Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Recordings

A Baroque Christmas from Harmonia Mundi

A baroque Christmas from Harmonia Mundi, this year’s offering in their acclaimed Christmas series. Great value for money - four CDs of music so good that it shouldn’t be saved just for Christmas. The prize here, though is the Pastorale de Noël by Marc-Antoine Charpentier with Ensemble Correspondances, with Sébastien Daucé, highly acclaimed on its first release just a few years ago.

Christmas at St George’s Windsor

Christmas at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, with the Choir of St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, James Vivian, organist and conductor. New from Hyperion, this continues their series of previous recordings with this Choir. The College of St George, founded in 1348, is unusual in that it is a Royal Peculiar, a parish under the direct jurisdiction of the monarch, rather than the diocese.

From Darkness into Light: Antoine Brumel’s Complete Lamentations of Jeremiah for Good Friday

As a musicologist, particularly when working in the field of historical documents, one is always hoping to discover that unknown score, letter, household account book - even a shopping list or scribbled memo - which will reveal much about the composition, performance or context of a musical work which might otherwise remain embedded within or behind the inscrutable walls of the past.

Time and Space: Songs by Holst and Vaughan Williams

New from Albion, Time and Space: Songs by Holst and Vaughan Williams, with Mary Bevan, Roderick Williams, William Vann and Jack Liebeck, highlighting the close personal relationship between the two composers.

Puccini's Le Willis: a fine new recording from Opera Rara

The 23-year-old Giacomo Puccini was still three months from the end of his studies at the Conservatoire in Milan when, in April 1883, he spotted an announcement of a competition for a one-act opera in Il teatro illustrato, a journal was published by Edoardo Sonzogno, the Italian publisher of Bizet's Carmen.

Liszt: O lieb! – Lieder and Mélodie

O Lieb! presents the lieder of Franz Liszt with a distinctive spark from Cyrille Dubois and Tristan Raës, from Aparté. Though young, Dubois is very highly regarded. His voice has a luminous natural elegance, ideal for the Mélodie and French operatic repertoire he does so well. With these settings by Franz Liszt, Dubois brings out the refinement and sophistication of Liszt’s approach to song.

The Academy of Ancient Music's superb recording of Handel's Brockes-Passion

The Academy of Ancient Music’s new release of Handel’s Brockes-Passion - recorded around the AAM's live performance at the Barbican Hall on the 300th anniversary of the first performance in 1719 - combines serious musicological and historical scholarship with vibrant musicianship and artistry.

Vaughan Williams: The Song of Love

From Albion, The Song of Love featuring songs by Ralph Vaughan Williams, with Kitty Whately, Roderick Williams and pianist William Vann. Albion is unique, treasured by Vaughan Williams devotees for rarely heard repertoire from the composer’s vast output, so don’t expect mass market commercial product. Albion recordings often highlight new perspectives.

A new recording of Henze’s Das Floß der Medusa

Henze’s Das Floß der Medusa is in some ways a work with a troubled and turbulent history. It is defined by the time in which it was written – 1968 – a period of student protest throughout central Europe. Its first performance was abandoned because the Hamburg chorus refused to perform under the Red Flag which had been placed on stage; and Henze himself decided he wouldn’t conduct it at all after police stormed the concert hall to remove protesters, among them the librettist Ernst Schnabel.

Berthold Goldschmidt: Beatrice Cenci, Bregenzer Festspiele

Berthold Goldschmidt’s Beatrice Cenci at last on DVD, from the Bregenzer Festspiele in 2018, with Johannes Debus conducting the Wiener Symphoniker, directed by Johannes Erath, and sung in German translation.

Sandrine Piau: Si j’ai aimé

Sandrine Piau and Le Concert de la Loge (Julien Chauvin), Si j’ai aimé, an eclectic collection of mélodies demonstrating the riches of French orchestral song. Berlioz, Duparc and Massenet are included, but also Saint-Saëns, Charles Bordes, Gabriel Pierné, Théodore Dubois, Louis Vierne and Benjamin Godard.

