Georges BIZET (1838-1875)
The Fair Maid of Perth (sung in English)
Catherine Glover: Gwen Catley (sop)
Mab, Queen of the Gypsies: Lorely Dyer (sop)
Harry Smith: Richard Lewis (ten)
Duke of Rothesay: Trefor Jones (bar)
Ralph: Norman Walker (bass)
Simon Glover: Owen Brannigan (bass)
A Nobleman: David Holman (ten)
Major-Domo: George Stern-Scott (bass)
BBC Theatre Chorus
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham
Taken from 'live' broadcasts from BBC Studio 1, Maida Vale on 5 & 6 June,
Almost every music lover knows Carmen but how many of us are familiar
with any other operas by Bizet? He wrote or completed, partially, at least
nine other operas or operettas. Of these, The Pearl Fishers gets an
occasional airing but the remainder are completely neglected.
La Jolie Fille de Perth, to give its original French title, was based
very loosely on the novel by Sir Walter Scott. It was composed in 1866, seven
years before work began on Carmen. The premiere took place in Paris
in 1867 but does not seem to have been a great success even then. It was
Sir Thomas Beecham who conducted the British premiere, in Manchester in 1917,
and in 1949 he returned to the work, broadcasting it on two consecutive nights
for the BBC Third Programme. The performances were preserved on acetates
for the conductor, Stanford Robinson (the husband of Lorely Dyer) and these
form the source of this Beulah release.
A glance at the cast list shows that Beecham had at his disposal several
of the leading British singers of the immediate post-war era. With his own
RPO "in the pit" to accompany singers of such calibre Beecham was able to
turn in a sparkling, stylish performance.
It has to be said that this opera is in no way the equal of Carmen
and the accompanying notes admit frankly that the musical invention is weak
in the fourth act when the libretto is at its most feeble. As with so many
nineteenth century operas the plot is outrageously complex, incorporating
many twists and turns, several of which are pretty unconvincing. Beulah provide
a synopsis but no libretto. The lack of texts is disappointing but it must
be said that the diction of the cast is mostly so clear that the action can
be followed with ease.
There is some surface noise from the acetates but overall the sound quality
is good. The notes include a comment made by Philip Hope-Wallace when the
broadcast was repeated in 1979 to mark the centenary of Beecham's birth.
He wrote: "the beguiling melodies are exactly the sort of light music which
Beecham could give a delicacy and vitality all its own. It is a lovely recording
which does not sound its age of nearly 30 years ago." Twenty-two years further
on those comments remain entirely apt.
So far as I know there is no other recording of this opera in the current
catalogue so admirers of Bizet should snap up this issue while they can.
The same applies to devotees of Beecham, the more so since this is a 'live'
performance caught on the wing and a splendid example of his art in music
to which he was so well suited.