Retrospect Opera

Great British Operas On Record

Raymond and Agnes - The Recording
CDWe are more than delighted to report that our landmark recording - with Richard Bonynge conducting the Royal Ballet Sinfonia and an array of wonderful soloists, headed by Mark Milhofer, Majella Cullagh and Andrew Greenan - was released in August and has had many superb reviews.
Richard is very well known as a conductor of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century opera in venues across the world, and has recorded over 50 complete operas. He is particularly known for his long-standing artistic collaboration with his late wife, the soprano Dame Joan Sutherland. Originally from Sydney, Richard was awarded the CBE in the Queen’s Silver Jubilee year. Richard tells us how enormously impressed he is by the quality of Loder’s music.
Other soloists include Carolyn Dobbin as Madelina,
Quentin Hayes as Antoni, Alessandro Fisher as Theodore, and Alexander Robin Baker as Francesco.

We are also delighted
with the reception that the book about the Loder family, Musicians of Bath and Beyond: Edward Loder and his Family, has received. This was edited by Professor Nicholas Temperley (who oversaw the production in Cambridge in 1966). ‘Reading Paul Rodmell’s and Valerie Langfield’s essays on [Loder’s] music, and David Chandler’s on [his] librettos, made me impatient to see Loder’s works on the stage. Chandler’s authoritative and highly entertaining picture of [Loder’s] standing in English Romantic opera ... will be ... the most cherishable chapter of a book that is scholarly yet unstuffy.’ (Opera, August 2016)
Raymond and Agnes

Raymond & AgnesUntil recently, the era of English Romantic Opera (1834–1867) was a closed book to all but a few historians and enthusiasts. It has begun to re-emerge with professional recordings of operas by such once celebrated composers as Michael William Balfe, George Alexander Macfarren, and William Vincent Wallace. But there is one opera that stands out from the rest: Edward James Loder’s Raymond and Agnes, premiered at the Theatre Royal, Manchester, in 1855 and revived at the St James’s Theatre, London, in 1859. Retrospect Opera is raising funds to record this supreme example of mid-nineteenth-century English opera.

On the occasion of the work’s last revival, at Cambridge in 1966, Nicholas Temperley concluded, ‘Loder’s musical and dramatic gifts were far more impressive than those of Balfe and Wallace. The music … maintains a high level of inspiration, variety, and continuity almost throughout. Loder reveals quite unexpected resources of harmony, while his orchestration is masterly; and he provides memorable tunes, both plain and ornate, when appropriate’ (Musical Times, April 1966). 

Temperley’s view was supported by many of the critics who attended the Cambridge performances. ‘The music has the undeniable, unmistakable touch, not of a hack, but of a real composer,’ said Hugh Macdonald in the Cambridge News (3 May 1966). ‘In the second act the score develops a sustained dramatic attack that is all too rare in the annals of English opera’ (Peter Heyworth in The Observer, 9 May). ‘The opera made on me a strong impression—stronger even than I guessed at the time, for some of its music has gone on ‘haunting’ me; both several of the tunes, and the effect of the sustained, resourceful ensembles’ (Andrew Porter in The Musical Times, June 1966). ‘Loder’s melodies have been echoing through my mind since the performance; I long to hear them again. His orchestration is skilful, often imaginative. … Some of the choral scenes are first-class…, and the chorus when Raymond is arrested has a big, swinging, Verdian melody, richly harmonized. Both the duets for the lovers are strong stuff. And finest of all are the ensembles, notably the trio in the first finale and the quintet in the second—this last rather like Rossini’s Cenerentola quintet, beautifully written, catching the sensation of the situation to perfection’ (Stanley Sadie in Opera, July 1966).

Later opinions have been no less emphatic. ‘The sense of drama and depth of musical characterization is close to Verdi, especially in the magnificent confrontation between Raymond and Inigo in Act 2, and in the quintet ‘Lost! and in a dream’’ (Nigel Burton in The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, 1992). ‘Of all the operas of early Victorian Britain, there is one—to my mind at least—that stands out. In terms of musical characterisation, orchestral writing and dramatic impact, Raymond and Agnes by Edward Loder more than any other breaks the stranglehold of ballad, which smothered British opera for much of the nineteenth century, and comes far closer to the great Italian traditions of the day’ (Roderic Dunnett, BBC Radio 3, 13 February 1995). Charles Osborne wrote in Opera (June 2002): ‘I had not heard of [Loder] until 1966 when Eric Walter White … told me that Loder’s Raymond and Agnes was about to be staged in Cambridge and that, as a Verdi enthusiast, I should not miss it, for Loder was the English equivalent of early Verdi. … I was in the audience at the Cambridge Arts Theatre on that night in May 1966, and I was bowled over by Raymond and Agnes. Its intensity, and Loder’s gift for melody and musical characterization, were indeed Verdian and marvellously exciting. … I have, in fact, more than once attempted to alert the Royal Opera and English National Opera to the existence of Loder, an English composer who surely deserves to be promoted by English or British companies. … So far my pleas have fallen on deaf ears. But the Loder revival, which will surely come one day, does not have to begin in London.’