The VOCES8 Foundation is launched at St Anne & St Agnes

Where might you hear medieval monophony by the late 12th-century French composer Pérotin, Renaissance polyphony by William Byrd, a vocal arrangement of the stirring theme from Sibelius’s tone poem Finlandia, alongside a newly commissioned work, ‘Vertue’ (2019) by Jonathan Dove, followed by an arrangement of the Irish folksong ‘Danny Boy’ and a snappy rendition of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s ‘One Note Samba’ arr. for eight voices by Naomi Crellin, all within 90 minutes?

Gerald Finzi Choral Works

From Hyperion, Gerald Finzi choral works with the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, conducted by Stephen Layton. An impressive Magnificat (1952) sets the tone.

Herbert Howells: Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge has played a role in the evolution of British music. This recording honours this heritage and Stephen Cleobury’s contribution in particular by focusing on Herbert Howells, who transformed the British liturgical repertoire in the 20th century.

Mieczysław Weinberg: Symphony no. 21 (“Kaddish”)

Mieczysław Weinberg witnessed the Holocaust firsthand. He survived, though millions didn’t, including his family. His Symphony no. 21 “Kaddish” (Op. 152) is a deeply personal statement. Yet its musical qualities are such that they make it a milestone in modern repertoire.

Kenshiro Sakairi and the Tokyo Juventus Philharmonic in Mahler’s Eighth

Although some works by a number of composers have had to wait uncommonly lengthy periods of time to receive Japanese premieres - one thinks of both Mozart’s Jupiter and Beethoven’s Fifth (1918), Handel’s Messiah (1929), Wagner’s Parsifal (1967), Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette (1966) and even Bruckner’s Eighth (1959, given its premiere by Herbert von Karajan) - Mahler might be considered to have fared somewhat better.

Lise Davidsen sings Wagner and Strauss

Superlatives to describe Lise Davidsen’s voice have been piling up since she won Placido Domingo’s 2015 Operalia competition, blowing everyone away. She has been called “a voice in a million” and “the new Kirsten Flagstad.”

Nicky Spence and Julius Drake record The Diary of One Who Disappeared

From Hyperion comes a particularly fine account of Leoš Janáček’s song cycle The Diary of One Who Disappeared. Handsome-voiced Nicky Spence is the young peasant who loses his head over an alluring gypsy and is never seen again.

Jean Sibelius: Kullervo

Why did Jean Sibelius suppress Kullervo (Op. 7, 1892)? There are many theories why he didn’t allow it to be heard after its initial performances, though he referred to it fondly in private. This new recording, from Hyperion with Thomas Dausgaard conducting the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, soloists Helena Juntunen and Benjamin Appl and the Lund Male Chorus, is a good new addition to the ever-growing awareness of Kullervo, on recording and in live performance.

Mahler: Titan, Eine Tondichtung in Symphonieform – François-Xavier Roth, Les Siècles

Not the familiar version of Mahler's Symphony no 1, but the “real” Mahler Titan at last, as it might have sounded in Mahler's time! François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles present the symphony in its second version, based on the Hamburg/Weimar performances of 1893-94. This score is edited by Reinhold Kubik and Stephen E.Hefling for Universal Edition AG. Wien.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

Edmond Audran: La Mascotte
27 Aug 2005

AUDRAN: La Mascotte

Chances are the world of opera bouffe is somewhat foreign to most listeners. Many may know one or two operettas by Offenbach - La Perichole, perhaps, or La belle Helene and a large number of melodies from various of his works collected for the ballet Gaite parisienne. But this extensive body of works from the last quarter of the nineteenth-century is infrequently performed, and, apart from the occasional aria heard on an inventively programmed recital, the repertory today is heard about more than it is heard. The names Audran or Lecoq are largely unknown, despite their having been very popular in this country at the end of the nineteenth century. (Maurice Grau brought many French productions to New York during the 1870s and 1880s, and the operettas, sung in French, were quite popular. Productions in the original language allowed the retention of the racy dialogue and numerous double entendres - most of which would have been unacceptable in English -- so typical of these works.)

Edmond Audran: La Mascotte
Livret by Alfred Duru and Henri Chivot; adapted by Max de Rieux.

