Review from The Financial Times
Record Collector | Mons, Belgium | 09/17/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Sir Charles Mackerras's new recording of A Village Romeo and Juliet should do much to remove that lovely work from the ranks of 'operas for connoisseurs' and place it where it belongs, in the main repertory. In spite of his cosmopolitan-intellectual tastes and acquaintance, Delius was an intensely physical composer. With the partial exception of Fennimore and Gerda his operas work not by their appeal to the mind but by gut reaction. As in the Zurich production of 1980, which he conducted, Mackerras makes one feel the musculature below the covering of drenching beauty and sadness for things passing. He gives full value to the recurrent streak of popular vulgarity.
The set was made in Vienna, sung in English by mostly British soloists, with the Austrian Radio (ORF) Symphony Orchestra and Arnold-Schonberg Choir. As the lovers Sali and Vrenchen, kept apart by a family feud over a strip of waste-land outside their Swiss village, Arthur Davies and Helen Field sing freshly, youthfully and ardently, with the right feeling of pained innocence. The most unusual performance is the Dark Fiddler of Thomas Hampson. In adapting their libretto from Gottfried Keller's long short story, Delius and his wife Jelka watered down the realism, and with it the sinister side of the Fiddler's character. Hampson sings him strongly without attempting to suggest quaintness, and it works. Barry Mora and Stafford Dean do what can be done for the children's nasty, quarrelling fathers Marti and Manz. The off-stage boatmen in the final scene make a splendid sound. The chorus deals neatly with the folksy-fey la-las of the Fiddler's drop-out friends in the riverside scene. This is turn-of-the-century period stuff, somewhere between Stevensonian vagabondage and The Immortal Hour.
Small wonder Sali and Vrenchen decided not to join the drop-outs, who in any case reject them as being 'too respectable'. It is wide of the mark to regard the couple as working-class rebels. Their fathers are small landowners, petty bourgeois in their narrow-mindedness. Vrenchen cries over the disappearance (to pay lawyer's fees - that strip of disputed land) of home comforts. The two dream of a conventional wedding--a church, a priest, a choir, peals of bells. When they get to the fair, Vrenchen longs for cheap finery--consumer goods, in fact. It makes the upward transition to a poetic double death-wish rather too sudden. But when the moon floods the river landscape and the lovers step into the hay-barge, cast off and drift away to drown together, the outpouring of passionately lyrical music stills all objections. The orchestral playing here, and in the familiar Walk to the Paradise Garden interlude, is irresistibly eloquent."