Notes and Editorial Reviews
Courtesy of Robert Hoskins’s booklet note I can tell you that Polly was a ballad opera with a libretto by John Gay and tunes harmonised by Johann Christoph Pepusch. Written in 1729 it was a sequel to the previous year’s The Beggar’s Opera. Almost half a century later in 1777 the work was revived for performance at the Haymarket Little Theatre. This time the libretto was fashioned by George Coleman the Elder and the score a new one by Samuel Arnold.
Arnold is a semi-forgotten man of the English theatre. He was born in 1740, educated at the Chapel Royal, and proved adept at theatrical composition. He was composer for the Haymarket for a quarter of a century. His collaborator Coleman made many cuts in the vocal score
for Polly. Arnold added an overture (there was none in the original), plenty of dances, and a raft of new vocal pieces. The edition used here in this premiere recording is edited by Hoskins and derives from a reconstruction of the manuscript parts of the orchestral score held at the Houghton Library at Harvard. In addition there are three songs excised from Act III shortly before the opening; apparently this Act got shorter and shorter.
The result is a tuneful ballad opera. The Aradia Ensemble and Kevin Mallon are certainly not unversed in Arnold’s music as they’ve already recorded his Op.8 Overtures to good effect, and they supply modest but attractive contributions throughout. The harpsichord is discreetly balanced. The winds make limited but always pleasant play. Strings are light, adept.
Many of the airs last a minute; some break the two mark minute; none breaks three. So whilst Arnold edited Handel’s works he was not emulating Handelian operatic example. As a result there’s isn’t time or indeed inclination to build up memorable arias. Instead we have brisk, snappy balladry spiced by two sets of instrumental dances - of Pirates and of Indians - and a freewheeling cast that enters into the light-hearted spirit of the thing with gusto.
It’s best not to delve too deeply, or indeed at all, into the machinations of the plot. Instead one can admire the charm brought to the title role by Laura Albino whose She who hath felt is a genial example of her musicianship. As Damaris, Gillian Grossman has a somewhat hectoring quality. Marion Newman, as Jenny Driver, is the pick of the singers - and her incisive, stylish mezzo is a pleasure to hear; try her When gold is in hand in Act II as supporting evidence; this, like so many airs has a pre-existing source, in this case the song Peggy’s Mill. The Act II air Cheer up my lads is an amusing bit of cod-opera, soundly dispatched by Lawrence J Wiliford. As Cawwawkee, Bud Roach wanders round a bit, vocally speaking. More convincing is the solid characterisation of bass Matthew Grosfeld.
Tuneful spirits set the tenor of Polly, and no wonder it was enjoyed. The libretto can be downloaded. The cast here is a little uneven but very personable.
-- Jonathan Woo, MusicWeb International Read less
Works on This Recording
Polly by Samuel Arnold
Andrew Mahon (Baritone),
Eve Rachel McLeod (Soprano),
Bud Roach (Tenor),
Lawrence Wiliford (Tenor),
Gillian Grossman (Soprano),
Loralie Kirkpatrick (Mezzo Soprano),
Marion Newman (Alto),
Laura Albino (Soprano),
Matthew Grosfeld (Bass),
Jason Nedecky (Baritone)
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