Wallace's Lurline (1860)

                    Its history


Inspiration for this opera came to Wallace whilst travelling in Germany in the 1840s. The Loreley legend of a siren of the Rhine who lures fishermen into treacherous waters was well known at the time. A prominent rocky outcrop on the Rhine called the Lorelei Rock exists to this day in memory of the water sprite legend. The story had previously given Mendelssohn inspiration for his Loreley composition (opus 47) left unfinished at his untimely death in 1847. Wagner also touches on the same idea in Der Ring. Lurline was intended for production at Covent Garden by Alfred Bunn in the late 1840's.  However, Bunn gave up the management before it could be performed. The libretto was by Edward Fitzball.

Lurline picture

It is possible that the Paris Opera was interested in producing it but, whatever the case,  severe problems with eyesight prevented him doing anything further for some months and, on recovery, he set off for South America, so that any performance would have had to be postponed. However, it may have been staged as Loreley in Germany in 1854, but this fact has not been confirmed. Eventually, it was February 23rd, 1860 when Lurline was premiered by the Pyne-Harrison company at Covent Garden with tremendous success. Unusually for English opera of the time, it was through-composed.




Details of its première recording by Victorian Opera Northwest can be found here.

Lurline, Nymph of the Rhine, lures boats to a dangerous whirlpool in the river by singing and playing her enchanted harp.  She has fallen in love with the extravagant and penniless Count Rupert,who lives in a riverside castle.  Rupert is planning to marry Ghiva, the daughter of a supposedly wealthy baron who it is hoped will restore the empty castle coffers.  Unfortunately, the baron also happens to be poor and supposes that Rupert will restore his fortunes.  On discovering the true state of affairs the baron calls off the match.  Rupert holds a banquet at his castle, where Lurline appears and, after putting everyone under a trance, places a magic ring on Rupert's finger before disappearing. Entranced by this beautiful apparition, Rupert follows her to the banks of the river, attracted by the sounds of her fairy harp, with his guests following.  Hypnotised, they are overcome by tiredness.  Rupert drops asleep on a nearby rock, which then sinks into the Rhine: he is assumed to have drowned.

In coral caves under the river, we find Lurline her father, King Rhineberg and Rupert sleeping. He has escaped drowning by the power of the ring and is now awoken by Lurline.  He hears his friends singing a requiem for him in the boat above and asks to rejoin them briefly.  Lurline agrees and arranges to meet him at the rising of the moon on the third evening.  At Lurline's request, the King gives Rupert some of his gold to take with him.  Rupert appears at the castle laden with treasures much to the baron's surprise who immediately tries to reopen the question of marriage.

Ghiva, realizing Rupert's infatuation with Lurline, fears losing him and steals the ring, which she throws into the Rhine.  A gnome finds the ring and returns it to the sad Lurline as evidence that Rupert has discarded her.  She appears at the castle and in a scene of recrimination asks for the ring, while also denouncing the treachery of his greedy "friends".  These "friends" plan to seize and plunder the castle but are overheard by the baron and Ghiva who warn Rupert of a plot to destroy him.  Lurline's relents and seizing her harp leads the evil crew to their drowning by the spell of her music.


The original cast

First performed on February 23, 1860 at Covent Garden, London

Count Rupert  (a young nobleman)    .. .. .. ..

Wilhelm  (his Friend)    .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .

Rhineberg  (the River King)  .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..

Baron Truenfels .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..

Zelieck  (a Gnome)   .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .

Conrad  .. .. .. .. .. .. .... .. .. .. .. .. .... .. .. ...

Adolphe    .. .. .. .. .. .. .... .. .. .. .. .. .... .. ...

Lurline  (Nymph of the Lurlei-Berg)     .. .. ....

Ghiva  (the Baron's Daughter)      .. .. .. .. ...

Liba  (a Spirit of the Rhine  .. .. ..  .. .. .. ....

Mr. W. Harrison

Mr. Lyall

Mr. C. Santley

Mr. G. Honey

Mr. H. Corri

Mr. Friend

Mr. Mengis

Miss Louisa Pyne

Miss Pilling

Miss Fanny Cruise




In Lurline, there is an important change of style from Maritana, in that it is through-composed. The work has a strengthened chorus and orchestra to produce grander scenes and effects. The music is melodically graceful and bright. Reports on the first London performances were good and critics felt that Wallace's music surpassed his earlier Maritana and Matilda of Hungary.

Reviewers suggested that the Germanic theme removed 'any English connection', and as a result disappointed those who were trying to promote a new English Opera tradition that was prevalent in the mid 1800's.

The overture was described as 'chivalrous' and instrumentally superb, while a tender barcarolle, 'Our barque in the moonlight' as 'romantically engaging' and the excellent cavatina, Sweet form that on my dreamy gaze as 'graceful in melody and ingenious in accompaniment'.  A drinking chorus, Drain the cup of pleasure was deemed to appeal in the 'Verdian style' and the Hunting chorus to introduce a new orchestral effect. The ensemble, Ah! dare I hope was so animated that it 'could provide the character and stage business for a complete opera by Balfe'!  Thus  Lurline provides moving songs with a strong touch of passion and feeling.

Wallace's skill as an orchestrator is strong. One critic remarked that  'the  Act II finale is a cleverly-written imitation of the Italian School' and he praises Wallace for his skill. The inclusion of occasional ballads (fashionable for the time) is effective, but in providing these Wallace never overshadows those by Balfe. Nevertheless, Wallace proved to be a skilled writer of surprising passion in this score. He carries undercurrents of Weber, as he did in Maritana, and here communicates an effective characterization of the swirling waters of the Rhine. The influence of Mendelssohn is also clearly evident as well as an endearing characteristic style that is essentially Wallace's own.


© Victorian Opera Northwest, 2005 - 2013.