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<<  -- 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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