. In a blindfold test I am sure many listeners would believe some of the melodies to be from one of the Savoy operas. Ingratiating and easy to hum they could comfortably command a place in any programme of light opera and operetta. What is missing is perhaps the tongue-in-cheek quality of some of Sullivan’s best creations and the glint in the eye. On the other hand the story doesn’t exactly cry out for such qualities. There are also several rousing choruses that remind me of G&S and the act finales are skilfully structured to rise to slap-up climaxes. In particular it is in the second act that Wallace’s inspiration flows at its richest. Take the opening chorus (CD 1 tr. 19) or the Sullivanesque Chorus From his Palace of Crystal (CD 1 tr. 22). Rupert’s aria Sweet form (CD 1 tr. 23) is lovely and somewhat later Ghiva’s song Gentle Troubadour (CD 2 tr. 2 is catchy. Rhineberg’s The nectar cup may yield delight in ¾ time (CD 2 tr. 5) is another hit. No wonder it was such a success in the 1860s.

Act III also has several highlights. Rupert’s ballad (CD 2 tr. 13) again recalls G&S and Lurline’s Grand Scena (CD 2 tr. 18) should be a dream number for any high soprano. The prayer, in particular, is noble and beautiful. The final scene opens with a riveting chorus (CD 2 tr. 22) followed by a long duet between Rupert and Lurline. In the ensemble that concludes the opera Lurline returns to her opening solo in act I but now heavily embellished.

Sally Silver in the title role has a bright lyrical voice, sailing effortlessly up in the highest reaches of the soprano register. She negotiates the coloratura passages with supreme ease. Hers is a most sensitive reading of a role that is both other-worldly and deeply human. Veteran Keith Lewis, best known perhaps as a stylish Mozart singer, makes the most of Rupert’s role, nuanced and sensitive, his ravishing pianissimo singing. The end of his air (CD 1 tr. 23) is excellent proof of his ability. David Soar is a powerful and intense Rhineberg...Donald Maxwell, another veteran, is a splendid Baron Truenfels and even better is Roderick Earle as the Gnome. Try CD 1 tr. 27 for proof. Fiona Janes is a vibrant and expressive Ghiva. The orchestral and choral forces are splendid under Richard Bonynge’s experienced leadership.

There is a synopsis in the booklet but the libretto—including the original stage directions shown in the 1860 libretto—can be bought separately.

Victorian Opera Northwest, which ‘was formed to promote the excellent music found in the operas and operettas of forgotten 19th  Century British and Irish composers has certainly lived up to their aim. Together with Naxos they have enriched the operatic CD-catalogue. Maybe not a dramatic masterpiece but all lovers of 19th century opera, and lovers of good melodies should hasten to add this set to their collections.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, June 2010

Dandy, womaniser, spendthrift, traveller and a man of many parts, there was probably as much fiction as there is fact surrounding the life of the Irish-born William Vincent Wallace. It maybe true that he left debt behind him as he made his home in various parts of the world including Australia, Chile, Mexico, United States, Germany, and England, his days ending in France. And there were women as well, including at least two marriages. Coulourful and gifted, his musical reputation is now slim and resides in the opera, Maritana, though during his lifetime Lurline was held in the highest esteem, and was among the operas that helped rescue London’s ailing opera house at Covent Garden from financial ruin. It was the frequently used plot of the Rhine maiden, Lorelei, whose songs had lured sailors to their death on the rocks. But that was to change when she falls in love with a mortal. He is already loved, and those affections are mutual. So the story unfolds with the unhappy ending that audiences of the time had come to expect. Stylistically a German opera much indebted to Weber and Mendelssohn, with a passing knowledge of Wagner. That is then diluted to make it a pleasingly melodic opera and forerunner of the Gilbert and Sullivan era. At the helm of this world premiere recording is the Australian-born conductor, Richard Bonynge, a musician who has an affection for neglected operas. His cast are familiar names on the British opera scene, the finely spun voice of Sally Silver making a suitably seductive Lurline and a perfect foil to the formidable Ghiva of Fiona Janes. As the third party in the love triangle, Keith Lewis sounds an aging Count Rupert, the person who has captivated Lurline, while the stalwart of comedy roles, Donald Maxwell, is the farther who gets most things wrong. The booklet gives no background to the young sounding Victorian Opera Chorus or to the orchestra, but one guesses they were a ‘special’ group formed for a recording made in northern England last June.

Balaam’s Music, May 2010

Next we have a real rarity—the opera Lurline by one William Vincent Wallace, of whom I’m not ashamed to say I’d never heard. The setting of the opera is the Lorelei Rock in the Rhine, on which the siren Lurline played her enchanting harp to lure fishermen to a watery grave. Richard Bonynge has prepared a new performing edition of this work, which was declared a complete success by Victorian theatre critics, and ran for a ‘substantial’ number of performances—certainly one for lovers of opera rarities to investigate.

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