Alfred – An Early English Opera
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment – Nicolas Kraemer, Conductor (BBC Music)
Recorded at Studio 1, Maida Vale, London, October 16-17, 1995
Early English Opera – oh, yeah, let’s get this party started right!
ORIGINAL LINER NOTES (by Jonathan Keates):
Thomas Arne’s Alfred, first produced in 1740 as a masque and later adapted for production as an English opera in 1753, is based on the story of the Saxon king Alfred’s resistance to the invading Danes during the ninth century.
Act 1 opens with the discovery, by the shepherd Corin and his wife Emma, of King Alfred asleep under an oak tree. The king has taken refuge from the Danes, and the pair now offer him shelter in their cottage. Left alone, Alfred despairs of recovering his kingdom and appeals to the ‘genius’ of Britain for help. His wife Eltruda and son Edward enter and the three go into the shepherd’s cottage.
In Act 2 Emma consoles Eltruda for Alfred’s absence by comparing her plight with that of the lovelorn Edith, whose sweetheart has gone to the wars. Alfred returns and promises to take proper care of Eltruda. Spirits arise and address Alfred as ‘father of the state,’ urging him not to despair. Eltruda offers further encouragement to her husband. Alfred and Edward begin their assault on a Danish fort, and a dirge is sung for those who die in the battle.
Act 3 begins with the shepherds celebrating Alfred’s presence among them. Eltruda summons guardian angels to protect her, but news soon arrives of Alfred’s victory. Soldiers parade triumphantly to a ‘March with a side drum’ and the opera ends with the festive ode Rule, Britania.
- 1: Overture [6:30]
- 2: The shepherd’s plain life [3:33]
- 3. Sweet valley say [2:01]
- 4: Let’s not those who love complain [4:00]
- 5: Love’s the tyrant of the heart [3:32]
- 6: From the dawn of early morning [5:44]
- 7: Hear, Alfred, hear [2:29]
- 8: Gracious heav’n, O hear me [5:30]
- 9: Vengeance, O come inspire me! [6:15]
- 10: There honour comes [2:28]
- 11: Ah me, what fears oppress… Guardian angels, O descend [3:02]
- 12: March with a side drum [1:34]
- 13: Rule, Britannia [4:17]
I love early English opera as much as the next person (there are vocal runs in those operas that would make singers on The Voice say to tone it down), but, Jesus Christ, this was a slog. Thank God for Rule, Britania at the end to liven things up a bit.