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The PG-rated erotic title song, Amoureuse (1898) [listen -- track 2, 2:01-3:01], originally for voice and piano, expresses promises of total submission and pleasure -- 'forget the universe' the lyrics implore, I am yours alone.

By comparison listen to Illing float and lighten her voice in the exquisitely scored 'Je vais bientôt quitter' from La Grand' Tante (1867) first heard at the Opéra Comique [listen -- track 3, 0:45-1:35]. Orchestral parts for this were lost during the opera fire of 1887; so the scoring was resurrected in Australia by Brian Castles-Onion.

When writing oratorios, did Massenet prefer examples of quasi-erotic religiosity or quasi-religious erocticism? D'indy decided the latter. Whatever the case these performances suggest a middle course with no mistaking librettist Louis Gallet's strict adherence to the scriptural sequence of Easter events in a four-act oratorio such as Marie Magdeleine, Massenet's first (1873). None of that sexuality is present here; Illing presents the item as a serene expression of supplication.

'O nuit' from Eve (1875) [listen -- track 5, 0:00-0:55] is again from the pen of Gallet. Set in The Garden of Eden, here's a gentle paean to the beauty of the night. After hearing Eve, fellow countryman Charles Gounod (1818-1893) said of Massenet; 'The heavens have marked you with the sign of the children of God. I feel this in everything your beautiful work stirred in my heart'.

Grandiloquent poet Charles Grandmougin wrote of the widening gulf separating the earthly Virgin from her heavenly Son in a dramatic 'O Mon fils' from the unsuccessful La Vierge (1880) and in 'Rêve infini' from the same work, the Virgin Mary casts her thoughts to Paradise.

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


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