It is good to have this superb recording of William Alwyn's colourful and confident adaptation of Strindberg's play on CD, sounding even more compellingly atmospheric in the new format. I listened to the discs before looking back at what I wrote about the LP issue, and I fully endorse the points I made then. Alwyn, an outstanding film-composer, here consistently demonstrates his mastery of atmosphere and timing to bring out the chilling intensity of this story of Miss Julie's sudden infatuation for her father's man-servant. He adapted the play himself, and understood far more than most librettists the need for economy over text. His principal modification of Strindberg is that to the play's three characters—Miss Julie, Jean the manservantRead more and Kristin the cook—he adds the gamekeeper, Ulrik, who acts as a commentator. So in his drunken scene of Act 1 he makes explicit what is happening, to the embarrassment of both Miss Julie and Jean. He also shoots (offstage) the lapdog which Miss Julie wants to take away with her on her elopement, a convenient but less horrific alternative to the slaughter of the pet finch in the original Strindberg.
Alwyn, with those modifications presents the developments in the story with Puccinian sureness, and the idiom, harmonically rich and warmly lyrical, grateful for singers and players alike, brings occasional Puccinian echoes which, along with reminiscences of other composers, add to the music's impact rather than making it seem merely derivative. So in Act 2, Miss Julie's growing uncertainty over Jean's love is reflected in a passage (disc 2 track 5) which initially brings an echo of the heroine's last solo in Walton's Troilus and Cressida, and builds to a passionate climax which erupts first in echoes of Fanciulla del West and then in a direct quotation of the main theme of the trio from Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier, a motif repeated later. By any reckoning this is a confidently red-blooded opera, and I hope the success of this recording will encourage a staged production. It certainly deserves one.
The performance under Vilem Tausky is even finer than I had remembered, strong and forceful with superb singing from all the principals. Jill Gomez is magnificent in the title-role, producing ravishing sounds, not least in the glorious mid-summer night solo, expansively melodic but with wide-leaping intervals, which comes at the end of the first of the two scenes of Act 1. Benjamin Luxon gives a wonderfully swaggering portrait of the unscrupulous manservant, vocally firmer than on almost any of his other recordings. Della Jones is splendidly characterful too, relishing her venomous cry of ''Bitch!'' when, at the very end of scene 1, she realizes Julie and Jean have gone off together. John Mitchinson is characterful too, in his drunken scene reminding me of Peter Pears as Albert Herring. The two discs, as before, come with a libretto and an excellent essay by Rodney Milnes, together with illuminating quotations from the composer, all—alas—in microscopic print. I only hope that Lyrita will be encouraged by the success of this opera issue to release Tippett's A Midsummer Marriage as well, a set to which the company now has the rights.
-- Edward Greenfield, GRAMOPHONE (3/1993)
Review of the original CD release Read less
Works on This Recording
Miss Julieby William Alwyn Performer:
Della Jones (Mezzo Soprano),
Benjamin Luxon (Baritone),
Jill Gomez (Soprano),
John Mitchinson (Tenor)
Period: 20th Century Written: England Venue: Kingsway Hall, London, England Length: 117 Minutes 56 Secs. Language: English Notes: Kingsway Hall, London, England (01/23/1979 - 01/26/1979)
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