The story of the opera is taken from an episode in Matthew Lewis’s classic Gothic novel The Monk (1796), which had already received several stage treatments by the time it was turned into a libretto by Edward Fitzball. It also includes elements of Lewis’s The Castle Spectre (1797). A story of true loved tested and triumphant along with an over-the-top melodramatic villain, incarceration, a sleep-walking scene, shooting, and a ghost, Raymond and Agnes actually shares many of the same elements as Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera, the most successful musical of modern times.

Please help us revive this magnificent work and restore Loder to his proper place in Britain’s musical heritage. You can listen to some extracts in our Listening Room.

Edward Loder
Edward James Loder

Though for long an unjustly neglected figure, there has been a recent surge of interest in Loder and his historical importance. This is clearly evidenced in the recent book of essays, Musicians of Bath and Beyond: Edward Loder (1809–1865) and his Family, edited by Nicholas Temperley (Boydell & Brewer, 2016). (There is an audio supplement to the book at which includes examples of Loder’s music.) Loder’s life has been thoroughly researched by Andrew Lamb for Musicians of Bath and Beyond. Loder was born into a prominent family of Bath musicians. His father, John David Loder (c.1788–1846), was the leader of several Bath orchestras and later moved to London to lead the Philharmonic orchestra and a professor of violin at the RAM, as well as the author of the leading English violin instruction manual of the day. Edward showed early talent, and was sent to Germany to study with Beethoven’s pupil Ferdinand Ries. He tried to make his living as a composer and pianist, but was constantly in difficulties, and at one point was imprisoned for debt. Having moved from Bath to London, he gained some notice with the opera Nourjahad, which initiated a new phase in English opera when produced at Samuel J. Arnold’s English Opera House at London’s Lyceum Theatre in July 1834. He tried to make ends meet increasingly by composing popular songs and ballads. Of these, ‘The Brave Old Oak’ and ‘The Old House at Home’ enjoyed wide currency on both sides of the Atlantic.

In October 1846 his opera The Night Dancers, based on the Giselle story, was produced with significant success at the Princess’s Theatre, London, where Loder was by then musical director. Productions in New York and Sydney followed during 1847, and during Loder’s lifetime this opera continued to be considered the high point of his output. His move to Manchester in 1851 as musical director of the Theatre Royal may have been a mistake. The premiere of Raymond and Agnes there in 1855 was highly praised locally, but did not attract national attention, and in 1856 illness forced Loder to withdraw from further public engagements. The London revival of Raymond and Agnes in 1859 was so ‘contemptible,’ in the opinion of his friend and colleague Macfarren, that it had no chance of success. It was staged only four times. In the following year a revival of The Night Dancers by the Pyne-Harrison company at Covent Garden Theatre was performed twenty-six times; this would be the last time any opera of Loder’s scored a notable success in his lifetime. After several years of illness, including four years of paralysis, Loder died in April 1865 at age 55.

And for more information...

For a much fuller account of Edward James Loder,
do read the article by Andrew Lamb, one of the contributors to the book about the Loder family mentioned above, at

Loder Celebration 2015

The Loder Celebration 2015, from the 15th -18th October 2015, acknowledged the importance of an extraordinary family of musicians who lived in the city of Bath between 1770 and 1840.

There was a range of events - an exhibition, a Study Day, two lunchtime concerts and an evening concert - and as far as Retrospect Opera was concerned, it was the evening concert that was the most significant. It took place at the beautiful Assembly Rooms, and the second half of the concert was devoted to extracts from Loder’s Raymond and Agnes.  Donna Lennard sang the role of Agnes, John Colyn Gyaentey sang Raymond, and Joe Corbett sang the Baron - John and Joe replaced the scheduled soloists, at very short notice. The Bath Philharmonia played superbly, and many of the players said how much they enjoyed the music, and how Verdian it was. Jason Thornton conducted with aplomb, and the extracts were linked with a narrative given by two members of the Natural Theatre Company.

It was a treat to hear the music live, and the audience enjoyed it greatly. Some had heard the performance of the opera in Cambridge back in 1966 but of course for most, it was quite new.

There are some pictures of the rehearsals for the concert, in Room 3 of the Photo Gallery, and also a few short extracts from the concert itself, in the Listening Gallery.
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Donations for this project are now closed - but you can still help, by buying the recording, or you can support future projects - visit our Donations page, or click here to e-mail us with a specific sponsorship proposal.