The Dancing Master is a one-act comic opera, composed in 1952 but not performed until six decades later. Film director Joe Mendoza adapted a 1671 Restoration comedy by William Wycherley (The Gentleman Dancing Master) and sent his libretto to Malcolm Arnold as a possible BBC commission. Arnold had previously worked with Mendoza on film projects and was enjoying a spectacularly productive and successful period. (The work was contemporary with his English Dances and First Symphony.) The BBC rejected the piece as too bawdy, although its mild sexual references are nothing today.

It is written in a parlando style with few mini-arias, not unlike Ravel’s L’Heure Espagnol and Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, although its story of the lovesick daughter trying to outwit her guardian aunt and obstinate father is less original than the plots of the abovementioned works. What it has in common with them is a sparkling orchestral accompaniment, a momentum than ensures it does not wear out its welcome, tender lyrical moments, and effective vocal ensembles.

This performance by BBC forces (70 years too late) is ideal. The mostly young cast sing ardently and with clear enunciation; Tenor Ed Lyons as Gerard (the hero) and Eleanor Dennis as Miranda (his paramour) add an attractively Mozartean light touch. Andrews’ conducting is lively and the sound quality is first rate.

The Dancing Master deserves a life on the stage; its only disadvantage may be the large orchestra required (as Arnold conceived it for radio broadcast with the BBC Symphony).

Listen on Apple Music

Composer: Arnold
Work: The Dancing Master
Performer: Eleanor Dennis s, Catherine Carby ms, Ed Lyons t, BBC Concert Orchestra/John Andrews
Label: RESONUS RES10269

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