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La somnambule

Gramophone (UK)
Alan Blyth

Between 1817 and his death in 1833, Hérold produced no fewer than 18 works for the Opéra-Comique, of which the best known are the operas Zampa and above all Le pré aux clercs, which has received innumerable performances in the house. Both are very much of their time, composed to please an undemanding public intent on entertainment.

La somnambule is hardly known today but the ever-inquiring Richard Bonynge has rescued the work from obscurity. He had to bring it back to life from the original score from Hérold’s own library, the work never having been published. The libretto is by Scribe, a story adapted by Romani for Bellini’s famed opera of the same name. The ballet was a striking success when first given in 1827.

The three acts cannot be said to be very dramatic but the score must have been a pleasure to dance to, given its bouyant rhythms, charming delicacy and fresh melodiousness. The orchestration is apt and the whole has a general air of well made music of its time. It will make a fascinating buy to anyone interested in the genre.

I found it a pleasure to hear … Bonynge and his orchestra give it a loving and, when needed, fizzing performance, and the recording is clear and well balanced. There are informative notes by Bonynge and Gramophone’s Patrick O’Connor.