The slow rehabilitation of William Vincent Wallace takes another step forward with the first recording of his third opera, Lurline.
Begun in the mid-1840s and first seen at Covent Garden in 1860, it is based on the familiar legend of the Rhine Maiden who lured passing ships to their watery graves only to fall fatefully in love with a young nobleman. While Wallace's "beautiful, impressive and picturesque" music met with near universal approval at its premiere, the libretto, by Edward Fitzball, a playwright with a reputation for melodrama who decided a happy ending for the piece would prove an original twist, was greeted with no less universal opprobrium, dismissed by George Bernard Shaw as "desperate trash".
Wallace's music had many champions in its day. The most prominent advocate was none other than Hector Berlioz, who regarded him as "a composer to be reckoned with". If Lurline didn't repeat the triumph of his first opera, Maritana, it was nonetheless staged in Ireland, Australia and the United States over the next decade. Such was its success that at least four different publishers quickly issued vocal scores for the work.
Left in virtual neglect since then (Maritana, by comparison, stayed in the repertoire of many leading houses until the late 1920s) Lurline finds a new champion in conductor Richard Bonynge, who has previously recorded two arias from the opera with Deborah Riedel for Melba Recordings, and who prepared his own performing edition for this genially persuasive account with the forces of Victorian Opera.
Caught between Weber and Mendelssohn - a gift of a proposition to Bonynge's fingertip delicacy with the baton - and brushing a little clumsily up against Wagner, Wallace's music is easy on the ear, unfailingly mellifluous, and nimbly adept at broadening into bracing drama. There's a delicate and pretty melodic palette in use, and a big-boned flourish, underpinned by Teutonic winds and brass, in the set pieces, all of which Bonynge makes persuasive use of.
Sally Silver is a seductive siren, Richard Lewis a sober (and rather mature-sounding) love interest, David Soar an imposing Rhine King, and Roderick Earle's gnome Zelieck characterful and memorable.
Anyone familiar with Balfe's The Bohemian Girl will know what to expect here, and won't be disappointed.