Michael W. Balfe: A Unique Victorian Composer


Basil Walsh

For 35 years from the premier of The Seige of Rochelle in 1835, Michael William Balfe was the most important operatic composer in Victorian Britain. This definitive biography took seven years of research and documents the man, his work, his descendants, his legacy, and his influence.

ISBN: 9780716529484 Categories: , ,


Michael William Balfe (1808-1870), rose to fame in London in 1835 immediately after the premiere of his first opera, The Siege of Rochelle. For the next 35 years, this unique Dublin-born musician was destined to be the most important operatic composer in Victorian Britain.

He was to music in Victorian Britain what his renowned contemporary, Charles Dickens, was to literature. The popularity of their respected works reached far beyond London, Dublin, and New York, in the English speaking world.

Balfe also personally achieved great success in places such as Paris, Vienna, Berlin, Bologna, Palermo, Trieste, and St Petersburg. In all, he composed 28 operatic works over his lifetime. However, when his French, Italian, and German language versions are added, he actually can be credited with 43 operas. For over 50 years, his opera, The Bohemian Girl, swept around the globe with great success, having been translated into many different languages.

This definitive biography – now in paperback – took seven years of international research and is long overdue. It corrects many anecdotal errors of previous books. It documents Balfe the man, his work, his descendants, his legacy, and his influence.

The biography unearths many new facts about this important Victorian composer, his music, his family, and his role as a music director at London’s Italian Opera House, where he directed the local premieres of several Verdi operas. It lists all of his operas with premiere casts and the principal arias. It also identifies the current location of all known Balfe’s scores and music, including his early Italian compositions, which have been deemed ‘lost’ by most scholars.

Table of Contents


List of Illustrations

Foreward by Richard Bonynge



  1. Dublin and London – background and beginnings 1808-1825
  2. France and Italy – singer and composer 1825-1831
  3. Milan and Venice – with Maria Malibran 1832-1837
  4. London – Balfe operatic composer 1835-1837
  5. London and Dublin – more operas 1838-1841
  6. Paris (Opéra Comique) and London 1842-1846
  7. Paris (The Opéra), London and new operas 1844-1846
  8. London (Lind and Verdi), Dublin, Frankfurt and Berlin 1847-1861
  9. The Final Years 1861-1874


I.) France and Italy – Operas sung by Balfe

II.) Italian stage – opera premieres, dates and casts; librettos and scores

III.) London stage – opera premieres, dates and casts; librettos and scores

IV.) French stage – opera premieres, dates and casts; librettos and scores

V.) German language opera premieres and dates; librettos and scores

VI.) Integrated chronology of opera premieres – Italian, English, French & German

VII.) Singers who performed in Balfe operas and their roles

VIII.) Balfe as Musical Director at the Italian Opera, Her Majesty’s Theatre London – operas conducted, dates and casts (1846-1852)

IX.) Selected other (40) little known musical compositions and the background

X.) Discography of recordings

XI.) Composers who were Balfe contemporaries

XII.) Balfe’s circle of friends and associates

XIII.) Balfe’s family tree

Selected Bibliography

General Index

About the Author

Basil Walsh is an author and writer on nineteenth-century opera. He was born in Dublin and has lived most of his life in Florida. Catherine Hayes – The Hibernian Prima Donna was published by Irish Academic Press in 2000. He has also contributed to various other publications, encyclopedias and journals in the USA and Europe.