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Andrew Lamb
Opera, March 2012

The solo singing is admirably led by Nicky Spence, exhilarating not only in his ballads ‘Englishmen’ and ‘Thy guiding light’ but also in the compelling prison scene…What ultimately remains, though, is amazement that a key work in British operatic history, lost to audiences for over a century, can be disinterred and recorded to such a high overall standard with limited resources. © 2012 Opera

Charles H Parsons
American Record Guide, March 2012

…music certainly worth hearing for the sheer enjoyment they give to the listeners…one jolly tune after another delights the ear. It is an opera full of charming music.

…a delightful way to pass an hour or two. © 2012 American Record Guide Read complete review on American Record Guide

Richard Traubner
Opera News, February 2012

This Robin Hood should not be confused with the operetta version by Reginald De Koven, composed in 1891. That has some elements of Olde England but is composed in a cheerier style, despite the popular and ballad-y “Oh, Promise Me,” sung at weddings throughout the twentieth century. Macfarren’s work is on a generally more ambitious level, with richer orchestrations, although Act II is quite merry.

It’s also where the best music is. A duet for Maid Marian and Alice, her attendant, toward the end of the act, is a delight. Then comes the finale, set at the Fair at Nottingham, with an archery contest. A robust chorus announcing the match is followed by a round-dance—very Edward German-esque—and two games, one of them a sort of blindman’s buff, both nicely scored for the orchestra. Then comes a counterpoint chorus of pax vobiscums, followed by a rousing ballad for Robin. The finale ends with a grand chorus during the archery contest, a coloratura aria for Marion, a quintet that’s like a glee, and finally a terrific coda with the company singing separate lyrics.

In Act III, there are several nice items, a vengeful air for the Sheriff, and a sequence for Robin and Marian in prison. Then comes a song for Robin announcing that “courage fires me” and, near the end, a bell chorus that will recall the funeral march in Sullivan’s The Yeomen of the Guard. It all ends happily, with shouts of “oh joy, oh, rapture,” which must have been an incentive to the young W. S. Gilbert!

The libretto by John Oxenford, serviceable without being brilliant, is available online. The notes are good, giving a fine portrait of this era and more on Macfarren, who was virtually blind by 1860 but continued writing cantatas and oratorios for various British festivals, not to mention an operatic version of She Stoops to Conquer.

The singing here is good, with Nicky Spence, the young Scots tenor, giving a nicely robust performance as Robin Hood. Ronald Corp’s conducting is swaggering when necessary, and it was a massive undertaking to reconstruct the vocal and orchestral scores for this rendition of this very Victorian but quite tuneful work. © 2012 Opera News Read complete review

Richard Lawrence
Gramophone, January 2012

all is well. Nicky Spence is splendid as Robin Hood: vigorous in the ballad ‘Englishmen by birth’, he is eloquent in the beautiful ‘My own, my guiding star’… © 2012 Gramophone Read complete review on Gramophone

John France
MusicWeb International, December 2011

It is a bold endeavour indeed to embark on reviving an opera that many people will regard as being well past its sell by date. To consider making a recording is heroic. It is almost certain this will be the one and only version produced in our lifetimes. It has to be good: it has to sell the music and create something well beyond the experience of visiting a ‘museum’. There was considerable work involved in restoring the performing edition: the parts had gone missing and the full score was written in a ‘spidery hand’. This mammoth task was undertaken by Dr. Valerie Langfield. It is not just a case of copying out the bars into Sibelius and pressing the ‘print score and parts’ button. There was a heap of technical issues, such as the fact the Macfarren used a three-stringed double bass and horns with interchangeable crooks.

The score is full of attractive and often beautiful music that will leave the doubter speechless. It may not be Verdi or Donizetti—was all Verdi great?—but there is a quality of musical endeavour here that must surely strike the listener as being well beyond the perceived ‘dry as dust’ or overly sentimental qualities that have attached themselves to this period of British music. This is operatic music at its best, not over the top, but moving and attractive.

The performers in this groundbreaking recording are the Victorian Opera Chorus and Orchestra. The quality of the singing from the principals and chorus is excellent. All the players are kept in order by Ronald Corp, who has drawn an outstanding performance from all concerned.

The liner-notes are first-rate, the sound quality superb and the cover picture of ‘The Edge of Sherwood Forest’ is totally appropriate. Altogether a great production.

Robin Hood has seriously impressed me. The more I hear this music the more it appears competent, attractive, often beautiful, sometimes moving and always interesting. And I am not an opera buff! In fact, I am coming to love it as much as I love G&S.

