SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

FERDINAND HEROLD: La somnambule (ballet) – Orchestra Victoria/Richard Bonynge – Melba Records

Lavish production of ballet music probably unheard for over 150 years

Published on November 22, 2006

FERDINAND HEROLD: La somnambule (ballet) – Orchestra Victoria/Richard Bonynge – Melba Records
FERDINAND HEROLD: La somnambule (ballet) – Orchestra Victoria/Richard Bonynge – Melba Records Multichannel SACD MR 301087, 69:30 ****:

This is an impressive production from The Melba Foundation in Australia.  It comes in a thick package though only a single disc, and is accompanied by an illustrated 96-page booklet on the history and background of the ballet. Color illustrations of many of the original ballet costumes are reproduced. French opera composer Herold is perhaps best known for his other ballet La fille mal gardee, as well as his Zampa Overture.

The ballet’s libretto is based on an earlier two-act vaudeville comedy. It was one of the first of the 19th century’s Romantic ballets and this may be the first time its music is being heard in over 150 years.  The local of the story is in the Camargue area of Provence in the south of France. The main characters are Therese and Edmond, who are celebrating their upcoming marriage, Gertrude, an innkeeper, and Saint-Rambert, the new lord of the manor.  The lord stays too late at the celebration to return to his castle and stays instead at the inn. Gertrude flirts with the lord and leaves her red shawl in his room. Then Therese enters thru the window while sleepwalking (don’t ask). She lies down and continues to sleep on Saint-Rambert’s bed and the lord leaves. Edmond and the villagers come in expecting to see Saint-Rambert but instead find Therese in his bed. General uproar. The marriage is now impossible. Edmond announces he will marry Gertrude instead. But the red shawl is produced, proving that Gertrude was in Saint-Rambert’s room after all.  Then Therese is up to her sleepingwalking again, only this time on the roof of the mill. Everyone watches her in terror. Gertrude places the wedding veil on her head, the musicians start to play and Therese wakes up to restored happiness as all are reconciled.

Richard Bonynge has conducted thruout the world and has made more than 50 opera and ballet recordings. The twenty sections evidently don’t comprise this complete ballet because the second act is only three short tracks. There is a fair bit of variety in the different sections, but the music is obviously coming from a composer who died in 1833 and is on the cusp of the Classical and Romantic periods.  The frontal soundstage is very wide and the surround field of the venue is well-captured.

 - John Sunier




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