Michael William Balfe (15 May 1808 – 20 October 1870) was an Irish composer, best-remembered for his opera The Bohemian Girl.
After a short career as a violinist, Balfe pursued an operatic singing career, while he began to compose. In a career spanning more than 40 years, he composed 38 operas, almost 250 songs and other works. He was also a noted conductor, directing Italian Opera at Her Majesty's Theatre for seven years, among other conducting posts.
Balfe was born in Dublin, where his musical gifts became apparent at an early age. The only instruction he received was from his father, who was a dancing master and violinist. His family moved to Wexford when he was a child. Between 1814 and 1815, Balfe played the violin for his father's dancing-classes, and at the age of seven composed a polacca.
Early life and career
In 1817 he appeared as a violinist in public, and in this year composed a ballad, first called "Young Fanny" and afterwards, when sung in Paul Pry by Madame Vestris, "The Lovers' Mistake". In 1823, upon the death of his father, the teenaged Balfe moved to London and was engaged as a violinist in the orchestra of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. He eventually became the leader of that orchestra. While there, he studied with C. E. Horn, the organist at St. George's Chapel, Windsor (1786—1840).
As a young man, Balfe pursued a career as an opera singer. He debuted unsuccessfully at Norwich in Carl Maria von Weber's Der Freischütz. In 1825, Count Mazzara took him to Rome for vocal and musical studies and introduced him to Luigi Cherubini. Balfe also pursued composing: in Italy, he wrote his first dramatic work, a ballet, La Perouse. He became a protégée of Rossini's, and at the close of 1827, he appeared as Figaro in The Barber of Seville at the Italian opera in Paris.
Balfe soon returned to Italy, where he was based for the next eight years, singing and composing several operas. He met Maria Malibran while singing at the Paris Opera during this period. In 1829 in Bologna, Balfe composed his first cantata for the soprano Giulia Grisi, then 18 years old. She performed it with the tenor Francesco Pedrazzi with much success. Balfe produced his first complete opera, I rivali di se stessi, at Palermo in the carnival season of 1829—1830.
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