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Bonynge returns to pure opera with 'Il est doux, il est bon' from Hérodiade (1881). Now Ms Iling plays Salomé; though a very different character from that of Wilde/Richard Strauss, 24 years later. Massenet's libretto derives from the last of Trois Contes by Gustave Flaubert; source of a suitably benign Salomé -- no overt bloodlust here, merely fascination for the scruffy 'desert' prophet.

Melba Recordings skips Manon (1884); instead the company includes two items ((1) 'Plus de tourments' and (2) 'Pleurez mes yeux?') from Le Cid, launched the following year (1885). In the first item Illing sings as the Spanish infanta and secondly as Chimène, a more dramatic role.

A lion's share of Amoureuse goes to the lyrical five-act opera Sapho (1897) with four arias totaling a whopping fifteen minutes. Alphonse Daudet's story tells of the passionate yet abortive affair between Fanny Legrand; model with a chequered past (also known as Sapho) and the more youthful, callow young man, Jean Gaussin. These songs are spaced throughout the opera; they are 'Ce que j'appelle beau', 'Ah vous avez parlé', 'Solitude-demain, je partirai' and (at the final curtain) 'Vais-je rester ici?'

In 'Ce que j'appelle beau' [listen -- track 11, 0:00-0:50] hear how Massenet's scoring supports the soloist; echoing her opening lyrics, then prefacing her; this is operatic writing of the consummate musician. Listen for Illing's chilling expression of vituperative anger in the final stanza of 'Ah vous avez parlé; then her resignation and acceptance throughout the gently romantic 'Vais-je rester ici'. Music to live with and no mistake.

Grisélidis (1901) and Chérubin (1905) reveal the magic of Massenet at its zenith; the former is based on a medieval story of the Devil's temptations while Chérubin (Francis de Croisset and Henri Cain after Beaumarchais) takes off where Mozart left his scatty Cherubino (Marriage of Figaro), 127 years earlier. Legendary Aberdeen soprano Mary Garden (1874-1967) sang the title role for the Chérubin première in Monte Carlo.

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


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