Ralph Vaughan Williams: Sir John In Love - An Opera in Four Acts

Of all the musical forms essayed by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958), his operas have received the least recognition or respect. Yet he was incontestably a man of the theatre. The first professional staging was given by Sadler’s Wells Opera in April 1946. In July 1958, less than a month before he died, the composer attended a performance at the Sadler’s Wells Theatre. After this, it is thought not to have graced the professional stage in Britain again until 2 March 2006 when English National Opera revived the work at the London Coliseum.

In this 1956 BBC studio recording, Roderick Jones makes an ideal Falstaff, commanding and vulnerable in equal measure. His love-song in Act II, ‘O that joy so soon should waste’ is both droll and touching. At the end of play, this butt of ridicule is allowed to become a Master of Ceremonies, conferring his blessing on all and it is a measure of Jones’s multi-layered portrayal that the transformation is effected with ease and dignity. This portrayal is the jewel in the crown of a reading in which a whole community of colourful characters comes to life.

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Catalogue Number

DISC ONE 64.32

Act I

Scene: A Street in Windsor

1 Prelude – SHALLOW, Dr EVANS What-hoa! 4.30

2 SHALLOW Sir Hugh, persuade me not… 2.10

3 ANNE Ahem ... 1.33

4 ANNE This is my father’s choice 2.37

5 FENTON Do but look on her eyes 2.47

6 FENTON I see I cannot get thy father's love 3.07

7 CAIUS Vere is dat knave Rugby? 4.27

8 MRS QUICKLY Master Fenton 1.44

9 BARDOLPH, NYM, PISTOL How now, mine host of the Garter 2.57

10 FALSTAFF I spy entertainment in her 3.44

11 NYM, PISTOL Wilt thou revenge? 2.42

12 FORD Love my wife? I will be patient 3.22

Act II

Scene I: A Room in Page’s House

13 Prelude – MRS PAGE Thine own true knight 6.21

14 MRS QUICKLY, PAGE & FORD Sigh No More, Ladies 2.42

Scene II: A Room in the Garter Inn

15 FALSTAFF Bardolph, Bardolph, I say! 5.41

16 FALSTAFF Go thy ways 5.30

17 FORD Sir, my name is Brook 5.24

18 FORD Ha, is this a vision? 3.14

DISC TWO 61.54


Scene I: A Footpath near Windsor

1 Prelude – FENTON Yet hear me speak 4.00

2 ANNE Let him woo for himself 6.48

Scene II: A Field near Windsor

3 EVANS As we sat down in Papylon 4.36

4 HOST Peace, I say! 3.04

Scene III: A Room in Ford’s House

5 MRS FORD What, John! What, Robert! 2.01

6 MRS FORD Alas my love, you do me wrong 4.46

7 FORD Ah! How now, where bear you this 3.57

Act IV

Scene I: Another room in Ford’s House

8 Prelude - FORD Pardon me, wife 3.52

9 MRS PAGE There is an old tale goes 5.19

10 Entr’acte 2.36 Scene II: Windsor Forest

11 FALSTAFF The Windsor bell hath struck twelve 5.15

12 FALSTAFF I think the devil will not have me damned 5.04

13 PAGE Nay, do not fly 3.14

14 FORD This is strange, who hath the right Anne? 7.22


What does make this recording particularly valuable, despite its mono sound, is the fact that it features many of the singers whom the composer particularly prized in their roles. Also Stanford Robinson’s conducting, less rumbustious than any of his rivals, makes many subtle points that are missed elsewhere – listen to his sly inflection of the trio Sigh no more, ladies, for example. The broadcast sound, forward and clear, sounds dated; but it is remarkable how quickly the ear adjusts, and the playing of the orchestra – the Philharmonia at the peak of its form – trounces all rivals, even Hickox on Chandos with the London Symphony Orchestra. By comparison with Robinson and Hickox, the direction of Priestman and Meredith Davies is relatively uninflected — efficient rather than affectionate. The recordings by Davies and Hickox, being studio performances intended for commercial issue, have no truck with any additional explanatory lines of dialogue spoken or sung.

“Here is another release of great importance from the treasure trove of off-air recordings made by the late Richard Itter using his state-of-the-art recording equipment at home... It’s a cause for celebration that the first ever recording of this delightful score should have been made available and once again collectors are hugely indebted to Richard Itter and to the Lyrita Recorded Edition Trust. This important release is a mandatory purchase for lovers of Vaughan Williams’ music.” Musicweb-international.com

"Broadcast live on BBC Radio in 1956, this studio performance is something much more than a mostalgia-fest for aficionados only. If a few things now sound dated (eg some words of scene-setting by an announcer), little else does - least of all the work itself... The recorded sound is excellently true and mellow for the vintage - only a little recessed, and conveying a feast of vocal and orchestral detail."  BBC Music Magazine 

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