Bellissimo - French Opera
Antonio SALIERI (1750 - 1825)
Les Danaïdes
1. Par les larmes dont votre fille [2:38]
Montserrat Caballé (soprano), Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma della RAI/Gianluigi Gelmetti
Giacomo MEYERBEER (1791 - 1864)
Les Huguenots
2. O beau pays [5:39]
Desirée Rancatore (soprano), Orchestre Internazionale d’Italia/Renato Palumbo
Charles GOUNOD (1818 - 1893)
La Reine de Saba
3. Faiblesse de la race humaine [6:05]
Jean-Won Lee (tenor), Orchestre Internazionale d’Italia/Manlio Benzi
Jules MASSENET (1842 - 1912)
4. Prelude to Act III [3:51]
5. Je vais la voir ... Soir admirable [4:28]
Warren Mok (tenor), Orchestre Internazionale d’Italia/Marco Guidarini
6. Nina! Chérubin! [9:26]
Carmela Remigio (soprano), Michelle Breedt (mezzo), Orchestra of the Teatro Lirico di Cagliari/Emmanuel Villaume
Charles GOUNOD
7. Maître suprême [4:42]
Giorgio Casciarri (tenor), Orchestre Internazionale d’Italia, Bratislava Chamber Choir/Manlio Benzi
Le Roi de Lahore
8. J’ai fui la chambre nuptiale [6:42]
Ana Maria Sánchez (soprano), Orchestra of the Teatro La Fenice di Venezia/Marcello Viotti
Georges BIZET (1838 - 1875)
Led Pêcheurs de Perles
9. Je crois entendre encore [5:20]
10. O dieu Bráhma [5:48]
Jasu Nakajima (tenor), Annick Massis (soprano), Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro La Fenice di Venezia/Marcello Viotti
Edouard LALO (1823 - 1892)
Le Roi d’Ys
11. Je reviendrai bientôt, mon père [4:55]
Guylaine Girard (soprano), Giuseppina Piunti (mezzo), Sébastien Guèze (tenor), Eric Martin-Bonnet (baritone), Orchestra and Chorus of the Opéra Royal de Wallonie/Patrick Davin
12. Meditation [5:57]
Orchestra of the Teatro La Fenice di Venezia/Marcello Viotti
Werther (Italian version)
13. Ah, non mi ridestar [3:27]
Luca Grassi (baritone), Orchestre Internazionale d’Italia/Jean-Luc Tingaud
rec. live, 1983-2008
DYNAMIC CDS719 [68:59]
Like its predecessor with Italian opera excerpts this is a rather mixed bag vocally and also repertoire-wise. It is valuable for the opportunity to hear quite a lot of music from rare operas. Native French speakers are in short supply here, unfortunately, but that’s only to be expected from an Italian label.
The opening number is also the earliest recording, from 1983. It finds Montserrat Caballé still near the height of her powers. She sings strongly and with confidence and also enchants with her characteristic fine-spun pianissimo notes. The aria is beautiful. Salieri would have been much better known today if he hadn’t been contemporary with Mozart.
The Meyerbeer aria is less obscure, although the complete opera is a relatively rare guest at today’s opera houses. Desirée Rancatore sings sensitively, phrases musically and her pianissimo top notes are almost in the Caballé division, but her singing is seriously marred by an insistent beat on held notes.
Gounod’s La Reine de Saba is another rarity. Goldmark’s opera on the same theme is arguably somewhat better known and it has even been bestowed a complete recording. Gounod’s music is always agreeable on the ear and Lee is an attractive lyrical tenor with good legato, though not much variety of vocal colour and nuance and his top notes are pinched.
More rarities. From Massenet’s Roma we get the beautiful prelude to act III with flute solo instead of the violin solo in the famous Meditation from Thaïs. The unnamed flautist plays very well and he is also heard in the tenor aria that follows. In the distance we also hear a soprano. Mok has a fine spinto tenor but has a tendency to press a little too much. There is a postlude with luscious string playing.
Both ladies in the duet from Chérubin have vibrant voices and when they sing together they tend to jar against each other. A couple of male voices are also heard; not too good, I’m afraid. The opera is a kind of sequel to Le nozze di Figaro. The title role was sung at the premiere by Mary Garden and besides this recording - all the excerpts are culled from Dynamic’s extensive catalogue of complete operas - there was/is a complete studio recording by RCA from 1991 with Frederica von Stade in the title role.
Gounod’s Polyeucte is another find that has been dusted off and found interesting. Well, it should be, considering that the libretto was by Barbier and Carré. Yes, you recognize the successful duo who also wrote Faust,Romeo et Juliette,Mignon,andHamlet. On his own Barbier was also responsible forLes Contes d’Hoffmann. Gounod is said to have had a special fondness for Polyeucte but it was among the least successful of his operas. This aria is well worth hearing. It is obviously the end of an act, maybe the end of the opera. There is a baritone also present and the chorus is superb. Aha, Bratislava Chamber Choir! You rarely hear such homogenous sound and such sophisticated phrasing from an opera chorus. The tenor is strong but could have learnt a thing or two about sophistication from the choir.
I have heard Ana Maria Sánchez in better shape than here in the aria from Le Roi de Lahore. She is over-vibrant and shrill at the top.
The romance from Les Pêcheurs de Perles is a favourite aria and any tenor essaying it comes up against singers like Gigli (my first recording of it), Gedda and Simoneau. Jasu Nakajima’s is a prosaic reading and lacks the lyrical elegance of those mentioned. Annick Massis’s O dieu Bráhma is much better and she tosses off some brilliant top notes.
The dramatic scene from Le Roi d’Ys is a fine piece. The singers are hardly in the elite league but the music is definitely worth a listen.
The Meditation from Thaîs is just as well known as the Pêcheurs aria. The un-credited violin soloist is so much better than many of the singers on this issue. The strings of the orchestra are also worth standing ovations.
The final number on this disc is from Werther, and since this is the Italian version Werther is a baritone. Thus the vocal line is adjusted downwards in several places. The thrill of the original is no doubt diminished, but the singer is quite good and has ringing top notes. He sings at a more or less constant forte though.
The quality of the recordings vary, the Polyeucte extract being above average. There are no notes, just a track-list. Montserrat Caballé is the outstanding singer but the collection is worth considering for the many rarities on offer.
Göran Forsling 

A rather mixed bag but valuable for quite a lot of music from rare operas.