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André Ernest Modeste GRÉTRY (1741-1813)
Raoul Barbe-Bleue - comédie en trois actes (1789)
Raoul – Matthieu Lécroart (bass-baritone); Isaure – Chantal Santon-Jeffrey (soprano); Vergy –François Rougier (tenor); Osman – Mauel Núñez Camelino (tenor); Jeanne- Eugénie Lefebvre (soprano); Le Vicomte de Carabi – Enguerrand De Hys (tenor); Le Marquis de Carabas – Jérôme Boutillier (baritone); Jacques – Marine Lafdal-Franc (soprano)
Orkester Nord/Mike Fentross
rec. 16 & 17 November, 2018, Selbu Curch, Trøndelag, Norway
Sung in French
Libretto in French with English translation, Notes in French and English
APARTÉ AP214 [2 CDs: 87:01]

This is the third excellent recording of a previously unknown opera recorded by the Aparté label that I have encountered in the last year. All of them have been produced in a luxurious manner with a hard-case binding, copious, well-written notes, and full text and translation included.  This should be the norm for CD releases but sadly has become rare. In this case, we have a generally splendid document of an opera that had been un-staged since the 1840’s. Grétry’s comédie was first staged in the spring of 1789 just a few short months before the revolution broke out. It is worth noting that it managed to keep a hold in the repertory of the day despite the numerous regime changes in France. The opera tells the traditional tale of Bluebeard combined with some elements taken from medieval romances such as the Chatelaine de Vergy. It all produces a gothically-comic bouillabaisse in which the brutal events of the plot occur immediately off-stage and the characters then demonstrate their reactions to those events.

This performance is based on the first revival in modern times which occurred in 2018 at the Barokkfest Early Music Festival in Trondheim, Norway. Judging by the photos of the production that appear in the booklet, it must have been a fun and interesting evening.

The opera begins with a very intense and dramatic overture which gives more than a passing nod to the overture of Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride.  Martin Wåhlberg and the instrumentalists of the Orkester Nord dig into it with utmost assurance and verve. There is a great deal of spoken dialogue in this work and the complete dialogue appears to have been recorded. A couple of the singers display great character in their dialogue; Jérome Boutillier is exceptional in this regard. The entire cast delivers it with a dramatic assurance that is unusual to encounter when opera singers are recording speech in a studio setting. Santon-Jeffrey sings the main role of Isaure with wonderful diction and a commanding sense of attack. She possesses a more substantial tone than one would expect from her reputation as a baroque music specialist. Her singing is impressive throughout. François Rougier as Vergy offers a well sung and at times gently humorous portrayal particularly as he has to spend much of Act 2 and 3 in drag. His vocal line is assured and delivered with élan. He thankfully resists the temptation to veer into excessive mugging for the drag portions of the opera. Matthieu Lécroart is a real standout in the title role of Count Raoul. He fills his entrance aria with incisive tone and a palpable sense of bravado which he keeps up throughout all of his scenes.  He even manages to produce some wonderfully evil-sounding laughter to add to his dialogue.

Throughout the opera, maestro Wåhlberg and his period orchestra provide a wonderfully urgent backdrop to the comic proceedings. This opera is not the outright farce that Offenbach created on this subject but it is comic and somewhat over-the-top in a grand-guignol fashion. The recording was made in an old Lutheran church and the engineers have produced a sound-picture of great immediacy and clarity. I can only be grateful to the Aparté label for such a resoundingly winning release.

Mike Parr

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