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Michael William Balfe

Michael William Balfe (15 May 1808 – 20 October 1870) was an Irish composer, best-remembered for his opera The Bohemian Girl.

After a short career as a violinist, Balfe pursued an operatic singing career, while he began to compose. In a career spanning more than 40 years, he composed 38 operas, almost 250 songs and other works. He was also a noted conductor, directing Italian Opera at Her Majesty's Theatre for seven years, among other conducting posts.

Contents

Biography

Balfe was born in Dublin, where his musical gifts became apparent at an early age. The only instruction he received was from his father, who was a dancing master and violinist. His family moved to Wexford when he was a child. Between 1814 and 1815, Balfe played the violin for his father's dancing-classes, and at the age of seven composed a polacca.

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Early life and career

In 1817 he appeared as a violinist in public, and in this year composed a ballad, first called "Young Fanny" and afterwards, when sung in Paul Pry by Madame Vestris, "The Lovers' Mistake". In 1823, upon the death of his father, the teenaged Balfe moved to London and was engaged as a violinist in the orchestra of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. He eventually became the leader of that orchestra.[1] While there, he studied with C. E. Horn, the organist at St. George's Chapel, Windsor (1786—1840).

As a young man, Balfe pursued a career as an opera singer. He debuted unsuccessfully at Norwich in Carl Maria von Weber's Der Freischütz. In 1825, Count Mazzara took him to Rome for vocal and musical studies and introduced him to Luigi Cherubini. Balfe also pursued composing: in Italy, he wrote his first dramatic work, a ballet, La Perouse. He became a protégée of Rossini's, and at the close of 1827, he appeared as Figaro in The Barber of Seville at the Italian opera in Paris.

Balfe soon returned to Italy, where he was based for the next eight years, singing and composing several operas. He met Maria Malibran while singing at the Paris Opera during this period. In 1829 in Bologna, Balfe composed his first cantata for the soprano Giulia Grisi, then 18 years old. She performed it with the tenor Francesco Pedrazzi with much successBalfe produced his first complete opera, I rivali di se stessi, at Palermo in the carnival season of 1829—1830.

Around 1831, he married Lina Roser (1806-1888), a Hungarian-born singer of Austrian parentage whom he had met at Bergamo.[2] The couple had two sons and two daughters. Their younger son, Edward, died in infancy. Their elder son, Michael William Jr., died in 1915. Their daughters were Louisa (1832-1869) and Victoire (1837-1871). Balfe wrote another opera Un avvertimento ai gelosi at Pavia, and Enrico Quarto at Milan, where he had been engaged to sing in in Rossini's Otello with Malibran at La Scala in 1834. An unpopular attempt at "improving" Giacomo Meyerbeer's opera, Il crociato in Egitto, by interpolated music of his own, compelled Balfe to throw up his engagement at the theatre La Fenice in Venice.

Composing success

Balfe returned to London with his wife and young daughter in May 1835. His initial success took place some months later, with the premiere of The Siege of Rochelle on 29 October 1835 at Drury Lane. Encouraged by his success, he produced The Maid of Artois in 1836; which was followed by more operas in English.

In July 1838, Balfe composed a new opera, Falstaff, for The Italian Opera House, based on The Merry Wives of Windsor, with an Italian libretto by S. Manfredo Maggione. The production starred his friends Luigi Lablache (bass) in the title role, Giulia Grisi (soprano), Giovanni Battista Rubini (tenor), and Antonio Tamburini (baritone). The same four singers had premiered Bellini's, I Puritani at the Italian Opera in Paris in 1835.[2]

Balfe in 1846

In 1841, Balfe founded the National Opera at the Lyceum Theatre, but the venture was a failure. The same year, he premiered his opera, Keolanthe. He then moved to Paris, presenting Le puits d’amour (1843) in early 1843, followed by Les quatre fils Aymon (1844) for the Opéra Comique (also popular in German-speaking countries for many years as Die Vier Haimonskinder) and L’etoile de Seville (1845) for the Théâtre de l'Académie Royale de Musique. Their librettos were written by Eugène Scribe and others.[3]

Meanwhile, in 1843, Balfe returned to London where he produced his most successful The Bohemian Girl, on November 27, 1843 at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. The piece ran for over 100 nights, and productions were soon mounted in New York, Dublin, Philadelphia, Vienna (in German), Sydney, and throughout Europe and elsewhere. In 1854, an Italian adaptation called La Zingara was mounted in Trieste with great success, and it too was performed internationally in both Italian and German. In 1862, a four-act French version, entitled La Bohemienne was produced in France and was again a success.[2]

Later years

From 1846 to 1852 Balfe was appointed musical director and principal conductor for the Italian Opera at Her Majesty's Theatre.[4] There he first produced several of Verdi's operas for London audiences. He conducted for Jenny Lind at her opera debut and on many occasions thereafter.[2]

In 1851, in anticipation of the Great International Exhibition in London, Balfe composed an innovative cantata, Inno Delle Nazioni, sung by nine female singers, each representing a country. Balfe continued to compose new operas in English and wrote hundreds of songs, such as "When other hearts", "I dreamt I dwelt in marble halls" (from The Bohemian Girl) and "Come into the garden, Maud". In all, Balfe composed 38 operas. He also wrote several cantatas (including Mazeppa in 1862), at least one symphony (1829). His last opera, nearly completed when he died, was The Knight of the Leopard and achieved considerable success in Italian as Il Talismano. [2] Balfe's only large-scale piece which is still performed regularly today is The Bohemian Girl.

Balfe retired in 1864 to Hertfordshire, where he rented a country estate. He died at his home in 1870, aged 62, and was buried at Kensal Green. In 1882 a medallion portrait of him was unveiled in Westminster Abbey.

