Discography of Sir Arthur Sullivan:
L'Ile Enchantée, ballet (1864)
BackgroundFirst Performance: Covent Garden, 16 May, 1864
In 1863, Arthur Sullivan was not yet Britain's leading composer, but mearly a youthful sensation who had somehow to make a living. One of his earliest professional engagements came in 1863, when he was hired as organist to the Royal Italian Opera at Covent Garden (precursor to the modern Royal Opera). At the time, it was customary to append a ballet to the programme when performing a shorter opera. So it was that Sullivan's first work for the stage, the ballet L'Ile Enchantée, received its first performance as afterpiece to Bellini's La Sonnambula.
L'Ile Enchantée did not have a long run, but Sullivan got plenty of use out of the material. Bits and pieces of it would later be resurrected in Thespis, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Macbeth, and his only other full-length ballet, Victoria and Merrie England.
The story is uncomplicated. A shipwrecked mariner washes up on the shore of an enchanted island populated by gnomes and fairies. He is on the receiving end of numerous fairies' amorous attentions, but he has eyes for none but the queen, who he eventually makes mortal with a kiss.
RTE Concert Orchestra, Dublin; Andrew Penny, conductor, 1992.
Sullivan's autograph is now lost, but Selwyn Tillett and Roderick Spencer of the Sir Arthur Sullivan Society have reconstructed the work based on surviving band parts. The reconstruction was performed at a Festival of the Society in 1990, and this is the world-premiere (and, at this writing, the only) recording.
- Issue History, see:
- Sullivan: Ballet Music
Victoria and Merrie England, ballet (1897)
BackgroundFirst Performance: Alhambra Theatre, 25 May 1897
In 1897, Queen Victoria celebrated a remarkable sixty years on the throne. When Alfred Maul, manager of the Alhambra Theatre, sought to celebrate the occasion with a patriotic ballet, Sir Arthur Sullivan, the nation's preeminent living composer, was the natural choice to write the music.
Sullivan did most of the composing on the Riviera (where he alternated between the music desk and the casino). Yet, while he poached considerably from earlier material—the Imperial March (1893) and his only other ballet, L'Ile Enchantée (1864)—Sullivan took the commission quite seriously. The final scene was even to include a counterpoint of characteristic tunes representing England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. This proved to be too much, and "gallant little Wales" had to be sacrificed, but the composer expended considerable labor on the task.
Sullivan's efforts were not without reward. Victoria and Merrie England ran for six months at the Alhambra Theatre—a more than generous run for this type of piece—during which members of the royal family were said to have attended no less than nineteen times. It stands as one of the composer's few successes in the decade of the 1890s.
The ballet does not have a plot per se; it consists, rather, of a series of historical tableaux, such as "Ancient Britain" (Scene 1), "May Day in Queen Elizabeth's Time" (Scenes 2 and 3), and "Britain's Glory" (Scene 7). The score is a delightful popourri of characteristically English music at its best, although it is probably too much of a pièce d'occasion to enter the standard repertory.
The composer's autograph, alas, does not survive, but Roderick Spencer of the Sir Arthur Sullivan Society has succeeded in reconstructing the score from a composite of various sources, including earlier scores from which Sullivan drew, the piano reduction, and other clues in letters and press reports. Sullivan also extracted three orchestral suites from the ballet, only one of which survives.
D'Oyly Carte Opera Orchestra; Royston Nash, conductor; 1979.
This is a recording of the Suite No. 1 from Victoria.
RTE Sinfonietta; Andrew Penny, conductor; 1992.
This outstanding recording presents the reconstructed version of the complete ballet.
- Issue History, see:
- 1992 Victoria and Merrie England
BBC Concert Orchestra; Owain Arwel Hughes, conductor; 1993.
This is a recording of the Suite No. 1, comprising the "Introduction, Berceuse and Druid's March," "Mistletoe Dance," and "May Day Festivities."
- Issue History, see:
- Arthur Sullivan: Irish Symphony etc.