“The primary purpose of this BLOG is to create awareness for the foreign language operas of MICHAEL W. BALFE. Music relating to some of these works has been “deemed lost” in most reference books. However, as will be seen scores (sometimes, sheet music/arias/duets, etc.) for most of these works are actually available. Librettos are also available for virtually every work.
An additional goal is to “sow the seeds” for possibly reviving a selected number of these foreign language operas or at least, have recorded performances of excerpts from them.
These operas had their premieres or early performances with great success in places such as, Paris, Vienna, Milan, Berlin, Leipzig, Trieste, Bologna, London, Dublin, New York, Boston and San Francisco during the 19th century and beyond.”
BASIL WALSH, Florida, USA
Dublin born Michael William Balfe (1808-1870) composed twenty-eight operas mostly for the London stage during a career that spanned forty years. However, when his augmented operas with foreign language (French, German and Italian) librettos are added, his total life-time output is more than forty operas
Balfe was a child prodigy violinist and musician. He gave his first concert as a violinist at the Rotunda “Round” room in Dublin at age nine. By age fourteen his first song, The Lover’s Mistake was published by Willis & Co of Dublin and London.
When he was fifteen year old in 1823 he performed as a violin soloist, with remarkable success on the stage at the Theatre Royal
Drury Lane in London. As he matured towards adulthood he also developed a good baritone voice which enabled him to sing in operas mostly outside London.
Balfe left London for Paris in 1825. For the next ten years of his early life he set about learning his craft as a composer and musician along with taking singing lessons in Paris and Milan. His mentors in Paris became, Luigi Cherubini (1760-1742) with whom he studied music and the great Italian composer, Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868) whom he met through Cherubini in the late 1820s. Rossini played a significant role in the advancement of Balfe’s career both as a singer and a composer.
After more than a year of vocal study with the great singer and teacher, Giulio Bordogni (1789-1856) in Paris, Balfe made his singing debut at the Theatre-Italien in the role of Figaro in Rossini’s, Il barbiere di Siviglia early in 1828 with the renowned Henriette Sontag (1806-1854) as Rosina. He performed several other roles during this same period with great success. Some opposite the great Maria Malibran for whom he would later compose an opera in London.
Balfe moved on to Italy in December 1828 with a letter of introduction from Rossini. For the next several years he took on several new major singing roles in the operas of Rossini, Bellini, Pacini, Donizetti and others in places such as, Palermo, Milan, Bologna, Bergamo, Venice and elsewhere. It was also during this time that Balfe composed his first three operas, one each for Palermo (1829), Pavia (1831) and Milan (1833). Balfe became steeped in the belcanto style of Rossini and Bellini and to a lesser degree, Donizetti. His music reflected their influence throughout his years of composition.
During his time in Continental Europe, Balfe became fluent in French and Italian. He also acquired some knowledge of the German language. All of which helped him become a successful international composer in places such as, Paris, Vienna, Milan, Trieste, Berlin, Leipzig, Frankfurt, Munich in addition to London, Dublin, New York and elsewhere.
He was also the music director and conductor at Her Majesty’s Italian Opera in London for seven years. When Verdi first visited London (1847), Balfe worked with him and later took over the conducting of Verdi’s new opera, I Masnadieri from the Italian composer when he left London for Paris after the second performance of the work.
BALFE THE “British Rossini”
When Balfe died outside London in in October 1870 the London Times music critic (J. W. Davison) in his extensive obituary called Balfe, the “British Rossini.”
The late Sir Thomas Beecham said of Balfe in 1951—“… Balfe was the most interesting British musical figure of the nineteenth-century… he was a very good, highly intelligent and cultivated musician.”
PRESERVATION OF BALFE’S OPERATIC SCORES
We are very fortunate in one fact, that Lina Roser Balfe (1810-1888), Balfe’s wife of thirty-nine years had collected and subsequently donated virtually all of Balfe’s autograph scores to the British Library(Museum) in 1873, shortly after the composer’s death.
As a result these complete autograph scores are available today for opera directors, musicians and others who might have an interest in performing some of these important works.
Balfe’s Italian opera, Falstaff (1838) was mounted and performed in concert format in Dublin in 2008 for the composer’s bicentennial. The opera was also recorded at that time with an international cast and full orchestra.
The two CD recording beautifully packaged with libretto, is available through: http://www.amazon.com; http://www.amazon.co.uk/ or at: http://shop.rte.ie/action/searchsite/default.aspx and search, “Balfe’s Falstaff” – and through other online retailers.
The recording of Falstaff had excellent reviews not only for the work itself but also for the quality of the actual performance – by Opera News, the Gramophone and other leading global musical publications and by musicologists.
