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Highlights from Faust and French Opera
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893) Faust (1859) - O merveille [3:45]; Le veau d’or [2:06]; Salut! Demeure chaste et pure [4:22]; Je voudrais bien savoir ... un roi de Thulé [4:27]; Ah! Je ris [3:16]; Il était temps! [2:22]; Il se fait tard .. O nuit d’amour [7:55]; Vous qui faîtes endormie [3:28]; Que voulez-vous, messieurs? [3:37]; Écoute-moi bien [4:34]; Mon Coeur est pénétre d’épouvante .. Attends, voici la rue [7:25]; Alerte! Ou vous êtes perdus! [2:54]; Philémon et Baucis (1860) – Au bruit des lourdes marteaux [3:08]; Jules MASSENET (1842-1912) Manon (1884) – J’écris àmon père ... On l’appelle Manon [4:14]; Le Jongleur de Notre-Dame (1902) Légend de la Sauge [4:15]; Ambroise THOMAS (1811-1896) Mignon (1866) Duo des hirondelles [3:50]; Georges BIZET (1863) Les Pêcheurs des Perles (1863) De mon amie fleur endormie [2:15]; Je crois entendre encore [4:39]; Del tempio al limitar [3:30]
Geraldine Farrar (soprano); Enrico Caruso (tenor); Antonio Scotti (baritone); Marcel Journet (bass)
rec. 1908-1916
NIMBUS PRIMA VOCE NI 7859 [76:01]

Experience Classicsonline



 
The extracts from Faust are the great attractions here, just as the opera itself was itself in the late nineteenth century. At that point it was probably the most performed opera in Europe. Perhaps by the time these recordings were made between 1906 and 1911 it had started its fall from this exalted position to somewhere on the outer edge of the core repertoire of most opera houses. When listening to many modern performances or recordings this fall may seem understandable, but listening to this disc makes it clear that the style of performance is crucial. Mere belting from the tenor is not enough, the bass needs to be suave and not merely powerful, and the soprano needs not just power but also the ability to make the coloratura of the Jewel Song sound convincingly joyful. It would be easy to list modern singers, even on the best of current recordings, who fail these tests. The great pleasure of this disc is to hear three singers who pass them. As a result the music springs to life.
 
I understand from the booklet notes that the singers on this disc were all experienced in their roles but never actually sang them together on the same night. That would have been an occasion indeed but it is good to have their various recordings gathered together here. Unfortunately not all of them are included, and part of the Garden scene and some other ensembles recorded at that time together with “Avant de quitter” are missing. Room could easily have been made for them by omitting some of the other French items and I have no idea why they were not included; perhaps due to the unavailability of suitable copies. Nonetheless it would be churlish to complain when such real riches are here. To be able to eavesdrop on the very best of performances which might have taken place a hundred years ago is a very special pleasure. All of the principals are ideal for their roles. Caruso’s mixture of power and ease, and his magical and idiomatic phrasing, are a glorious antidote to the crude or underpowered tenors usually heard today. Like all three of the main singers he has a forward projection of the words. Journet is even better in this respect, showing how wholly misguided is the tradition which probably stems from Chaliapin of playing Mephistopheles as almost a pantomime villain. Instead he sounds the kind of cultivated gent to whom the elderly Faust might well have responded. Only towards the end does Journet reveal the real Devil underneath. Farrar has both the requisite flexibility and the necessary dramatic power. All in all, these all-too-brief extracts do indicate just how effective the work can be given the right performers.
 
The other items are also all well worth hearing, from Journet in Vulcan’s song from Philémon et Baucis to the tenor/baritone duet from Les Pêcheurs des Perles (in Italian). By now views on the Nimbus transfer system are probably fixed beyond the possibility of change, so that I will say only that personally I have enjoyed listening to recordings of this era most when heard through a large horn on a gramophone of the time so that for me to replicate this is just about ideal. Others, I know, have very different views but surely in this case the importance of the material should make this disc essential listening even if you might have preferred a different method of transfer.
 
The booklet notes are good, without texts or translations but with brief but helpful notes on the dramatic situation in each extract, and instructive notes on the operas and the singers.
 

John Sheppard
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 


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