Recordings

  • Various recordings containing Balfe arias have been released.[5] Recordings containing entirely Balfe works include the following:
  • A recording of The Bohemian Girl (1991) was released on the Argos label
  • A CD of Balfe arias on The Power of Love (2000) was released on the Melba label
  • An Opera Rara CD includes Balfe's Cantata (2003)
  • A recording ofThe Maid of Artois (2005) by Victorian Opera Northwest is available on the Cameo Campion label
  • A recording of Falstaff was released in 2008 by Lyric FM and Opera Ireland.[1]
  • A CD of Balfe Songs & Arias was released in 2008 by Victorian Opera Northwest[6]

Notes

  1. ^ a b Falstaff recording, Naxos, CD notes by Basil Walsh (2008)
  2. ^ a b c d e Walsh Basil. "Michael William Balfe" at the British and Irish World website
  3. ^ *Sadie, Stanley (ed) (1992). The New Grove Dictionary of Opera. Oxford: Oxford University Press. vol.1, p288. ISBN 978-0-19-522186-2. 
  4. ^ Walsh, Basil. "Michael W. Balfe (1808-70): His Life and Career" Victoria Web, accessed 7 February 2008
  5. ^ See, for example, this listing of Balfe and Sullivan song recordings
  6. ^ Balfe songs and arias from Victorian Opera Northwest

References

  • Barrett, W. A. Balfe, His Life & Work (London - 1882)
  • Biddlecombe, George. English Opera 1834-64 and the works of Michael W. Balfe (New York - 1994)
  • Kenny, C. L. A Memoir of Michael W. Balfe (London - 1875)
  • Phelan, Robert. William Vincent Wallace, Celtic Publications (1994)
  • Tyldesley, William. Michael W. Balfe: His Life and His English Operas, Aldershot, Hants, England; Burlington, VT: Ashgate (2003) ISBN 0754605582
  • Walsh, Basil. A Unique Victorian Composer (2007)
  • Walsh, Basil. Extensive website on the life and work of Michael W. Balfe
  • Wikisource-logo.svg "Balfe, Michael William". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). 1911. 

External links


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

MICHAEL WILLIAM BALFE (1808-1870), Irish musical composer, was born on the 15th of May 1808, at Dublin. His musical gifts became apparent at an early age. The only instruction he received was from his father, who was a dancing master, and from a musician, C. E. Horn (1786-1849). Between 1814 and 1815 he played the violin for his father's dancing-classes, and at the age of seven composed a polacca. In 1817 he appeared as a violinist in public, and in this year composed a ballad, first called "Young Fanny" and afterwards, when sung in Paul Pry by Madame Vestris, "The Lovers' iv y -take." On the death of his father in 1823 he was engaged in the orchestra of Drury Lane, and being in possession of a small but pleasant baritone voice, he chose the career of an operatic singer. An unsuccessful debut was made at Norwich in Der Freischittz. In 1825 he was taken to Rome by Count Mazzara, being introduced to Cherubini on the way. In Italy he wrote his first dramatic work, a ballet, La Perouse. At the close of 1827 he appeared as Figaro in Rossini's Barbiere, at the Italian opera in Paris. Balfe soon returned to Italy, where, during the next nine years, he remained, singing at various theatres and composing a number of operas. During this time he married Mdlle Luisa Roser, a Hungarian singer whom he had met at Bergamo. Fetis says that the public indignation roused by an attempt at "improving" Meyerbeer's opera Il Crociato by interpolated music of his own compelled Balfe to throw up his engagement at the theatre La Fenice in Venice. By this time he had produced his first complete opera, I Rivali di se stessi, at Palermo in the carnival season of 1829-1830; the opera Un Avvertimento ai gelosi at Pavia; and Enrico Quarto at Milan, where he had been engaged to sing with Malibran at the Scala. He returned to England in the spring of 1833, and on the 29th of October 1835 his Siege of Rochelle was produced and rapturously received at Drury Lane. Encouraged by his success, he produced The Maid of Artois on the 27th of May 1836 - the success of the opera being confirmed by the exquisite singing of Malibran. Balfe was a prolific composer, as may be seen from the following imperfect list of his English operas alone : - Siege of Rochelle (1835) The Maid of Artois (1836); Catherine Grey (1837); Joan of Arc (1837); Falstaff (1838, Lablache in title-role); Amelia, or the Love Test (1838); Keolanthe (1841); The Bohemian Girl, his best known work (1844); The Daughter of St. Mark (1844); The Enchantress (1845); The Bondman (1846); The Devil's in it (1847); The Maid of Honour (1847); The Sicilian Bride (1852); The Rose of Castile (1857); Satanella (1858); Bianca (1860); The Puritan's Daughter (1861); The Armourer of Nantes (1863); Blanche de Nevers (1863). Balfe also wrote several operas for the Opera Comique and Grand Opera in Paris, where MM. Scribe and St George provided him with the libretti for his LePuits d'amour (1843) and his Les Quatre Fils Aymon (1844). His L' Etoile de Seville was written in 1845 for the Academie Royale. The fact that Balfe was an Irishman, who produced operas in English, French and Italian with conspicuous success, is in itself interesting. When to this we add the record of his operatic impersonations on the stage, the European success of his Bohemian Girl, his picturesque retirement into Hertfordshire in 1864 as a gentleman farmer, and above all the undeniable gift for creating such pure melodies as his songs "When other Hearts" and "I dreamt that I dwelt in marble halls," it is idle to refuse him a prominent place in the history of music. He wrote much that was trivial, but also much that was enduring. He died on the 20th of October 1870, and was buried at Kensal Green. In 1882 a medallion portrait of him was unveiled in Westminster Abbey.


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