Manfred is a dramatic poem written in 1816–1817 by Lord Byron. It contains supernatural elements, in keeping with the popularity of the ghost story in England at the time. It is a typical example of a Romantic closet drama. Manfred was adapted musically by Robert Schumann in 1852, in a composition entitled Manfred: Dramatic Poem with Music in Three Parts.
In this version, Sir Thomas Beecham conducts the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra with Laidman Browne, Jill Balcon, and David Enders reading the poem.
Public Domain (P)2010 Saland Publishing
I knew nothing of this poem when I began listening, and at first I found it somewhat confusing. There is no introduction or lead-in, it just begins, with full dramatic force. I spent half the recording trying to figure out what I was listening to and half getting swept up in the experience. The music is beautiful and the acting superb. I will seek out the written text and listen again with more literary understanding.
This performance is not actually that great if you don't already know Byron's dramatic poem really well. It's really as much Schumann's work as Byron's. In fact, some of the language of the poem is included only in Schumann's choral songs set to Romantic orchestral music. These are quite beautiful and dramatic, but they make it impossible to hear what's being said in those parts. But the other problem is the performance itself. There isn't enough distinction among the various men's voices, so it's not always easy to tell immediately when a different character is speaking. Part of the problem here is that they all have rich, round, Shakespearean baritones. And part of the problem is that they're all ACTING. Rolled R's. Vibrato. FEELINGS. The actor reading Manfred himself seems especially delighted by melodramatic volume changes -- whisper, boom, quaver, shout. It makes it difficult to listen to. Either you can't hear him, or you're being deafened. And it's a little hard to take him entirely seriously. So actually it might not be that great even if you do know the poem really well.
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