Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Recordings

Pan-European Orpheus : Julian Prégardien

"Orpheus I am!" - An unusual but very well chosen collection of songs, arias and madrigals from the 17th century, featuring Julian Prégardien and Teatro del mondo. Devised by Andreas Küppers, this collection crosses boundaries demonstrating how Italian, German, French and English contemporaries responded to the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice.

Laci Boldemann’s Opera Black Is White, Said the Emperor

We normally think of operas as being serious or comical. But a number of operas-some familiar, others forgotten-are neither of these. Instead, they are fantastical, dealing with such things as the fairy world and sorcerers, or with the world of dreams.

The Devil, Greed, War, and Simple Goodness: Ostrčil’s Jack’s Kingdom

Here is a little-known opera that, like an opera by the Swedish composer Laci Boldemann that I have reviewed here, and like Ravel’s amazing L’enfant et les sortilèges, utterly bypasses the usual categories of comic and grand/tragic by cultivating instead the rich realm of fantasy and folk tale.

Grands motets de Lalande

Majesté, a new recording by Le Poème Harmonique, led by Vincent Dumestre, of music by Michel-Richard de Lalande (1657-1726) new from Alpha Classics. Le Poème Harmonique are regular visitors to London, appreciated for the variety of their programes. On Friday this week, (11/5) they'll be at St John's Smith Square as part of the London Festival of Baroque, with a programme titled "At the World's Courts".

Perpetual Night - Early English Baroque, Ensemble Correspondances

New from Harmonia Mundi, Perpetual Night. a superb recording of ayres and songs from the 17th century, by Ensemble Correspondances with Sébastien Daucé and Lucile Richardot. Ensemble Correspondances are among the foremost exponents of the music of Versailles and the French royalty, so it's good to hear them turn to the music of the Stuart court.

Maria Callas: Tosca 1964: A film by Holger Preusse

When I reviewed Tosca at Covent Garden in January this year for Opera Today, Maria Callas’s 1964 Royal Opera House performance was still fresh in my mind. This is a recording I have grown up with and which, despite its flaws, is one of the greatest operatic statements - a glorious production which Zeffirelli finally agreed to staging, etched in gothic black and white film (albeit just Act II), with Maria Callas and Tito Gobbi, if not always as vocally commanding as they once were, acting out their roles like no one has before, or since.

Hubert Parry and the birth of English Song

British music would not be where it is today without the influence of Charles Hubert Parry. His large choral and orchestral works are well known, and his Jerusalem is almost the national anthem. But in the centenary of his death, we can re-appraise his role in the birth of modern British song.

Camille Saint-Saens: Mélodies avec orchestra

Saint-Saëns Mélodies avec orchestra with Yann Beuron and Tassis Christoyannis with the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana conducted by Markus Poschner.

Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV recreated at Versailles

Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV, with Ensemble Pygmalion, conducted by Raphaël Pichon now on DVD/Blu -ray from Harmonia Mundi. This captures the historic performance at the Chapelle Royale de Versailles in November 2015, on the 300th anniversary of the King's death.

Tenebræ Responsories
recording by Stile Antico

Tomas Luis de Victoria’s Tenebrae Responsories are designed to occupy the final three days of Holy Week, and contemplate the themes of loss, betrayal and death that dominate the Easter week. As such, the Responsories demand a sense of darkness, reflection and depth that this new recording by Stile Antico - at least partially - captures.

Mahler Symphony no 9, Daniel Harding SRSO

Mahler Symphony no 9 in D major, with Daniel Harding conducting the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, new from Harmonia Mundi. A rewarding performance on many levels, not least because it's thoughtfully sculpted, connecting structure to meaning.

A Splendid Italian Spoken-Dialogue Opera: De Giosa’s Don Checco

Never heard of Nicola De Giosa (1819-85), a composer who was born in Bari (a town on the Adriatic, near the heel of Italy), but who spent most of his career in Naples? Me, neither!

Winterreise by Mark Padmore

Schubert's Winterreise is almost certainly the most performed Lieder cycle in the repertoire. Thousands of performances and hundreds of recordings ! But Mark Padmore and Kristian Bezuidenhout's recording for Harmonia Mundi is proof of concept that the better the music the more it lends itself to re-discovery and endless revelation.

The Epic of Gilgamesh - Bohuslav Martinů

New recording of the English version of Bohuslav Martinů's The Epic of Gilgamesh, from Supraphon, the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Manfred Honeck. This is the world premiere recording of the text in English, the original language in which it was written.

Maybe the Best L’heure espagnole Yet

The new recording, from Munich, has features in common with one from Stuttgart that I greatly enjoyed and reviewed here: the singers are all native French-speakers, the orchestra is associated with a German radio channel, we are hearing an actual performance (or in this case an edited version from several performances, in April 2016), and the recording is released by the orchestra itself or its institutional parent.

Stéphanie d’Oustrac in Two Exotic Masterpieces by Maurice Ravel

The two works on this CD make an apt and welcome pair. First we have Ravel’s sumptuous three-song cycle about the mysteries of love and fantasies of exotic lands. Then we have his one-act opera that takes place in a land that, to French people at the time, was beckoningly exotic, and whose title might be freely translated “The Nutty and Delightful Things That Can Happen in Spain in Just One Hour”.

Stefano Secco: Crescendo

I had never heard of Stefano Secco before receiving this CD. But I see that, at age 34, he already has had a substantial career, singing major roles at important houses throughout Europe and, while I was not paying attention, occasionally in the US.

French orientalism : songs and arias, Sabine Devieilhe

Mirages : visions of the exotic East, a selection of French opera arias and songs from Sabine Devieilhe, with Alexandre Tharaud and Les Siècles conducted by François-Xavier Roth, new from Erato

Hans Werner Henze Choral Music

Hans Werner Henze works for mixed voice and chamber orchestra with SWR Vokalensemble and Ensemble Modern, conducted by Marcus Creed. Welcome new recordings of important pieces like Lieder von einer Insel (1964), Orpheus Behind the Wire (1984) plus Fünf Madrigale (1947).

Bettina Smith, Norwegian Mezzo, in Songs by Fauré and Debussy

Here are five complete song sets by two of the greatest masters of French song. The performers are highly competent. I should have known, given the rave reviews that their 2015 recording of modern Norwegian songs received.

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):