RAYMOND AND AGNES
Grand opera in three acts
Composer: Edward Loder
Libretto: Edward Fitzball
First performed: Theatre Royal, Manchester, 14 August 1855
So there is opera in England between Handel and G&S!
Retrospect Opera, devoted to British opera, released last month the premiere recording of Loder’s Raymond and Agnes (1855), one of the most important mid-19th century English operas.
Richard Bonynge conducts, and the cast features Opera Rara stalwart Majella Cullagh. Singing and playing excellent.
Raymond and Agnes was first performed at Manchester’s Theatre Royal, where Loder was musical director. The opera was warmly received, although critics had reservations about the melodramatic story, based on Lewis’ Monk (1796), a Gothic potboiler full of nuns, brigands, murder, incest, ghosts, and devils. (It’s also the source for Gounod’s Nonne sanglante and Donizetti’s Maria de Rudenz.)
It is very much the sort of thing Gilbert lampooned in Ruddigore. A wicked baron, who used to be a brigand chief, has designs on the innocent maiden Agnes, last descendant of a saint. (All Barons are bad!) She, however, loves Raymond, whose father the baron murdered. For good measure, the baron kidnapped Raymond’s mother, who was then taken by another bandit. The baron’s plans are thwarted, and all ends happily.
“The music is far better than the story, and was very well received,” wrote The Musical World (25 August 1855). “There are some very striking and dramatic scenes in the opera, in spite of its gloomy and incoherent plot, which Loder has used to great advantage. There is a trio, a quintet – and one or two finales – especially the taking and dashing finale to the first act, which is nightly encored.”
Raymond and Agnes was revived in London in 1859. “The plot and incidents are so stale, flat, and insipid, as to paralyse the most active imagination,” thought The Daily News (13 June 1859), “and we are only surprised that the music is as good as it is.”
The opera was forgotten until the 1960s, when it was staged in Cambridge. Critics like Nigel Burton (The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, 1992) and Charles Osborne (Opera, 2002) considered Loder’s “drama and depth of musical characterization” Verdian.
Retrospect echo this view, calling Loder’s handling of the “emotionally turbulent and complex plot … truly Verdian”.
Trovatore comes to mind. The plot of both operas is complex and rather silly, but provided strong situations for the composer, and the music is consistently tuneful, even inspired.
While Loder lacks Verdi’s virility, his instrumentation is better, and his music more elegant – probably due to his German training and his admiration for Weber.
The ensembles are terrific – particularly the complex, multi-section Act II finale, with its quintet “Lost, and in a dream”. There are several lovely ballads (notably Raymond’s “Farewell forest and the plain” in Act III).
Enjoy it with one eye closed to the story – and both ears open to the music.
(DISCLAIMER: I supported the recording.)
- Don RAYMOND, a young Spaniard (tenor): George Perren
- The BARON OF LINDENBERG (bass-baritone): Henri Drayton
- Lady AGNES, his ward (soprano): Susanna Lowe
- MADELINA, her foster-sister (mezzo-soprano): Miss Johnson
- RAVELLA, a dumb woman (spoken role): Miss Jeffries
- THEODORE, Raymond’s valet (tenor): C. Horn
- FRANCESCO, the Baron’s valet (bass): Mr. Bellhouse
- ANTONI, an old brigand (baritone): Charles Guilmette
- ROBERTO, his robber son (baritone): Mr. Asbury
- MARTINI, his robber son (tenor): Mr. Thomas
- LANDLORD of the Golden Wolf (baritone): Mr. Watson
Raymond learns that the Baron of Lindenberg plans to marry Agnes to end the curse on his family. He enters the convent, disguised as a verger, and the couple declare their love. All leave for the Baron’s castle.
Raymond discovers that the Baron is the same brigand Inigo who murdered his father and ruined his mother. The hero threatens the evil aristocrat, who summons his men to arrest him.
Raymond and Agnes escape the Baron’s evil clutches, but the Baron recaptures him.
The Baron sets a trap for the lovers: he will let Raymond leave the castle with Agnes – but has given the bandit Antoni orders to shoot the man who leaves, a female on his arm. It is the Baron who falls, escorting Raymond’s mother Ravella. Agnes and Raymond and their servants celebrate, thanking Providence.
- Nicholas Temperley, “Reviving a Masterpiece”, Raymond and Agnes, Retrospect Opera 2018
- David Chandler, “The Story of Raymond and Agnes: Background and Sources”, Raymond and Agnes, Retrospect Opera 2018
- Valerie Langfield, “Raymond and Agnes: The Nineteenth-century Reception and Textual Sources”, Raymond and Agnes, Retrospect Opera 2018
- “Raymond and Agnes”, Wikipedia
- “Raymond and Agnes“, Retrospect Opera