Richard Bonynge: Balfe’s Satanella

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COMPOSERS: Michael William Balfe
LABELS: Naxos
ALBUM TITLE: Balfe
WORKS: Satanella
PERFORMER: Sally Silver, Kang Wang, Christine Tocci, Quentin Hayes, Anthony Gregory, Trevor Bowes; John Powell Singers; Victorian Opera Orchestra/Richard Bonynge
CATALOGUE NO: Naxos 8.660378-79

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Michael Balfe’s career explodes the usual view of 19th-century British music as insular and insipid. Irish-born and London-trained, he studied in Italy, sang at La Scala, became Rossini’s protégé and wrote some 29 operas. Satanella, to a lustily melodramatic libretto by impresario Augustus Harris, was a great success at Covent Garden and internationally, from Sydney to Philadelphia. Though less Italianate than Balfe’s Falstaff, using dialogue (not recorded) rather than recitative, Satanella is grand opera nevertheless, complete with thunder-crashing devilry, bland romance, kidnapping pirates and pious uplift. The score is colourful and melodic, notably Satanella’s ‘The Power of Love’, though like Balfe’s better-known Bohemian Girl, famously filmed by Laurel and Hardy, it’s padded with sentimental ballads to suit singers and publishers. Indeed, Satanella’s stagey conventions and plonking couplets rather disconcertingly reveal what Gilbert and Sullivan were parodying.

The only way to perform this is full-bloodedly. Richard Bonynge whips up his Victorian Opera Orchestra for this premiere recording. The capable young professional cast includes Bonynge regular Sally Silver as a bright Satanella, promising lyric tenor Kang Wang as Rupert, with Christine Tocci a plangent Lelia and Trevor Bowes a gruff Arimanes.

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Michael Scott Rohan