In reviewing an earlier issue
by Musique en Wallonie I expressed the hope of hearing more of the music of Grétry, preferably in recordings deriving from theatrical performances. It was therefore with great pleasure that I received this disc. It clearly derives from such performances, intriguing photographs of which adorn the thick booklet. The spoken dialogue is included — I do not know whether it is complete — and, very helpfully, the text and translations are included in the booklet.
The plot of the opera essentially concerns the same events as Rossini’s opera of the same name although the treatment is very different. Most of the first act sets the Swiss rural scene and only at the end is there mention of the appalling cruelty of the Austrians and their local Governor, Gessler. He appears in person in the second act which culminates in the famous scene in which Tell shoots the apple from his son’s head. The final act is something of an anti-climax although it ends with the very rapid, almost perfunctory, expulsion of the Austrians from Switzerland. The Overture starts with a ranz des vaches
similar to that employed by Rossini, and there is much use throughout the opera of devices giving local colour. The various airs and ensembles range from the very straightforward in the first act to more complex airs and ensembles in the second. All are set in an unfailingly pretty, and sometimes beautiful or dramatic, style, and few are more than a few minutes long. Having said that, I must admit that there are fewer moments here than in other operas I have heard by this composer which demand a rehearing or which linger in the memory.
As the recording was made live it gives a better impression of the character of the opera than those in which the musical numbers succeed each other without a break. In this instance however the inclusion of the dialogue is at best a mixed blessing as it is delivered in what I assume to be a deliberately exaggerated and stagey manner. Without seeing the production, in which it may make perfect sense, I have no idea why this is the case and I found it irksome to listen to without seeing the action. Little audience reaction to dialogue or music is audible, and stage noises are also surprisingly few. The main advantage however of recording a live performance is that the music is treated as part of the drama rather than as a series of individual numbers. That is certainly the case here, and the result is a fine ensemble
performance. The orchestra play with great spirit and style under Claudio Scimone.
Overall I am very glad to have had the opportunity of getting to know another opera by this genial and imaginative composer. If the word pleasant rather than profound is appropriate to describe it I see no reason why apology should be needed for obtaining such innocent pleasure from music. Musique en Wallonie once again fights its corner for its local composers and performers with style and panache, presenting the disc in a way that does all that could be asked to maximise that pleasure. Here is an opportunity to explore a little known but interesting and succinct opera of the late eighteenth century in a stylish and dramatic performance. Only the strange delivery of the dialogue may put you off, and by the end I minded even that less. Overall this is a very welcome addition to the catalogue.