Born: May 15, 1808 in Dublin, Ireland
Died: October 20, 1870; Hertsfordshire, England
Throughout his lifetime, Balfe's career seemed likely to proceed in various directions; at first as a violinist, then as a singer, and in the direction it finally took him: an opera composer. His father, William, was a dance teacher and encouraged his early interest in music; shortly after Balfe began his violin studies, his father not only included him in dance lessons as a musician, but premiered his first piece, written and scored for band inRead more 1814 (at the age of seven) in his classes. Recognizing his son's talents could take him still further, William Balfe placed him with famed violinist O'Rourke (who later Anglicized his name as Rooke) for further musical education. Balfe wrote his first vocal composition, Young Fanny, in 1817. Moving to London after his father's death, he began his career as a violinist and occasional conductor and made his stage debut in Weber's Der Freischütz. In 1825, he met a visiting Italian, Count Mazzara, who took him to Italy for further studies. His first stage composition was a ballet, La Perouse, which was received with considerable success. When Mazzara sent him to Paris, where he also enjoyed success. He met Rossini, who directed the Italian opera and engaged him as a singer. However, a period of illness sent him back to Italy, where he appeared in several operas, including La Scala, and wrote his first opera, I rivali di se stesso, which premiered in Palermo in 1829. In 1833, he returned to London, where his career took its final direction with his first English opera, The Siege of Rochelle, which premiered at Drury Lane (where he had previously been in the orchestra) in 1835. It was an immediate success, as was his subsequent The Maid of Artois, opening just eight months later at the same theater. While he continued to sing, including the English premiere of Mozart's The Magic Flute, he regularly produced new operas, including Falstaff, an Italian-style work. Returning to Paris, he premiered two French-style works at the Opera-Comique: Le puits d'amour and Les quatre fils Aymon. In 1843, while back in England, he wrote his most enduring work, The Bohemian Girl. Now rarely produced, its famous aria I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls, became a popular favorite that is still frequently included in recitals (and even recorded by new age performer Enya). He accepted the role of conductor for Her Majesty's Theatre and took his operas worldwide, including Prussia, and returned to France, Russia, and Italy before returning to England. He retired in 1864, though he still dabbled in music, and died in 1870. His works, while always pleasingly lyrical and gracefully written, are unabashedly sentimental and, like his compatriot Sullivan's serious works, are performed more as curiosities than re-additions to the repertoire. Read less
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