The Soldier’s Legacy
Rachel Speirs, Gaynor Keeble, Joseph Doody, Quentin Hayes; Edward Dean (harmonium); Jonathan Fisher (piano)
Retrospect Opera RO009 107:06 mins (2 discs)
George Macfarren (1813-87) was a solid figure in the British musical establishment – Professor of Music at Cambridge from 1875, and Principal of the Royal Academy of Music from 1876, both until his death – and also a prolific composer, especially of operas; some were premiered at such major venues as Covent Garden and Drury Lane. Here, though, is one of his operas da camera, written for German Reed’s Gallery of Illustration in Regent Street: only four singers are required while the accompaniment is for solo piano plus a harmonium imitating the voice of a bullfinch.
The Soldier’s Legacy (1864) proves to be a slight if well-crafted entertainment, only occasionally spirited. John Oxenford’s libretto tells a tale of village life with an arriving soldier setting hearts aflutter when he comes to discover his late comrade’s son (in fact a daughter). Musically, the obvious comparison is with Sullivan – though Macfarren lacks his younger colleague’s considerably greater gifts. But the piece is ably performed by the four vocal participants and their keyboard companions. Spoken dialogue is included.