Henry Clifford (opera)

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Henry Clifford is a grand opera in three acts composed by Isaac Albéniz to an English libretto written by Francis Money-Coutts (under the pseudonym "Mountjoy"). It premiered at the Gran Teatro del Liceo on 8 May 1895. The opera is based on historical figures and events and is set in 15th century England during the Wars of the Roses, fought between the rival houses of Lancaster and York. The title character, Henry Clifford, 10th Baron de Clifford, was the only son of John Clifford, a Lancastrian commander killed in the bloodiest battle of the war, the Battle of Towton, on 29 March 1461.[1] Henry Clifford himself was one of the chief commanders in the Battle of Flodden Field against the Scots in 1513.

Composition[edit]

Henry Clifford was written in 1893-95, the first of a series of operas by Albéniz which were commissioned and supplied with English libretti by the wealthy Englishman Francis Money-Coutts. Other operas in the series are Pepita Jiménez (1896) and Merlin (1902). Albéniz began writing the opera while living in London, but subsequently moved to Barcelona where he completed the piano-vocal score for the second act. After a few months he became uncomfortable with the conservative cultural conditions under the Bourbon dynasty in Spain, and moved to Paris where the remainder of the work was completed in 1894-95.[2]

Performance history[edit]

Fragment of the autograph score for Henry Clifford (tenor and soprano duet, Act 3)

Albéniz conducted the premiere of Henry Clifford (under the title Enrico Clifford) in Barcelona at the Gran Teatro del Liceo on 8 May 1895. The singers included Emanuel Suagnes in the title role, Angelica Nava as Lady Clifford, and Andrés Perellò de Segurola as Sir John Saint-John.[3] Although the opera was originally written in English, Italian was standard at the Liceo, and an Italian libretto was supplied by Giuseppe M. Arteaga Pereira. The libretto was published in both English and Italian (Barcelona: J.B. Pujol, 1895). The work was given five performances with the final performance on May 12.[2]

The opera was reconstructed and recorded in 2002 by the Spanish musicologist and conductor José De Eusebio. On 24 January 2009, he conducted the Orquesta Filarmónica de Gran Canaria in the world premiere performance of Henry Clifford with its original English libretto in the Auditorio Alfredo Kraus, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. The performance was in concert version with John MacMaster as Henry Clifford, Ana María Sánchez as Lady Clifford, María Rey-Joly as Annie Saint-John, David Wilson-Johnson as Sir John Saint-John, and Larissa Diadkova as Lady Saint-John.[4]

Critical reception[edit]

Writing about the 1895 Barcelona premiere, the newspaper La Vanguardia reported that the "applause, acclamations, and shouts of enthusiasm ... still sound in our ears." The Spanish critic J. Roca y Roca, writing in the same newspaper, said: "Albéniz triumphed over everything: over the distrust of certain unimaginative spirits ill-disposed to recognize the superior merits of a composer who has excelled as an outstanding concert pianist; he has triumphed over the suspicions and fears of the theater management...; Albéniz, finally, has succeeded in becoming a prophet in his own country." The critic blamed the shortness of the run on inadequate rehearsal, a lack of support from the theater's management, and the fact that the first performances were at the end of the season.[2]

Roles[edit]

Role Voice type Premiere Cast, 8 May 1895 [3]
(Conductor: Isaac Albéniz)
Henry Clifford tenor Emanuel Suagnes
Lady Clifford soprano Angelica Nava
Sir John Saint-John baritone Andrés Perellò de Segurola
Lady Saint-John mezzo-soprano Concetta Mas
Annie Saint-John soprano Adele Marra-Mirò
Colin ("Nicola" in the Italian libretto) baritone Francesco Puyggener
Messenger tenor
Herald baritone
Soldiers, peasants, Lady Clifford's attendants, crowd (children, men and women)

Recording[edit]

Albéniz: Henry Clifford - Orquesta Sinfonica de Madrid

  • Conductor: José de Eusebio
  • Principal singers: Aquiles Machado (Henry Clifford); Alessandra Marc (Lady Clifford); Carlos Álvarez (Sir John Saint John); Jane Henschel (Lady Saint John); Ana Maria Martínez (Annie Saint John); Christian Immler (Colin); Ángel Rodríguez (Messenger).
  • Recording location & date: Auditorio Nacional de Música de Madrid, 19–27 July 2002
  • Label: Decca - 473 937-2 (2 CDs)

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Synopsis," in Baxter (2003) pp. 18-20
  2. ^ a b c Clark, Walter Aaron, "Prophet with Honour: Isaac Albéniz and Henry Clifford," in Baxter (2003) pp. 15-17
  3. ^ a b The premiere cast list is from Clark (2002) p. 130 which is the same as the contemporary account in La Vanguardia, 8 May 1895, page 4. Note that Casaglia (Amadeus Almanac) mentions Hariclea Darclée as singing in the premiere, although does not specify the role. The discrepancy may have come from the fact that Darclée sang in the same theatre on 7 May 1895 (the day before the Henry Clifford premiere) in Meyerbeer's Les Huguenots. See La Vanguardia (7 May 1895)
  4. ^ Payá (25 January 2009); Díaz Ramos (25 January 2009)

Sources[edit]

External links[edit]

  • Libretto in English and the Italian translation used for the premiere.