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Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)
Thérèse - an opera in two acts (1907)
Thérèse - Nora Gubisch (mezzo)
Armand de Clerval - Charles Castronovo (tenor)
André Thorel - Étienne Dupuis (bass)
Morel - François Lis (baritone)
Yves Saelens - Un Officier (tenor)
Patrick Bolleire - Un Officier/Un Officier municipal (baritone)
Charles Bonnet - Une Voix
Jocelyne Dienst - chef de chant
Noëlle Gény - chef de chœur
Chœur et Orchestre Opéra National, Montpellier Languedoc-Roussillon/Alain Altinoglu
rec. l’Opéra Berlioz/Le Corum à Montpellier, France, 21 July 2012. DDD
Produced in conjunction with Palazzetto Bru Zane Centre de Musique Romantique Française and Le Festival de Radio France et Montpellier Languedoc-Roussillon
Bilingual: French and English
EDICIONES SINGULARES ES1011 [69.46 & book] 

Thérèse? Massenet is chiefly remembered for two operatic works: Manon and Werther and, perhaps, another four: Hérodiade, Thaïs, Don Quichotte and Cendrillon. In fact his output in the genre was much larger - running to some 25 stage works. Much of this output has been unjustly neglected and forgotten. On the evidence of this CD and the essays in the accompanying book, Thérèse, appealinglypassionate, violent andfast moving, is definitely due for serious re-consideration. It is largely unappreciated how diverse and original most of Massenet’s operatic works were. He was never one to rest on his laurels and each of his operas demonstrates an eagerness to experiment and to keep abreast of current fashions. Thérèse,set in the turbulent, bloody days of the French Revolution, embraces numerous musical styles. These hark back to 18th century elegance and refinement, to the dramatic and even to the melodramatic style of Wagner. His gift for naturalism keeps pace with Italian verismo (Puccini’s La bohème) and its French equivalents including Gustav Charpentier’s Louise, a love story set amongst the Parisian working classes. It may be remembered that Massenet was the teacher and mentor of this Charpentier.
Thérèse was premiered, to publicity fanfares, at the Monte Carlo Opera House instead of at the Opéra-Comique in Paris as originally intended. There were many subsequent performances all over France and further afield before its Parisian premiere in 1911.

The story of Thérèse is a triangle love story. Act 1 opens at the estate purchased, at auction, by André Thorel on behalf of his friend, the Marquis Armand de Clerval who has fled the events of the Revolution. Thorel has married Thérèse and they are living in the Clerval family home to save it from looting and with the intention of restoring it to Armand when peace returns. Thérèse and Armand have been secretly in love and unbeknown to her Armand is now in the grounds of the château hoping to see Thérèse before joining the Royalist uprising. André is a libertarian and a member of the Girondin party. As he is attending to some soldiers passing nearby, Armand meets Thérèse and declares his passion for her but loyal to André, she resists. André joins them and embraces his friend Armand. An official interrupts and half recognises Armand but André vouches for his friend saying he is his companion, his brother.
Act 2 transfers the action to Paris where Armand is being sheltered by André and Thérèse in their apartment. Increasing violence and bloodshed causes them to fear more and more for Armand’s life. Added to all this danger, the mob is now turning on the Girondins placing them in danger of the guillotine. André has organised a safe conduct pass to allow Armand to escape. He hands this over and goes off to join his Girondin friends. Armand begs Thérèse to go with him. At length she weakens but then Morel their janitor tells them the dreaded news that André has been arrested. Thérèse persuades Armand to leave promising to join him later. Then looking out of the window she sees to her horror André is in a tumbrel passing on the way to the Conciergerie and to his doom. Wifely duty now dominates her feelings. She opens wide the window and cries out - “Vive le roi”. She is taken away and dies with her husband.
All the artists in this recorded live performance demonstrate dedication, commitment and enthusiasm to show this short opera to its best advantage. Mezzo-soprano Nora Gubisch colours her timbre to voice all the contradictory emotions from torn loves and fears for both men through these turbulent events. Notable are her gentle musings in Act I in the château gardens as leaves flutter down to an ornamental pond, the amorous exchanges with Armand and the extraordinary finale when she abandons singing and in spoken word declaims “Vive le Roi! ... Ô mort! Ouvre tes bras! Marchons!” to Massenet’s dramatic sound-effects of crowds roaring their disapproval, rifle butts crashing to the ground and snare drums rolling. Armand as sung by American tenor Charles Castronovo is superbly ardent and baritone Étienne Dupuis is the epitome of heroic stoicism.
The 112-page hardback book, presented in French and English in well-designed separate sections not only contains the full libretto and a story synopsis, but also numerous illustrations including pictures of the original Monte Carlo production, and five short essays; one an appreciation of the Monte Carlo production by Gabriel Fauré, no less. The other essays cover the richness and diversity of Massenet’s operatic output, the productions of Thérèse,naturalism in Thérèse, and women and revolution in French opera.
It is to be hoped that this very enterprising set will encourage further productions of Thérèse. Inevitably, it would have to be partnered with a short-ish companion. My choice would be for Puccini’s Suor Angelica another work about feminine self-sacrifice.
This is the third instalment in Palazzetto Bru Zane’s Opéra Français Collection. The other two volumes are Amadis de Gaule by Johann Christian Bach and La Mort d’Abel by Rodolphe Kreutzer. Volume 4 is Renaud by Antonio Sacchini.
Ian Lace