This is a highlights disc in the Opera in English series
by Chandos sponsored by the Peter Moores Foundation.
The opera itself
ran for eighteen performances in 1863 and then lay forgotten
until after the composer’s death. It was the success of Carmen
which prompted the publishers Choudens to re-publish The
The disc under review
includes the opening prelude and all the music up to the famous
duet for Nadir and Zurga, then Nadir’s Romance, and the final
Air with chorus from Act 1; Leila’s Cavatina and the duet with
Nadir from Act 2; Zurga’s Air, his duet with Leďla and their
scene with the priest Nourabad where they prepare for their
execution, from Act 3. So, apart from the very end of the opera,
we have the main turning points of the plot represented here.
After the Prelude,
the chorus open with their songs and dances and set the festive
mood which belies the tragic nature of the opera. After they
elect Zurga as their leader, we have the return of Nadir and
the recognition scene, leading to the duet ‘Then, from the
holy shrine’ (Au fond du temple saint). This last
is not with the usual ending but the original 1863 version,
which comes as quite a surprise to those used to the more traditional
one. Both singers deliver the text with clarity, and their
voices are well matched. Barry Banks is very Italianate and
has none of the traditional ‘French’ sound. Nonetheless he gives
an elegant account of the romance with lovely poised pp
high notes in each verse. We do without the ‘traditional’ melisma
over the orchestral postlude at the end.
The final air with
chorus ‘Brahma the god’ (Oh Dieu Brahma) rounds
off the first act where the priestess Leila, while singing in
praise of the god Brahma, recognises Nadir’s voice. Rebecca
Evans takes the opening with good legato and the coloratura
in the final section is delicately placed. She has the bonus
of a real trill.
The Act 2 selection
is Leila’s Cavatina beautifully expressing her reawakened love
after hearing Nadir. He then makes his way into the enclosure
and they are reunited in a rapturous duet declaring their love
in spite of the dangers. This is sung by both singers with an
ardour fitting with the sentiments expressed.
Act 3 focuses on
Zurga’s remorse and then his anger at the events. Simon Keenlyside
uses his not inconsiderable skills to convey all the conflicting
emotions of this character. This is evident in the duet where
he begins sympathetically disposed to Leila, but changes when
he learns the true situation of her love towards Nadir. There
follows the scene where the two condemned profess their undying
love in the face of death.
There are two bonus
tracks. The first is a trio attributed to the composer Benjamin
Godard, where Nadir and Zurga sing of their love for Leila,
who accepts them both. The second is the traditional version
of the duet ‘Then, from the holy shrine’ (Au fond
du temple saint).
The orchestra play
extremely well throughout with a good sense of the French style.
Brad Cohen never allows the singers to be overwhelmed, and lets
them sing well within their capacity so they don’t have to strain
to be heard. The chorus give solid support when required and
sing with verve and energy in the opening dances. The recording
is well balanced with some attempt at perspective: offstage
singing, singers moving across the stereo image and the like.
The English translation
used here is by David Parry. It is a more modern idiomatic
translation than in my old Choudens score, but without the use
of very modern TV soap-opera style expressions. The text generally
comes across well and is, for the most part understandable,
which is a credit to the singers and the listed vocal consultant,
The extensive booklet,
as usual with these issues, has articles about the opera; a
full plot summary of the whole opera; biographies of the singers
and conductor - this last in English, French, German, and Italian.
There’s also a full English text as sung.
This is one of the
most enjoyable highlights CDs I have heard for a long while.