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The Sunday Opera: Two by Edward German: "Merrie England" & "Tom Jones"

It’s no secret that Michael has a special place in his heart for British music, and this week’s Sunday Opera (3/12 3:00 p.m.), we’ll have two opera/operettas by one of his favorite British composers, Edward German. 

German wrote six operas and incidental music for nine plays (mostly Shakespearean). He also wrote orchestral, choral, solo voice, piano, and various other instrumental pieces as well. 

The two works we’ll hear this week are “Merrie England” and “Tom Jones.”

“Merrie England takes place in Elizabethan England and features a misdirected love letter that falls into the hands of Elizabeth I which causes no end of trouble to the assembled lords and ladies. After a bit of silliness delivered by Basil Hood’s book, there is a happy ending for all. 

The cast for this recording features William McAlpine as Sir Walter Raleigh, June Bronhill as his love, Bessie Throckmorton (also known as Kate), Peter Glossop as The Earl of Essex, Monica Sinclair as Elizabeth, and Patricia Kern as Jill-All-Alone. 

The cast also features Howell Glynne, Eric Wilson-Hyde, Neil Howlett, Leslie fyson, Geoffrey Colby, and Charles Young. Michael Collins and His Orchestra are also featured, and they’re joined by the Williams Singers. 

The second work is based on Henry Fielding’s wonderfully bawdy comedy, “The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling.” Although much of the dialogue has been cut from this performance, the libretto by Robert Courtneidge and Alexander M. Thompson sadly removed a great deal of the “bawd” anyway. 

The story is mostly true to Fielding’s original and follows the amorous exploits of Tom who tries to win the hand of Sophia but is rejected by her father Squire Western because he was a foundling with no known parentage even though he was adopted in infancy by Mr. Allworthy. After some charming misadventures, there is a happy ending with the help of a bit of a deus ex machina in the form of a surprise revelation! 

The main cast includes Richard Morrison as Tom Jones, Marianne Hellgren Staykov as Sophia, Sophia’s maid Honour is Heather Shipp, Squire Western is Donald Maxwell, Gregory, his servant, is Simon Butteriss, Benjamin, a village barber is Richard Stuart, and Lady Bellaston is Gaynor Keeble. They’re joined by the National Festival Orchestra and Chorus conducted by David Russell Hulme. 

To close out our time together, we’ll enjoy a bit more music of German, a set of four characteristic dances combined under the heading of “Gipsy Suite.” This charming piece will be performed by the Czecho-Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava) with Adrian Leaper conducting.

Michael is program host and host of the WWFM Sunday Opera, Sundays at 3 pm, and co-host of The Dress Circle, Sundays at 7 pm.
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