Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

© ErN 2, Jeff Matthews   entry Mar 2008

I Dreamt that I Dwellt in Marble Halls

contains audio                             

I didn't set out to do this; it just dropped into my lap. I was not searching for evidence that St. Patrick drove the snakes out of Naples or anything like that. (They are still all over the place.) I was merely idling my search engine on St. Patrick's Day and came across a list of Irish flautist James Galway's Five Favorites for the Day. My eye ran down the list—with me struggling to keep up—and saw the song "I dreamt that I dwelt in Marble Halls." Hah, I thought, I know that song!—or at least used to. I had stored it many years ago way back on a dusty memory shelf reserved for sentimental 19th-century songs on the order of Believe Me, if all those endearing young charms and Drink to me only with thine eyes. But I had really known nothing about the song, itself. I clicked on the link and heard a lovely rendition by Irish singer, Enya. (Audio link, below.)

(So far, nothing, but then the chain of pseudo-connectivity for which I hope to become infamous started to link together like all those bits and pieces of liquid metal that make up bad-guy cyborg, Robert Patrick, in Terminator 2.)

"I dreamt that I dwelt in Marble Halls" is from an opera named The Bohemian Girl composed in 1844 by Irish composer Michael Balfe (1808-1870). He was a prolific composer, writing the music for over 20 operas with libretti in English, French and Italian. The Bohemian Girl seems to be the one work he is remembered for; it has been translated into other languages and is loosely based on a tale by Cervantes, La Gitanilla.  It is remembered largely for that one song, which occurs in act II. (The Bohemian Girl is also the source of the great 1936 Laurel & Hardy film of that name.) With a little help from memory and even more from the internet, the first stanza goes:              

Link to an an audio segment performed by Enya.

I dreamt that I dwelt in marble halls,
With vassals and serfs at my side,
And of all who assembled within those walls,
That I was the hope and the pride.
I had riches too great to count,
Could boast of a high ancestral name;
But I also dreamt, which pleased me most,
That you lov'd me still the same...

(English theatrical manager Alfred Bunn is credited with the libretto for the opera, so I assume that he wrote the text of the song/aria.) Balfe (I am not sure of the pronunciation of his name; I am guessing that it rhymes with "Ralph") travelled widely and worked in Italy and France. In the late 1820s, Balfe went to Paris, where he made the acquaintance of Rossini, who by that time in his life had moved to France. Now —link, link, link— Balfe also had a pleasant baritone voice and a modest career on the operatic stage. Somehow—maybe he and Rossini went out drinking together—Balfe wound up singing the role of Figaro in Rossini's The Barber of Seville, presented at the Italian Opera in Paris in 1827. The Barber of Seville, of course, was composed by Rossini in 1816 in Naples. I rest my case!


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