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Gallic Clarity

Arias by Massenet -
appreciated by

'... immeasurable lyric flair ...'

Jules Massenet: Amoureuse - Sacred and Profane Arias. © 2006 Melba Recordings

Before placing this CD in the audio tray I was filled with admiration at the production. The notes, illustrations, translations and tasteful packaging are exemplary in every respect. Rodney Milnes' (Opera editor and Times contributor) authoritative seven-page introduction to Massenet is worth the price of this CD on its own. Furthermore noted lieder accompanist Graham Johnson's appreciation-postscript is an added treasure. Illustrations, courtesy of Anne Bessand-Massenet (charged with Jules Massenet's legacy) include an engraving (1862), photograph (1888), a sketch, a portrait (Louise Massenet) and three posters (1901, 1905, 1906). Such an embarrassment of riches!

All this together with Mr Bonynge's notes, Mary Ryan's song translations and Alessandro Servadei's design-layout set a benchmark before I'd even heard British-born Rosemary Illing in the opening track; Saint Thérèse Prie (1902), a glorious oratorio solo in which the saint sings about her total adoration of the risen Jesus [listen -- track 1, 2:23-3:26].

So, how do these 1998 performances (average duration 3'97") shape up? Qualities bespeaking the 'zeitgeist' that dramatist Romain Rolland (1866-1944) characterized as 'a Slumbering Massenet in the heart of every subsequent French composer' become evident through Ms Illing's considered singing. Indeed she brings expressive Gallic clarity and immeasurable lyric flair to each of the nineteen tracks, many of them seldom (if ever) heard by a majority of music lovers. And while the genre is rather unlike her work at Glyndebourne and with Welsh National Opera she seems at ease and at home with this repertory.

For his part, Richard Bonynge is arguably the foremost living conductor of French opera, of Handel's operas, and of the Italians (Verdi, Donizetti, Bellini, Bononcini, Leoncavallo etc). I was not at all surprised to find he brings out the inexhaustible niceties and nuances within Massenet's divinely crafted manuscripts.

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Copyright © 6 January 2008 Howard Smith, Masterton, New Zealand


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