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Charles GOUNOD (1818 – 1893) Cinq-Mars - opera in four acts (1877)
Mathias Vidal (tenor) – Le marquis de Cinq-Mars; Véronique Gens (soprano) – La Princesse Marie de Gonzague; Tassis Christoyannis (baritone) – Le Conseiller de Thou; Andrew Foster-Williams (bass) – Le Père Joseph; André Heyboer (baritone) - Le vicomte de Fontrailles; Norma Nahoun (soprano) – Marion Delorme; Marie Lenormand (soprano) – Ninon de L’Enclos; Jacques-Greg Belobo (bass) – Le roi/Le Chancelier; Andrew Lepri Meyer (tenor) – De Montmort/L’Ambassadeur; Matthias Ettmayr (bass) – De Montrésor/Eustache; Wolfgang Klose (baritone) – De Brienne
Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks Münchner Rundfunkorchester/Ulf Schirmer
rec. Münchner Prinzregententheater, Munich, 25 January 2015
Libretto with English translations enclosed in luxury hardback book EDICIONES SINGULARES ES1024 [76:49 + 61:28]
Cinq-Mars was premiered at the Opéra-Comique in April 1877 and had a rather lukewarm reception from critics and audience alike. I have not been able to find much information about other productions but it was staged at La Scala. The present recording was made at a concert performance in Munich. Two days later it was performed at Theater an der Wien and two days after that at Opéra Royal de Versailles with the same forces, bar Mathias Vidal in the title role who was replaced by Charles Castronovo. Vidal is scheduled to sing the role in May/June next year (2017) in staged performances in Leipzig. Whether this implies that there is a revival coming up is hard to say but having spent some hours with the work I can report that Cinq-Mars has a great deal to offer, dramatically as well as musically. The story is based on real historical events during the days of Louis XIII and Cardinal Richelieu. Henri Coiffier de Ruzé, Marquis de Cinq-Mars, as was his full name, came to the court very early and through Richelieu was introduced to the king, Louis XIII, and could gain favours from him. He tried to convince the king to have Richelieu executed but failed. Then he took part in rebellions against the cardinal and even tried to get support from the king of Spain. Richelieu’s spies found out about this and Cinq-Mars was captured and beheaded. Alfred de Vigny wrote a novel, titled Cinq-Mars, published in 1828, and Paul Poirson and Louis Gallet based their libretto for Gounod’s opera on that novel. They added a secret love story between Cinq-Mars and Princesse Marie de Gonzague, who tried to save Cinq-Mars by promising to marry the King of Poland. In the end her plan failed when the execution was brought forward.
It has a well-constructed libretto which offers opportunities for powerful mass-scenes as well as emotionally charged love episodes. The score doesn’t brim over with memorable melodies in the way Faust and, to a lesser extent, Romeo et Juliette do. That said, Gounod is palpably inspired in many places and there are several scenes that I will return to with great pleasure.
The recording, made at a public concert, is excellent and there are no signs of an audience present. The quality of the Munich Radio Orchestra is well-known and with Ulf Schirmer as artistic director since 2006 they have made a lot of successful recordings. Browsing my own collection I found four Lehár operettas, Lortzing’s Regina and Humperdinck’s Dornröschen plus some recital discs, which have all received favourable reviews. This recording of Cinq-Mars is no exception.
The overture opens solemnly and then comes a dramatic presto, but soon enough Gounod the melodist shows his mettle with a sweet tune. The dark streaks return – this is no sunshine-story – even though Gounod patches together a fairly nice march at the end. There is an opening chorus for male voices and Cinq-Mars and his friend De Thou have a lengthy duo scene, where Cinq-Mars enjoys an attractive solo beginning La vie eût été douce CD 1 tr. 3 at about 2:00 into the track. A big ensemble follows (CD 1 tr. 6) and then follows Marie’s Cavatine Par quel trouble profond (CD 1 tr. 8) and a duo with Cinq-Mars and Marie brings the first act to a truly romantic end. The high-spot in act II is no doubt Marie and Cinq-Mars' intense cavatine and the dramatic scene with Pêre Joseph. The second part of the act is a lengthy divertissement with pastoral choruses and various dances; highly entertaining but it interrupts the flow of the drama. The third act tightens things up, the conspirators are revealed and in the fourth act Cinq-Mars and De Thou await their execution. Cinq-Mars sings his cavatine À vous, ma mère (CD 2 tr. 17) which is possibly the most touching scene in the opera.
Cinq-Mars was Gounod’s tenth opera — he was approaching sixty and a decade had passed since his previous opera, Roméo et Juliette. Inspiration didn’t flow as naturally as it had ten or more years ago, but many scenes are dramatically powerful or have the melodic sweetness we associate with Gounod. The libretto is also good and, apart from the second act divertissement, which seems unnecessary from a dramatic point of view, there are few scenes that outstay their welcome.
The singing is generally up to one’s expectations. Both Cinq-Mars and De Thou have agreeable lyric voices and also have the power to manage the dramatic outbursts. Andrew Foster-Williams is a sturdy Père Joseph and Norma Nahoun is an excellent Marion in act II but the star of the performance is Véronique Gens. She is a singer I have admired deeply for many years, first in a baroque context but lately in a wider repertoire. Her Donna Elvira in the Aix-en-Provence production of Don Giovanni some fifteen years ago was a revelation but I wonder if I’ve heard her better than on this recording. Her contribution as Marie is alone worth the price of the discs.
Besides the recording, the libretto hardback book contains several interesting essays, including “An eyewitness account of the first performance” and Alfred de Vigny’s “The death of Cinq-Mars”. In the good old days of LP-records some boxed sets had lavish documentation of this kind, and this presentation of a long forgotten work is utterly welcome.