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Fromental HALÉVY (1799-1862) La Reine de Chypre (1841)
Véronique Gens – Caterina Cornaro
Cyrille Dubois – Gérard de Coucy
Étienne Dupuy – Jacques de Lusignan
Eric Huchet – Mocénigo
Christophorus Stamboglis – Andréa Cornaro
Artavazd Sargsyan – Strozzi
Tomislav Lavoie – Un Officier / Un Héraud d’armes
Flemish Radio Choir
Orchestre de chambre de Paris/Hervé Niquet
rec. Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, Paris, 2017 EDICIONES SINGULARES ES1032 [75:37 + 79:09]
The French composer Jacques-François-Fromental-Élie Halévy was born into an artistic family in Paris, he was the son of the French-Jewish poet, author and synagogue cantor Élie Halévy, who was also the Secretary of the Parisian Jewish community, whilst his younger brother was Léon Halévy, a civil servant in Paris as well as a dramatist and writer. Fromental Halévy entered the Conservatoire de Paris at the tender age of nine or ten, becoming later a pupil of Luigi Cherubini. He won the Prix de Rome at the third attempt in 1819 with a cantata on the subject of Herminie, although his main claim to fame is the opera La Juive of 1835, although he is thought to have composed about forty operas in total.
La Reine de Chypre is a grand opéra in five acts and has a libretto by the French playwright Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges. It is set in 1441 and deals with the proposed marriage between Caterina Cornaro and Gérard de Coucy; plans are well on the way when her father, Andréa Cornaro, is told of a decree stating that the wedding can not take place as she has to marry the King of Cyprus, this being part of an elaborate plot for Venice to take control of Cyprus. Andréa then begs his daughter to forgive him and leaves her in her chamber; just then the courtier Mocénigo appears and states that if she does not tell Gérard that she no longer loves him he will kill him. Once she tells him, Mocénigo takes her to Cyprus. Gérard follows them and when Mocénigo hears of this he sends his men to find and kill him. Gérard is saved from death by a stranger, who later turns out to be the King; they tell each other their stories and pledge eternal brotherhood to each other. At the wedding ceremony, Gérard attacks the king only to find him to be his new friend; the king saves him from the wrath of the crowd and rather than a certain death, he sends Gérard to prison. In the final act two years have passed and the plot unwinds, the King is gravely ill, having been poisoned by Mocénigo as part of the Venetian plot to seize the island, he announces to Caterina that he knows of her love for Gérard, stating that he hopes they will be happy together after his death. Gérard announces the plot to the people; just then Mocénigo appears. announcing that it is too late to save the king and that he must hand over the crown to him. Caterina and Gérard, with the help of the people, manage to repel the Venetian invasion; Mocénigo is captured and imprisoned and with his dying breath the king hands his crown over to Caterina, with the people swearing their loyalty to their new queen and ruler. After the initial success of the opera it soon fell out of favour with the public, this was partly due to the story being set by several other composers over the next few years, including Donizetti who used an Italian translation of the libretto for his opera Caterina Cornaro in 1743.
The music moves the action along and it is easy to see why both Berlioz and Wagner praised the work, with its many set pieces serving the story well. The love scenes between Caterina and Gérard are particularly well worked. The singing is wonderful throughout, with Véronique Gens, the only female soloist, an excellent Caterina Cornaro, this being a role from which the opera hangs, and Gens rises to every challenge that is posed, giving a beautiful performance. Her main love interest, Gérard, is sung by Cyrille Dubois, whose youthful light high tenor voice is perfect for the role – just listen to their Act I duet to hear just how well matched their voices are. Of the other soloists, Eric Huchet is very good in the role of Mocénigo, he manages to sing with finesse and great dexterity through his many machinations. Étienne Dupuy as Jacques de Lusignan, the King of Cyprus, has a mellifluous voice whilst his diction and the clarity of his phrasing is excellent, even as he dies; the deep timbre of Christophorus Stamboglis’ voice gives a stylish nobility to the role of Caterina’s father Andréa Cornaro.
In this opera the chorus have a significant part to play, especially in Act V, as the people of Cyprus, and I am glad to say that the Flemish Radio Choir is in exceptionally fine voice. They have been used before in this series, but I do not recall their singing being as fluent and characterful as it is here. The same may be said of the Orchestre de chambre de Paris, who play with great panache and brilliance throughout. Hervé Niquet, for so long regarded as purely a conductor of baroque music, shows here that he is anything but, as he marshals his forces well with the resulting performance being one of great intensity and brilliance. This is a recording which can only serve the music and reputation of Fromental Halévy well and hopefully win him many new admirers. I now have seven of this series of releases from Ediciones Singulares, and I must say that this is the best. It is a must for all devotees of nineteenth century opera and French grand opéra in particular.
The two CDs are presented, as usual with releases in this series, in the inside covers of a lavish hardback book (which even comes with its own ISBN) which includes detailed articles, synopsis and full texts and translations in both French and English. Ediciones Singulares deserve great credit for bringing us wonderful treasures like this; I only hope that the series continues. One word of warning the releases come as part of a limited release of 4000, so snap a copy up whilst you can.