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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera - Sullivan: Ivanhoe

04/28/2013 1:00 pm
04/28/2013 4:30 pm


Sunday Afternoon at the Opera host Keith Brown writes:

In the history of English opera Sir Arthur Sullivan's "serious" romantic opera Ivanhoe (1891) remains misunderstood. It was Sullivan's lifelong ambition to write an opera in the grand vein. Even Queen Victoria seems to have encouraged him to do so; he dedicated the score of Ivanhoe to her. As soon as the Gilbert & Sullivan comic collaboration The Gondoliers (1889) was done with, Sullivan set to work in earnest on his masterpiece.

For its premiere production the impresario Richard D'Oyly Carte built the Royal English Opera House, which still stands in London. No expense was spared on Ivanhoe. This lavish production ran for a very impressive run of 155 performances. It was surely a success, and was revived the following season for 44 more shows. Then the public lost interest in it, and so apparently did Sullivan, who failed to promote it further. A large-cast grand operatic show like this was difficult to stage in the provinces. Ivanhoe got lost in the theatrical shuffle and was forgotten by the time Sullivan died.

There have been occasional amateur stagings of Ivanhoe over the years; the opera had to wait until 2009 for its world premiere professional unstaged recording for the UK label Chandos. David Lloyd-Jones conducts the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and Adrian Partington Singers. Wilfred, Knight of Ivanhoe is tenor Toby Spence, heard opposite soprano Janice Watson as Ivanhoe's truelove the Lady Rowena.

Ivanhoe the opera captures and distills quite successfully into operatic form the novel by Sir Walter Scott, thanks to the astute libretto by Julian Sturgis. Sullivan's music is as reliably melodious as anything he wrote for The Gondoliers. If you love the G & S comic operas, you will love the music you hear of Ivanhoe.