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Sullivan: L'Île Enchantée - Thespis

Sullivan: L'Île Enchantée - Thespis

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Soon after his return from studies in Leipzig, Sir Arthur Sullivan wrote his second work, L’Île Enchantée. This was a ballet score on the subject of a shipwrecked mariner which debuted at Covent Garden in the form of a divertissement at the end of Bellini’s La sonnambula, where it was received with acclaim. This premiere recording restores passages Sullivan cut when presenting the work for concert performances. Thespis, a collaboration with W.S. Gilbert, is a flamboyant opera cum pantomime of which only fragments now remain – the work’s lost ballet has been rediscovered and restored by Roderick Spencer and Selwyn Tillett.


L’Île Enchantée is an early (1864) ballet originally designed to be performed as a divertissement following a performance of Bellini’s La Sonnambula. Nights at the opera evidently ran long in those days, because this particular trifle lasts nearly fifty minutes. The music reveals the young Sullivan fully in command of his gifts for catchy melodies and colorful orchestration. It may not be great stuff, but it is extremely entertaining, and if you enjoy nineteenth-century ballet music then you’ll certainly take to this appealing example of the genre. Never mind the plot, which involves a shipwrecked sailor washed up on an island populated by nymphs and fairies and suchlike. The autograph score is lost, but the work was reconstructed from surviving orchestral parts and here receives its world premiere recording (originally issued on Marco Polo in the early 1990s)—and a fine one it is.

Thespis, Sullivan’s first collaboration with W.S. Gilbert, was a Christmas spectacular most of which no longer exists — Sullivan incorporated bits of it into later works, but a few ballet numbers appear to have survived. The five dances presented here total nine minutes of music, and make an apt filler to The Enchanted Isle. Again, they reveal Sullivan’s obvious facility at this sort of light entertainment. Andrew Penny and the RTE Concert Orchestra offer lively, refreshing performances of all of this music. There’s not a dull or routine moment anywhere, and Naxos’ clean and clear sonics leave little to be desired. This release represents an attractive and intriguing addition to the discography of England’s greatest nineteenth-century composer.

– (David Hurwitz)

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  • Release Specifications

    • Number of Discs: 1
    • Release Date:
    • Label: Naxos Regular CD
    • UPC/Barcode: 747313518029
    • Item Number: 8555180