Michael William Balfe MP3, CDs & Vinyl, Music of Michael William Balfe

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Michael William Balfe MP3, CDs & Vinyl, Music of Michael William Balfe

Michael William Balfe: Overview

Michael William Balfe: Michael William Balfe (b. Dublin, 15 May 1808; d. Rowney Abbey, Herts, 20 Oct 1870).

Michael William Balfe was descended from families on both his father's and mother's side who were connected with music and the stage. His father was a dancing master and violinist; his grandfather had been a member of the Crow Street Theatre band; and his great-grandfather was reputed to have played in the orchestra at the first performance of Handel's Messiah in Dublin (1742). His mother was related to Leonard Macnally, author of the libretto of the comic opera Robin Hood (1784). The young Michael William Balfe was taught piano and violin by his father and became the pupil of William O'Rourke (later known as Rooke) who brought him before the Dublin public as solo violinist in a concerto by Mayseder at the early age of eight. After his father's death in 1823, he decided to leave Dublin and seek his fortune in London, where he was apprenticed to Charles Horn, the singer and composer, and engaged as a violinist in the Drury Lane orchestra for the 1823/4 season.

At this juncture the boy of sixteen met an Italian nobleman called Count Mazzara, who was so moved by his chance resemblance to his only son who had recently died that he invited him to Rome where he would meet the Count's wife and family and pursue his musical studies. Michael William Balfe accepted. The journey to Italy was broken in Paris, where Michael William Balfe was introduced to Luigi Cherubini. In Italy he studied under Paer in Rome and Vincenzo Frederici in Milan; and his first stage work, a ballet entitled Naufragio di La Perouse, was mounted at the Teatro alia Canobbiana, Milan, in the autumn of 1825.

On his return to Paris, he was introduced by Cherubini to Rossini, who agreed to recommend him to the Theatre Italien, provided he studied singing for a period under Bordogni. In due course he made his operatic debut as Figaro in Barbiere di Seviglia. Other engagements followed, including an appearance with Maria Malibran in La Cenerentola. Returning to Italy, he pursued a successful career as an opera singer (1830-4), which took him to many towns, including Palermo, Piacenza, Varese, Bergamo (where he met a Hungarian singer, Lina Roser, who became his wife), Pavia, Milan, and Venice.

Early in 1830 he was in Palermo, when the chorus of the Teatro Carolino struck for higher pay. The irate management decided to finish the season by mounting operas that needed no chorus; and Michael William Balfe, invited to write something new to fit this bill, promptly produced a little farce called / Rivali di se stessi. He wrote two other operas during this period - Un avvenimento ai gelosi for the Teatro Fraschini, Pavia (1831), and Enrico Quarto alpasso della Mama for the Teatro Carcano, Milan (1833). On his return to England, he found that the Lyceum Theatre (English Opera House), rebuilt after a recent fire, was presenting a number of new English romantic operas with spoken dialogue. He was invited to contribute to this season. Edward Fitzball provided a libretto based on Madame de Genlis's novel, Le Siege de La Rochelle, and Michael William Balfe composed the score with great rapidity; but The Siege of Rochelle was eventually mounted, not at the Lyceum, but at Drury Lane, where Alfred Bunn, the manager, remembered Michael William Balfe from 1824 when he had played in the Drury Lane orchestra. The Siege of Rochelle was a great success when produced on the 29th October 1835 and launched Michael William Balfe on a wave of popularity. The following year he enjoyed an equally sensational success when he wrote The Maid of Artois specially for Malibran, who unfortunately died later that summer in Manchester at the early age of twenty-eight. A decline set in with his next three operas - Catherine Grey (1837), Joan of Arc{1837), and Diadeste (1838), and Falstaff (1838), which he wrote to an Italian libretto for the Italian Opera at Her Majesty's Theatre, though brilliantly cast, was only partly successful.

Early in 1839 he was under contract to provide a new opera to a libretto written by Bunn (presumably The Bohemian Girl). He wrote the greater part of the score; but then Bunn got into such deep financial difficulties that he was adjudged bankrupt in 1840, and the new opera had to be put into cold storage. This meant that for the time being Michael William Balfe reverted to his old career of opera singer. But in 1841 he was so ill-advised as to try his hand at opera management on his own. Taking a lease of the Lyceum, he produced a new opera of his (Keolanthe) with his wife in the title role and promised to follow it with other new English operas. Unfortunately the enterprise collapsed after less than three months.

