|Sullivan > Major Works > The Golden Legend > Albert Hall 1887
The performance of the Golden Legend at the Albert-hall had attracted a large crowd, and the popularity of Sir Arthur Sullivan’s graceful music appeared undiminished. As far as one could tell the audience of Saturday did not in any way trouble their minds about the severe verdict which the German Press has passed upon the Golden Legend, in connexion with its recent performance at Berlin. Without wishing to commence a controversy with the Berlin critics, who find fault with the composer’s counterpoint no less than with his melodies, and charge him with general want of seriousness, we cannot but surmise that their opinion was to some extent based upon a foregone conclusion. Most foreigners have a high opinion of the dignity of art, and refuse to believe that a composer who employs most of his time in writing operettas is likely to be equal to more serious work. However just this idea may be in the abstract, exceptions to the rule, when they occur in the concrete, should at least be admitted; and such an exception, as we have previously pointed out, the Golden Legend is beyond a doubt.
To expect Sir Arthur Sullivan to write in the style of Beethoven or of Wagner would be tantamount to asking honey from a butterfly; at the same time it is certain that the opening scene of this cantata contains things which are both grand and beautiful. To say, as some of the German critics have said, that the effect of the bells here has been anticipated in Wagner’s Parsifal and elsewhere is simply a misconception of fact. Bells, of course, have been sounded on many a stage and in many a concert room, but what Sir Arthur Sullivan has done is to make his bells articulate by letting them go in unison with the male voices chanting the ancient hymn which puts to flight the spirits of the air: and this idea is as fine and as poetically suggestive as it is absolutely new.
It is quite true that the interest is not equally kept up throughout the work, and that the dramatic climax is altogether missed. But such bright points as the “Evening Hymn,” with its placid charm, the humorous conception of Lucifer, the contrapuntal fiend (another genuine creation), the grand ensemble of the third scene, and the “happy ending,” again accompanied by distant bells, are sufficient to ward off any feeling of monotony.
At Saturday’s performance Mdlle. Nordica for the first time assumed the soprano part of Elsie, which she sang with much intelligence and in a voice only occasionally handicapped by the vast distances of the Albert-hall. The lines, “My life is little,” in which the maiden announces her self-sacrificing mission, were delivered with singular charm, and in the duets with Prince Henry the lady and Mr. Lloyd, who was in excellent voice, scored more than one genuine success. Madame Patey and Mr. Watkin Mills again assumed the parts of Ursula, the mother, and of Lucifer respectively, and to the choral singing under Mr. Barnby’s direction, the word “perfect” may, as on previous occasions, be applied.
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