Genevieve Moizan, Robert Massard, Lucien Baroux,Denise Cauchard, Bernard Alvi, et al. Orchestra and chorus conducted by Robert Benedetti.

Accord ACRD4658772 [2CDs]

 

The relative disappearance of the genre, also due in part to the rage for Gilbert and Sullivan that began in 1878, is too bad, for as this CD reissue of a 1956 mono recording of Edmond Audran's La mascotte demonstrates, the joys of the genre are many. They may not be to everyone's taste, but they are joys nonetheless. For several reasons, however, this may not be the set to serve as an introduction.

To begin with, because the recording was first made almost 50 years ago, the sound is not what most listeners are used to, and the ear has to make some adjustments. For those of us who grew up with recordings from the 1950s and 1960s, the sound is almost nostalgic; for anyone else, it will more likely prove unsatisfying. The remixing is excellent, as are the performances, but it all - especially the orchestra -- still sounds like it is being performed in a can. The highs border on distortion and the lows are rather shallow, and an overall tinniness is at times inescapable.

Second, the accompanying booklet is in French with no translation provided. Anyone with an intermediate ability in the language (and a dictionary) should be able to negotiate it with little difficulty, although the plot analysis uses a few idiomatic expressions that might give pause. The booklet also does not provide the text for the work, only a plot synopsis, a list of the numbers with titles, characters, and track indicators, and a brief biography of Audran. Understanding the sung and rapidly spoken French is somewhat more challenging than getting through the booklet, and much of the humor will be lost on listeners with only modest skills in the language.

Still, the performance is infectious, possibly indicating why the work is, according to Andrew Lamb, Audran's "most lastingly successful operetta." The plot is simple enough to follow but convoluted enough to provide the necessary opportunities for farce and amusing ensembles. "Une mascotte" refers to a person who serves as a good luck charm, and Bettina, a keeper of turkeys (really), possesses this gift. Rocco, the owner of a small farm, is afflicted with bad luck ("avoir la guigne"), and his brother brings Bettina to him, hoping to make things better. Meanwhile, Pippo, Rocco's shepherd, falls in love with Bettina and Laurent XVII, Prince of Piombino, who is having his own run of bad luck, decides to appropriate Bettina for his own "mascotte." And on it goes, eventually winding up in an Italian inn and also involving Fritellini, the Prince of Pisa, and many others. It is all very silly, very spirited, and very French. And very tuneful.

Among the numbers, one is perhaps somewhat better known than the rest. The duet for Bettina and Pippo, "J'aime bien mes dindons" ("I like my turkeys"), seems to have become especially popular, perhaps because of the barnyard noises made by Bettina to intensify her point. But the vaudeville finales are all delightful, that for the first act utilizing bells to demonstrate the ringing indicated by the title "on sonne" ("it rings"). Like its Gilbert and Sullivan counterpart, the French operetta also favored the patter, or character, song for a mature comedian, and this work has several wonderful examples. Most are performed by Lucien Baroux, who sounds as if he was the French equivalent of Martyn Green. His first act couplets are particularly amusing, appropriating as they do the old gag of another singer providing the high notes at the end of a verse. (The second time, Baroux provides his own, which are even funnier than the substitution gag.) The music for Bettina is full of charm and occasional coloratura, and Genvieve Moizan performs it with confidant charm. Her high notes are exemplary, especially considering the quality of the recording, and it's not hard to imagine her a delightful Olympia in Les contes d'Hoffman. (She also does a nice turkey impersonation.) Full of waltzes, character songs, and sparkling ensembles, the score is a wonderful potpourri of styles representative of the genre, and it is performed with great elan by the cast, all of whom seem to be specialists.

This recording is one in a series of French operettas reissued by Accord. (They are listed on the CD box.) If it is representative of the collection, they are all wonderful performances recorded in what now seems substandard sound quality. If listeners are already familiar with the genre and have a good working knowledge of French, the series will be a treasure despite the sound. If a listener doesn't know the genre and doesn't understand or read French, the joys may remain a mystery.

In short, highly recommended, but probably not for everyone.

Jim Lovensheimer, Ph.D.
Blair School of Music, Vanderbilt University

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):