Opera Scotland

Fair Maid of Perth La jolie fille de Perth

Music
Georges Bizet (born Paris, 25 October 1838; died Le Bougival, nr Paris, 3 June 1875)

Text
Jules Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and Jules Adenis.

Source
Novel (1828) by Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832).

Premières
First performance: Paris (Théâtre-Lyrique), 26 December 1867.
First UK performance: Manchester (), 1917.
First performance in Scotland: To be confirmed.
Scottish Opera première: Ayr (Gaiety Theatre), 23 October 1971.

Background
This opera contains a great deal of charming music, and was initially successful in Paris, but it is widely thought to have suffered neglect since then because of the poor quality of the text Bizet set. Not only does it largely ignore the original Scott novel, but also it fails to create convincing characters or situations. It was given a full staging at the Buxton Festival of 2006, but that does not seem to have been received with any great enthusiasm.

Main Characters
Simon Glover, a glove maker (bass)
Catherine Glover, his daughter (soprano)
Mab, Queen of the Gypsies (mezzo-soprano)
Henry Smith, an armourer (tenor)
The Duke of Rothesay (baritone)
Ralph, Glover’s apprentice (bass)

Plot Summary
At carnival time in Perth, Henry and Catherine are about to become engaged. Catherine flirts with the Duke, and this arouses Henry’s jealousy. However she is herself suspicious that Henry is having an affair with Mab. The Duke, formerly Mab’s lover, is very attracted to Catherine and decides to abduct her. Mab, hearing of the plot, disguises herself so as to be kidnapped instead. Ralph sees her being driven away and informs Henry, who was under the impression he had just been serenading Catherine. After Henry has run off to the Duke’s castle, the real Catherine does appear at her window, seen only by Ralph.

The Duke woos the disguised Mab, but Catherine and her father come to the castle in time for her to be denounced by a furious Henry. Ralph, who knows of Catherine’s innocence, defends her reputation, and Henry challenges him to a duel. Catherine goes mad as a result of the stress, although the Duke manages to prevent the duel. Mab again impersonates Catherine to convince Henry of her innocence, and the girl’s sanity is restored.

RECORDINGS

EMI (2 CDs) Sung in French Recorded 1985

Conductor: George Prêtre
Nouvel Orchestre Philharmonique
June Anderson (Catherine), Alfredo Kraus (Henry Smith), Gino Quilico (Rothsay).

It is unlikely that we will get a better recording of this rarity in the foreseeable future. The French conductor and orchestra give a generally idiomatic performance of this luscious score, though Beecham does show greater delicacy. The international principals are all good, especially June Anderson as Catherine and the Canadian baritone Gino Quilico as a smooth villain. Alfredo Kraus is not as ideally lyrical as he would have been had he recorded it a few years earlier, but is otherwise fine. Margarita Zimmermann is characterful as the Gypsy Queen, and Catherine’s father and the apprentice are in the safe francophone hands of Gabriel Bacquier and José Van Dam.

BEULAH (2 CDs) Sung in English Recorded 1949

Conductor: Sir Thomas Beecham
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Gwen Catley (Catherine), Richard Lewis (Henry Smith), Trefor Jones (Rothsay).

Beecham loved this type of French music, and his performance is well worth hearing, even in an elderly recording with a distinctly antique sounding translation. Richard Lewis sings quite beautifully as Smith, and his rendering of the famous serenade is on a par with the memorable recording by Heddle Nash. Gwen Catley and the other members of the cast are excellent, especially Owen Brannigan as Glover and Norman Walker as Ralph.

The Cast

Catherine Glover
 Simon's daughter
Duke of Rothesay
 
Henry Smith
 an armourer
Mab
 Queen of the Gypsies
Ralph
 Glover's apprentice
Simon Glover
 a glove-maker

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