For those interested in producing any of Balfe’s works, (the orchestral score parts for Falstaff are available) musicologists experienced in creating the orchestral parts from nineteenth-century manuscript scores are also available to handle the task, should an organization wish to perform one of these remarkable Balfe foreign language operas.
The Balfe scores are amazing, beautiful maintained and probably one of the largest collection of any nineteenth-century operatic composer’s that is located at one venue— i.e. the British Library in London. In making this donation, Lina Balfe recognized the importance of her husband’s lifetime work and wanted future generations to have access to as much of his music as possible. We should not disappoint her!
Additionally there are scores for some of Balfe French operas and his Italian works also available at various locations that have been identified, in Britain and Continental Europe. Librettos are available for virtually every opera.
Balfe’s wife, Lina Roser Balfe was a trained musician and had been a young singer (soprano) of importance in Milan, Venice, Bergamo, Parma, Turin and other places who sang opposite famous singers such as, Malibran, Rubini, Pasta, David and Ronconi in major Italian opera houses in the 1820s/30s. She had been a pupil of one of Mozart’s sons, Karl Thomas Mozart, (1754-1858), in Milan for a year or more. Her father Franz de Paula Roser (1780-1830) was a successful composer of operettas (65) in Vienna and a theatre manager. He was also a pupil of W.A. Mozart. Lina Roser and Balfe married in Lugano, Switzerland in 1831.
BALFE’S “CONTINENTAL” OPERAS
There were twenty-one (21) Balfe foreign language works that were composed primarily for Continental cities with French, German or Italian librettos, as appropriate. Six (6) were created for Paris/Rouen, six (6) for Vienna, one (1) for Berlin, two (2) for Trieste, three (3) for London’s Royal Italian Opera and one (1) each for Milan, Palermo and Pavia.
NINE FOREIGN LANGUAGE ORIGINALS
Nine (9) of these twenty-0ne operas were original works written specifically for the named city, as follows:
- I rivale di se stessi (Palermo, 1829) – Some music & libretto available
- Un avvertimento di gelosi (Pavia, 1831) – Some music & libretto available
- Enrico IV al passo della Marna (Milan, 1833 – Teatro Carcano) – Significant music/arias/duets & libretto available
- Falstaff (Italian libretto – London, 1838) – NOTE: Produced/recorded in Dublin in 2008 – Orchestral Score & libretto available
- Le Puits d’Amour (Paris, 1843) – Score & libretto available
- Le quatre fils Aymon (Paris, 1844) – Score & libretto available
- L’Etoile de Seville (Paris, 1845) – Score & libretto available
- Pittore e Duca (Trieste, 1854) – Score & libretto available
- Il Talismano (London 1874) – Score & libretto available
TWELVE AUGMENTED “REWORKS” – FOREIGN LANGUAGE EDITIONS
The other twelve (12) Balfe “Continental” operas were augmented versions of the following London/Paris premiered operas which in most cases included restructured scores with recitatives and ballets (France) and new non-English language librettos.
The Bohemian Girl (London: 1843);
– Die Zigeunerin (Vienna: 1846) – score & libretto available
– La Zingara (R. Paderni libretto, Trieste 1854) – score & libretto available
– La Bohémienne (Rouen 1862) – score available
– La Bohémienne (Paris 1869, augmented, incl., Ballet) – score available
– La Zingara (Paris, 1869 – G. Zaffira Italian libretto/Paris) – score available
Les quatre fils Aymon (Paris 1844);
– Die vier Haimon-kinder (Vienna 1846) – score available
– I Quattro Fratelli, Italian libretto/(London 1851) – score & libretto available along with
added musical numbers
Le Puits d’Amour (Paris 1843);
– Der Liebesbrunnen (Vienna 1845)
The Siege of Rochelle (London 1835);
– Die Belagerung von Rochelle (Vienna 1846)
The Bondman (London 1847):
– Die Mulatte (Berlin 1850) – score available
Keolanthe (London 1841);
– Das Traumbilde (Vienna 1853)
The Rose of Castille (London 1857);
– Die Rose von Castilien (Vienna 1859)
BALFE”S CONTINENTAL LIBRETTISTS
In contrast to most of Balfe’s London experience he has some of the very best librettists of the time for his operas that were produced in Paris, Vienna and Trieste.
For example, with his first opera for Paris he worked with the important much sought after, Eugène Scribe (1791-1861) who had created librettos for Auber, Meyerbeer and Donizetti. Among others, he also worked with Jules Henri Vernoy Saint-Georges (1801-1875) who wrote librettos for Auber, Adam, Halévy and Donizetti. In Vienna along with other librettists he worked with Josef Kupelwiser (1792-1866) who produced librettos for Rossini, Donizetti, Meyerbeer, Schubert and other leading composers. In Italy, Verdi’s great librettist, Francesco Maria Piave (1810-1876) worked with Balfe on a new opera for Trieste.