At that moment he received an invitation to write an opera for Madame Grisi at the Theatre Italien in Paris. He had made excellent progress with the score, when to his disappointment this project too collapsed. He was on the point of returning to London, when an invitation to give a recital of his own compositions at the Salle Erard led to a meeting with the French librettist, A. E. Scribe, who suggested they should collaborate on a new opera for the Opera-Comique. Michael William Balfe accepted; and Le Puits d' Amour was produced there on the 20th April 1843. Its success led to a demand for another comic opera from Michael William Balfe; and Les Quatre Fils Aymon (1844) was the result. Both operas were produced in London (under the titles ofGeraldine and The Castle of Aymon); but their main success was achieved in Europe, particularly Germany. Before leaving Paris, Michael William Balfe was commissioned to write a serious opera for the Paris Opera house. The result was L'Etoile de Seville (1845), which received fifteen performances, but was not revived.

Meanwhile, by an extraordinary reversal of fortune Bunn had reappeared on the London theatrical scene and been appointed manager once more of Drury Lane. He forthwith reminded Michael William Balfe of the opera he had commissioned from him a few years previously. Michael William Balfe, who had used some of the music for other purposes, now refurbished the score, rewriting several numbers; and The Bohemian Girl, when produced at Drury Lane on the 27th November 1843, brought him the greatest success of his whole career. In a few days' time the opera's popular tunes were being whistled everywhere and ground out by every London street barrel-organ. Michael William Balfe followed up with several other operas for Drury Lane - a through-composed opera, with recitative, entitled The Daughter of St Mark (1844), and then four operas written to the usual formula with spoken dialogue: The Enchantress (1845), The Bondman (1846), The Maid of Honour (1847), and The Sicilian Bride (1852).

In 1846 Michael William Balfe was appointed conductor of the Italian Opera at Her Majesty's in succession to Costa. At the opening of his first season he conducted the first performance in London of Verdi's Nabucodonosor, which had been retitled Nino in order to circumvent the new censorship regulations; but he was not a good conductor, and the appointment lapsed in 1852.

For a few years in the 1850s he travelled extensively in Europe. In 1850 he visited Berlin, where The Bondman was produced in a German version under the title of Der Mulatte. This was followed a year later by visits to Berlin and Vienna to attend productions of The Bohemian Girl, which proved very popular in its German guise as Die Zigeunerin. A considerable part of 1852 and 1853 was spent in St Petersburg - a rewarding visit insofar as he took part in various Court concerts and gave music lessons to the nobility - but none of his operas seem to have been produced. He broke his return journey in Vienna in order to supervise the production of a German adaption of Keolanthe (December 1853). He then revisited Italy where La Zingara {The Bohemian Girl) was produced in Trieste, Bologna, Brescia, and Bergamo. Ricordi, the Italian music publisher, commissioned a new opera from him for Trieste; but Pittore e Duca (1854), to a libretto by F. M. Piave, seems to have been a flop. Some years later an English version was given by the Carl Rosa Company under the title of Moro, the Painter of A ntwerp (1882).

Back in England he found a new management for English opera had been set up by two singers, Louisa Pyne and William Harrison. They commissioned half a dozen new operas from him, of which The Rose of Castile (1857), Satanella (1858) and The Puritan's Daughter (1861) proved especially popular with the public. In 1864 Michael William Balfe retired into Hertfordshire, where the last years of his life were devoted to revising the score of The Bohemian Girl for production in Paris as La Bohemienne (1869) and to writing his last opera The Knight of the Leopard. He died on the 20th October 1870.

Michael William Balfe had a knack for pleasing the public; but his facile fluency and lack of self-criticism were fatal flaws in his music. Even his closest friends agreed his talent desperately needed discipline. Yet in his defence it must be admitted that he knew how to write for the voice, had a gift for melody, and an instinct for the effectiveness of music in the theatre. He was one of the few British composers to win an international reputation as an opera composer.

Michael William Balfe: CDs & Vinyl

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Michael William Balfe: MP3

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