This is a CD that all opera fans ought to have. Some people will ignore it simply because it was written by an Englishman during Queen Victoria’s reign. They would be utterly misguided to do so. This is a great work; possibly the composer’s masterpiece and is a light opera (not operetta) that can hold its best up against anything offered by the Italians and the French and the Germans from the same period. © MusicWeb International Read complete review

Andrew Lamb
Gramophone, December 2011

Thanks to the remarkable enterprise of Victorian Opera, here’s another invaluable and hugely enjoyable offering in the neglected field of Victorian Romantic opera, Macfarren’s Robin Hood—a work easy on the ear and breathing fresh British air, with Nicky Spence leading full-scale forces under Ronald Corp.

Ian Lace
MusicWeb International, November 2011

All praises to Ronald Corp’s choir and orchestra for their verve and enthusiasm. The Overture promises well; it’s atmospheric, exciting and romantic with its horn-calls and woodland imagery. The Act II Entr’acte sporting a brass chorale is equally pleasing. The choral writing, for the most part, impresses: the Act II Part Song ‘The wood, the wood’ and ‘A good fat deer’ that immediately follows, both for Robin’s men, are lusty, evocative and witty. Just as striking is the Act III, Scene II choral part-song, ‘Now the sun has mounted’ which anticipates Sullivan and especially his ‘The Long Day Closes’ published in 1868, some eight years after Robin Hood.

Tenor Nicky Spence is stalwart and dashing; his nobly patriotic Act I ballad ‘Englishmen by Birth’ rings out proudly. He romances Marian tenderly and his duets with Marian such as their ‘Good Night, Love’ are lovingly affecting. Lyric soprano Kay Jordan has a nicely young-girlish, bright, full timbre with a powerfully projected coloratura. It has to be said though that the voice tends, at times, to be a little uncomfortable in the top extremities. Alas she is not served with the best of the libretto—some lines are quite banal—take for example her Act I aria beginning with the words, “Hail happy morn Thy cloudless sky, That blushes in the new-born light…” ’Pity because that number commences with a particularly engaging cello solo and sections of the aria are quite moving; but then it droops towards the risible—a banality almost worthy of PDQ Bach.

Bass Louis Hurst is a magnificent glowering Sompnour; he shines in his Act I song in which he sings of his ruthless tax-gathering activities, “Oh, gentle Sompnour, pray be kind: We’re in arrear—we own it. Pray thee do not be severe,” is delivered in a witty whimpering-woman imitation. George Hulbert is a pompous self-righteous Sheriff. His Act I duet and chorus ‘May the saints protect and guide thee…’ sung as he bids the Sompnour a safe journey through Robin Hood’s forest is another delight.

Naxos provides a generous 16-page booklet. A full libretto, including spoken dialogue, is available for downloading on the Naxos web site.

Despite its unevenness, there is much to enjoy in this revival. Of historical interest in the progress of the English Musical Renaissance

David Denton
David's Review Corner, October 2011

Now long forgotten, George Alexander Macfarren was the father figure in the renaissance of English opera that had laid dormant since the time of Purcell. Born in 1813, the same year as Verdi and Wagner, he became a pupil at the newly founded Royal Academy of Music and, more or less, remained there till he died. Until he went totally blind, he was professor of composition, and became a very active Principal after his loss of sight. Promoting British music of others was his prime objective. though he was very active as a composer in every genre, and in the field of opera completed eighteen scores to very differing librettos. As with all British composers of the time, his style relied on Germanic influences, and ‘a lightweight version of Weber’ would seem an appropriate description on the evidence of Robin Hood. Most of his librettos were derived from English subjects, Robin Hood being a condensed version of the familiar story of a group of outlaws living in a forest in mid-England. With Hood as their leader, they rob the rich and give to the poor. Here we find him in disguise falling in love with the Sheriff’s daughter, Marian, her father agreeing to her marriage to the personable young man. The second act sees the brigands robbing the man who collects taxes, but he recognises Hood as the disguised man. So when Hood—disguised again—goes to the town fair, he is arrested and imprisoned awaiting execution. But when the expected death warrant is received, it is, in fact, a pardon from the King on condition Hood and his followers become law abiding citizens. First performed in 1860 the idea of a world premiere recording came before it was found the opera only existed in a badly written full score. The performance comes from the Victorian Opera Company, a group whose roots are in the many semi-professional companies in provincial England. Good quality professional soloists headed by the tenor, Nicky Spence, as Hood, and Kay Jordan dealing well with the vocally athletic role of Marian. The chorus is amateur supplemented with professionals and the admirable orchestra is probably the same. Ronald Corp is the well-known conductor, and he obtains a highly committed and pleasing performance. I guess it will be the work’s only recording, and we are much indebted to the company’s spirit of adventure.

Classic FM, September 2011

CD of the Week: September 24–30, 2011

David’s CD of the Week is a wonderful recording of George Alexander Macfarren’s finest opera, Robin Hood.

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