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05 Aug 2005
BIZET: Les Pecheurs de Perles
Bizet's youthful masterpiece is notoriously difficult to stage. Up to now I have not seen a production which is not slightly ridiculous. So it is an ideal opera for a concert performance or a listening experience. If you are looking for an authentic performance this is not the one to go for.
The orchestra is somewhat thin sounding and so is the chorus. Conductor Bruno Rivoli (whose name is printed in the smallest letter possible on the back) has some strange ideas concerning tempi at the start of the opera (the faster the better) until Alfredo Kraus makes his entrance and then Mr. Rivoli gladly follows the experienced guide. There is no libretto included and for those wishing to brush up their French this is not the course to follow. The chorus has no inkling what it is singing and Vicente Sardinero grunts a lot of sounds that vaguely resembles French. Therefore this set is strictly for the fans of the three principal singers and it must be said they will not be disillusioned.
The main attraction of course is tenor Alfredo Kraus whose picture is on the cover though he is at least twenty years younger on it than he was at the time of the performance. Still the voice after a career of 26 years had the youthful sheen which at the end of the eighties would gradually disappear. Kraus is the only singer with perfect French and he is his stylish self though with a few reservations which definitely won't put off his fans as he is playing a home match and not recording a set for the international market he is not too much concerned with note values. Each high note is kept a second longer than necessary though he doesn't make a circus spectacle of this facility. He makes his entrance with a blazing unwritten high C and he keeps up the good works all along .There is in my opinion something lacking in this performance: charm and sweetness. Take the big aria " Je crois entendre encore ". The voice is a little too stiff, too unwieldy to lead us into the land of his dreams. There is no morbidezza in this song which can be found so abundantly in Alain Vanzo's interpretations. Moreover Kraus' attacks on the high notes are always fortissimo, then gradually declining into piano and this makes the aria more of a robust love song than a dream. Of course the moment determination has to be shown his approach works magnificently as in the duet " Ton coeur n'a compris le mien ".
Mariella Devia is a fine Leila — young sounding (and not old as Jeanine Micheau did on the historic set with Gedda) or too thin as with Ileana Cotrubas on the later EMI-set though that lady has a bit more charm than the Italian soprano. Devia's middle register is not very distinct but of course the voice takes flight from middle G on. Baritone Vicente Sardinero mixes up Bizet with Mascagni. There is no elegance in his delivery like Blanc or Massard gave us but there is no denying the fully rounded sound he brings with him. Bass Giovanni Foiani is a deluxe Nourabad in a role which is often weakly cast. Indeed I always wondered why he didn't have a bigger career.
As told, this is not an authentic performance of the score though I take the heretic view that hundred and fifty years of tradition cannot be wiped away as some seasoned performers probably recognized better the beauties of the opera than did 25-year old Bizet himself. The hit of the piece " Au fond du temple sain " is given the traditional reprise of the main theme after the short quarrel between Nadir and Zurga instead of the somewhat clumsy melody Bizet wrote. And I still think that Benjamin Godard's trio " O lumiere sainte " (magnificently sung here) is a more impressive way to conclude the opera than Bizet's own ideas.