Marriage by Lantern-Light

Orpheus in the Underworld having just had an outing in Sheffield, there is more Offenbach on offer at St Mark’s Church, Broomhill on Saturday, the 30th of April: Le Mariage aux Lanternes, or The Marriage by Lantern-Light.

What? You’ve never heard of it?

You are not alone; very few people anywhere will be aware of it among the 100-odd stage works, around half in one act, Offenbach had to his name when he died at the age of 61.

The extremely rare opportunity to encounter the lantern-light wedding comes courtesy of the enterprising Opera on Location in the wake of its brief, but ingenious Barber/ Menotti double bill in last October and Mozart’s Impresario a few months earlier.

Le Mariage, a one-act opérette (operetta), appeared in 1857 almost exactly one year before Orpheus, effectively Offenbach’s first work that wasn’t in one act. It premiered in Paris and can be described as popular in its day.

Berlin and Vienna saw it the following year; Prague, Graz and Budapest in 1859; London, New York, Brussels and Stockholm in 1860; Moscow in 1871; and Milan in 1875. After a handful of early 20th century revivals, though, it dropped off the radar.

Unlike the buffoonery and burlesque found in many the composer’s opéra bouffe and opérette bouffe, The Marriage by Lantern-Light is more sentimental and idyllic in mood, although certainly not without the humour and irony which were Offenbach trademarks.

It runs for around 50 minutes and tells the tale of a young farmer, Guillot, who has been entrusted to look after an orphan cousin, Denise, by his uncle. He treats her off-handedly to hide his feelings for her. Both write to the uncle, she in misery, he asking for money.

Two widows poke fun at Guillot, but when he receives a reply from his uncle telling him about treasure that can be found under a great tree when the bells of the church peal for the evening Angélus, they fight with each other to gain his affection.

Evening comes and Guillot – with ‘audience!’ – enters with lantern and spade to find the treasure – which surprises everyone!

Needless to say, Offenbach’s music is delightful and Opera on Location partner the work with a much better known piece, Gilbert and Sullivan’s first big hit, Trial by Jury – a natural bed-fellow given Offenbach’s influence on Sullivan.

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Remembering Peter Cropper

A concert at Firth Hall this coming Sunday, the 24th of April, paying tribute to Peter Cropper who died last year is, in effect, the launch pad in establishing an annual Lecture-Recital* named after him.

While he will be forever associated with the Lindsay String Quartet and the mastermind behind making Music in the Round arguably the leading promoter of chamber music in the UK after the Wigmore Hall, Peter was also a passionate educationalist.

Sheffield Music Academy was his brainchild, for instance, and he was a long-time supporter and contributor to University of Sheffield music making, latterly as Director of Performance. Indeed, the Lindsay Quartet’s first Sheffield concerts, many years ago, were at the university.

To quote from its announcement of the intention to create a Peter Cropper Lecture-Recital, which says it all, really: “Through his outstanding musicianship, generosity, and enthusiasm, he truly cultivated ambition and inspired so many young performers to fulfil their potential.

We would like to mark his contribution to music making, learning and performance at the University of Sheffield by establishing an annual lecture-recital series in his name.

Each year, we will invite a prominent performer or ensemble to come and perform at the University, to inspire our students and the wider public just as Peter did.

We will ask our guest performers not only to play, but to talk about their musical enthusiasms and provide the insight on the professional musical world for which Peter’s informal style of presentation was legendary.”

It certainly was – inimitable, and as unique as the man himself!

*A Peter Cropper Lecture-Recital Fund has been set up to enable the events to take place. If anyone would like to make a contribution please visit the university’s Just Giving Page

No Slavish Mozart Imitator

There was a plaque on the wall of 7 Howard Street (when it stretched further than it now does now) telling us that William Sterndale Bennett was born there on the 13th of April 1816.

The house was demolished to make way for the Novotel Hotel; although someone had the nonce to realise they were razing the birthplace of one Sheffield’s most famous sons to the ground. So, somewhere in the Novotel vicinity, is another plaque.

Parochialism aside, there is a case to made for Bennett being a much finer composer than he is generally perceived to be and it borders on scandalous that his works are so rarely heard – a situation that is the fate of most British composers!

Nevertheless, even in that pantheon he remains more or less an also-ran.

The fact that he never built on his early successes as a composer, his development going onto hold in the 1840s, certainly didn’t help his cause even if it was not necessarily his fault.

The son of Robert Bennett, organist at Sheffield Parish Church (now Sheffield Cathedral), his mother died in 1818 and his father who named him after his friend, the poet William Sterndale, the year after.

Orphaned at the age of three, he was brought up in Cambridge by his paternal grandfather. At the age of ten, in awe of his musical talents, examiners waived all fees for tuition and board when accepting him into the Royal Academy of Music where he spent the next ten years.

His First Piano Concerto (his opus one), written as student, tells you why Mendelssohn was so impressed and excited when he heard him play it in 1833 and promptly invited the then 17-year-old Bennett to visit him in Germany.

Bennett made three extended visits to Leipzig between 1836 and 1842. Both Mendelssohn and Schumann, whom he met on his first visit, thought highly of him and encouraged his exceptional talents on each visit when he continued to compose and perform.

It was to prove his most fruitful period of creativity because things began to go pear-shaped in the mid-1840s. Whereas he had been extremely successful in Germany, he now found himself on the barren terra firma of England and embroiled in much political in fighting.

Composing became sporadic as teaching became Bennett’s primary source of income, which in due course found him taking over the directorship of Royal Academy of Music in 1866 when it was on the verge of closure and spectacularly turning round its fortunes.

It was doubtless chiefly this that led to him being knighted in 1871 and Bennett died four years later at the age 58. He was buried Westminster Abbey, significantly or not, close to the tomb of Henry Purcell.

Mozart was clearly his musical god, but Bennett was not a slavish imitator. He used the influence with originality and imagination, which was what attracted him to Mendelssohn and Schumann.

In his lifetime he came to be regarded as a musical conservative. Whether this was because he chose to be, or down to the environment he found himself in in England we will never know.