Raymond and Agnes
Mark Milhofer, Majella Cullagh, Andrew Greenan; Retrospect Opera Chorus; Royal Ballet Sinfonia/ Richard Bonynge
Retrospect Opera RO005
148:36 mins (2 discs)
Now largely forgotten, Edward Loder (1813-65) was a prominent figure in mid-19th century English opera. With his natural talents and a solid German training, he evolved good technical skills and his best music reveals a genuine dramatic instinct. For several experts, his magnum opus Raymond and Agnes (1855) – a resolutely Gothic opera drawn from elements in Matthew Lewis’s once celebrated novel in that tradition, The Monk (1796) – is the finest English opera of its period. Yet however worthy its intentions, this first complete recording disappoints. The principal performances all reach a decent standard, but Richard Bonynge’s conducting could do with more electricity and the overall quality is variable. The sound – the piece was recorded in a church – could also be clearer. The result is something less than an ideal relaunch. But many of the problems are inherent in the piece itself. Editor Valerie Langfield’s note tells us that a few small changes have been made to the libretto by Edward Fitzball ‘in the interests of comprehensibility’, but one might think that a more thorough rewrite of such an awkwardly phrased text is perhaps the most realistic solution; the original is a serious liability on several fronts.
With the clear influence of
Weber, Loder’s music is certainly much the best element, but quite a lot of it falls back into the limited world of the music-shop ballad – though there are undoubtedly sections of finer and more serious cast, starting with a more than respectable overture. George Hall PERFORMANCE RECORDING