<< -- 2 -- Roderic Dunnett UNADULTERATED DELIGHT
You gather I admire both the performance and the work very much. This
is top-, not third-drawer Saint-Saëns. And that's only the filler.
Chandos's pairing is inspired, for the first bars of his one-act opera La
Princesse jaune whisk us straight back to Scheherazade, with
that same delightful wistfulness on the playing, from cor anglais to the
hindmost string desk. The boldly piped Chinese pentatonic melody that soon
appears catches one unawares : as if we were transfomed into little red
book-wavers singing The East is Red, or woke to find ourselves in
Turandot or Madame Butterfly, tinged with La Bohème.
And that's the point : the main character, a young Dutch artist, fantasises
and poeticises about a Japanese girl to wrench himself out of his cramping
bohemian existence. His imaginings bring him fulfilment in such a way that
he adjusts to appreciating the life and faithful girlfriend he has.
There's a gratifying role for a tenor -- here the very pleasing Carlo
Allemano [listen -- track 9, 0:55-1:55], a beautiful
lyric voice by any standards (here if anywhere is the 'fourth' tenor), and
doubtless as much a joy in Massenet, Berlioz or Duparc as here. As for the
soprano, Maria Costanza Nocentini, a former Suzanne Danco pupil, she's as
richly rewarding as he is : loving, melting, perfectly tuned, pure enchantment.
In the earlier stages Saint-Saëns manages a real Pelléas-like
charm and elusiveness, a full twenty years before Pelléas.
No wonder Debussy execrated him. And when later La Princesse jaune
goes unashamedly Italian (just listen to the main duet scene, 'ah, quel
nuage d'or' [listen -- track 10, 13:24-14:28]),
it is indeed pure gold.
This is a gorgeous opera -- 45 minutes of pure heaven -- from beginning
to end. To francophiles, I can only say touché -- a palpable
hit : hear it soon [listen -- track 10, 16:00-17:10].
Copyright © 27 January 2001
Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK
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