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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

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Gustave CHARPENTIER (1860 - 1956)
Louise (abridged)

Louise - Ninon Vallin (soprano)
Julien - Georges Thill (tenor)
Le Père - André Pernet (baritone)
La Mère - Aimée Lecouvreur (mezzo-soprano)
Irma - Christiane Gaudel
Le Choeurs Raugel and Orchestra Paris/ Eugène Bigot
Recorded 28/10/1935 - 13/11/1935
Specifically abridged for this recording with the cooperation and consent of the composer
Gustave CHARPENTIER (1860 - 1956) - La voix de la nuit (Julien)
Maurice Dutreix (tenor)
NAXOS 8.110225 [74.38]

In its pre-war recording history, Charpentier's 'Louise' has been relatively lucky. There is a live recording of the complete opera from the Met with Grace Moore in the title role, conducted by Beecham, recorded in 1943. Moore also recorded a film of the opera (much shortened to 69 minutes) in 1938, directed by Abel Gance and with Georges Thill as Julien. Thill reappears as Julien on this earlier recording of the opera. Made in 1935, with Ninon Vallin as Louise it was conducted by Eugène Bigot. Again it is shortened, but with the aid of the composer. This version concentrates on Louise, Julien and Louise's father. Neither Louise's mother nor the crowds get much of a look in. The effect is to create a reasonably concentrated drama, but you lose the sense that it is Paris herself who is one of the stars of the opera.

Where this set scores, is of course in its glimpse of a lost tradition of French performance of French opera. Whilst we must regret that the complete 'Louise' was not recorded we can surely be thankful that so much of the opera was committed to disc.

'Louise' is in many ways a remarkable opera. Though premiered in 1900 it can reasonably be considered the first 20th century opera. With its working class milieu, its lively, free-spirited heroine, her troubled relationship with her parents and the issues of domestic violence, it encapsulates many themes that would be developed in the 20th century. You could image large sections of the story being set, in an expressionist manner, by someone like Schreker. But this working class heroine is not linked to expressionist or serialist German music, but to the glorious world of late 19th century French opera. The opera is forever associated with Mary Garden who made her debut in the role of 'Louise' early on in the first run of the opera. She caused a sensation, possibly because the free-spirited heroine was so similar to her own personality. It is to be regretted that more of her interpretation was not captured on disc.

Ninon Vallin was a soprano who sang mezzo-roles such as Carmen and Charlotte. As Louise she is vibrant and earthy. She creates a believable, feisty heroine and her version of 'Depuis le jour' is robust and urgent. She does not sing it with the exquisite, floated tone that we have become accustomed to when the aria is done as a soprano show piece. But her interpretation fits her conception of the role and commentators have pointed out that it has much in common with Mary Garden's late recordings (they were issued on Romophone in 1994).

As Julien, Georges Thill is seductive and thrilling. His sort of heroic French tenor has become virtually extinct and only in recordings like this can we experience something of the power and the passion that he brought to the role.

The only other major soloist to be featured on this recording is Andre Pernet as Louise's father. His is a wonderfully warm, rounded portrait, creating a believable character, rather than a ranting villain. But he and Vallin still make sparks fly during their row in the final scene.

There is one extra item on this disc, a performance by Maurice Dutreix of an aria from 'Julien', Charpentier's follow-up to 'Louise'. This never had the success of 'Louise' so it is all the more welcome to have the tantalising historic fragment.

If you love 'Louise' then you will want this recording as a record of a lost performance tradition. But if you are looking for a complete recording of 'Louise' then the recommendation must still be Fournet's 1956 recording from the Opera Comique with Berthe Momart and André Laroze.

Robert Hugill



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