Luigi CHERUBINI (1760-1842)
Koukourgi - Opéra-comique in three acts [115:00]
Foui - Stefan Cerny (baritone); Zulma - Çiğdem Soyarslam (soprano); Zami - Leonardo Galeazzi (bass); Koukougi - Daniel Prohaska (tenor); Phaor - Peter Edelmann (baritone); Amazan - Johannes Chum (tenor); Sécuro - Daniel Belcher (baritone); An officer - Alexander Puhrer (baritone); The Bonze - Kap-Sang Ahn (baritone)
Chorus of the Stadttheater Klagenfurt
Kärntner Sinfonieorchester/Peter Marschik
rec. live, Stadttheater Klagenfurt, 18 September 2010
Josef E Köpplinger (stage director); Johannes Lelacker (set designer); Marie-Luise Walek (set designer); Felix Breisch (video director)
Region code: 0 (NTSC all regions)
Picture format: 16:9; Sound formats: PCM stereo, DD 5.1
Subtitles: French, English, German, Italian, Spanish, Korean:
ARTHAUS MUSIK 101 638 DVD [115:00]

Performances and recordings of Cherubini’s operas, apart from Médée, remain rare, which makes this a welcome issue. Even better, Koukourgi is an opera that was never performed, and indeed was never completed. It was written in about 1792 for the Théâtre Feydeau in Paris, where his previous opera Lodoïska in 1791 had been very successful. The spoken dialogue of the present work is lost, but it seems clear from the words of the sung numbers that Cherubini and his librettist Honoré-Marie-Nicolas Duveyrier had produced a work which would suitably portray the ideals of the revolution. It nevertheless awaited performance until the production seen on this disc which uses a new critical edition prepared by Heiko Cullmann. The Overture to Cherubini’s earlier opera Ifigenia in Aulide and a finale written for insertion into Paisiello’s La Molinarella are added to the surviving text. There’s some brief dialogue in German - the opera is sung in the original French - to replace the original French dialogue which is missing. The booklet explains that in this production the setting is changed to China although it does not say what the original location was or why the change was made.
The plot is not unduly complex but neither is it very involving. Essentially it concerns two rival suitors for the hand of Zulma, the daughter of the ruler Fohi. Koukourgi is the son of General Zamti but is a coward interested only in food and comfort. His rival is Amazan, an orphan who is brave and cunning. It is difficult to disagree with the author of the booklet that they represent the vices and virtues of the aristocracy and the people respectively. The other principal characters, Sécuro, Amazan’s teacher, and Phaor, Koukourgi’s servant, mirror these vices and virtues and have rather dull arias of their own in the last Act. In the end Amazan’s courage is recognised and rewarded. This is not a plot full of human feeling or interesting characters but it does provide the composer with the opportunity to write varied and interesting music. A mention of Offenbach on the DVD box is misleading but references to Rossini and Auber are much more to the point. The vocal writing and delicious woodwind scoring in particular are clear portents of their styles. Although it would be hard to regard Cherubini as a great composer of memorable or original melody he was certainly capable of providing an apt and interesting response to the words and situations involved.
It must have been exciting and stimulating to take part in the first ever performance of an opera by a composer of the stature of Cherubini. Bearing in mind that Klagenfurt is an Austrian city with a population of only around one hundred thousand, to have an opera company capable of such a performance as generally consistently satisfactory as that we have here is a remarkable feat. It would be a mistake to make too high a claim for its quality, but the singers are all stylish in their approach and seem thoroughly at home in the music. This is a live performance and from time to time things go astray, in particular with intonation, but never to an extent that the quality or character of the music is hidden. The three leading characters are sharply defined and sung with real assurance. The contribution of the orchestra throughout is outstanding.
This is not a disc that suggests that a hidden masterpiece has been unearthed, rather that here is a very enjoyable piece that adds to our understanding of Cherubini and of French opera of this period in general. With a production that if not over-imaginative never gets in the way of the music or the plot and with a useful booklet essay this is a very welcome, if somewhat specialist, addition to the catalogue.

John Sheppard

A very enjoyable piece that adds to our understanding of Cherubini.