Notes and Editorial Reviews
"Assuming for a moment (as perhaps one should not) that the reader does not have to be persuaded that the work itself deserves a place in the collection, then the question is simply: is this new recording better than its two nearest rivals, and if so is the superiority such as will merit the additional expenditure that is (presumably) involved in the purchase of three discs rather than two. The most recent alternative version is the one under Leonard Slatkin, with Ruth Ann Swenson and Placido Domingo as the lovers, appreciatively reviewed by AB, as indeed was its predecessor, with Catherine Malfitano and Alfredo Kraus and conducted by Michel Masson who is also in charge of the new version. Certainly if the opera's brief Prologue is
representative, this present set is the best of the three. Compared with his earlier self, Plasson is more assuredly his own man, taking a broader view of the turbulent, dramatic opening, and especially of the fugato which introduces its second section. This now has the unhurried, confident thrust of an expert duellist, and in place of a rather generalized picture, a much more specific and vivid one forms in the mind. The contrast is stronger with Slatkin, who urges forward, piles on the brass, and achieves an arresting but altogether cruder effect. Then comes the chorus's introductory narration which the Munich choir under Slatkin sing like oratorio. Plasson's 1983 recording from Toulouse puts greater emphasis on story-telling, but that too is not nearly so imaginative as the quieter, more intimate style he favours now, the chorus having more light-and-shade, better rhythmic pointing, more 'face'.
At curtain-up for Capulet's ball, Plasson now leads a subtly textured waltz where Slatkin's is a thick-soled, heavy-downbeat sort of thing. and when his chorus, supposedly seeing Juliette, exclaim "All! qu'elle est belle", they are really seeing little more than their copies. Plasson's people catch the vision with their subdued exclamation of wonder. In all of this, and so on throughout the performance, the new version marks a sure improvement, almost a breakthrough.
But Romeo et Juliette means Romeo and Juliet, and here the preference may be slightly less clear-cut. Catherine Malfitano, Plasson's earlier Juliette, had a fresh, girlish quality which, rather doll-like at first, gains tenderness and sensitivity. Swenson, for Slatkin, makes less of the character and sings the famous Waltz song without pace or gaiety, or dreaminess either. Gheorghiu, here, immediately makes her listeners echo the chorus's "All qu'elle est belle", for the sound matches the imagined sight. Its beauty is more mature than Malfitano's, and to that extent perhaps less appropriate, but as the part develops towards tragedy so her warmer, richer tone is better able to embody the depth of feeling, and she brings a fine conviction to the despairing scene with Friar Laurence and then to the scene of the potion.
Alagna's Romeo has, of course, youth on his side if he is similarly to have the rivals brought up for comparison. Domingo performs magnificently in what now seems an unlikely role, while Kraus. a 56-year-old Romeo at the time of the recording, is still clear-toned and has no problems on high. Alagna does not sound too happy with the B flats of "Ah, leve-toi, soleil", and sometimes the voice appears to have added weight in a way that makes him less suited to the nart than he was when we first admired him at Covent Garden. Yet there are many, many things to enjoy as one listens, and still more as one compares.
Actually, Romeo and Juliet are not all: the opera abounds in rewarding secondary roles. In one of these, that of Stephano the page, the new recording loses to Slatkin. Marie-Ange Todorovitch has some sense of style but not the voice for this, and especially not when compared with the delightful Susan Graham. The Friar is still Jose van Dam ('still' because he sang it with Plasson nearly I 5 years ago), and is gravely firm and fine as ever. The Capulet, Alain Fondary, is a bluff father-figure not unlike his predecessor, Bacquier. As Mercutio, Simon Keenlyside is excellent, though I think not better than Gino Wilco, outstanding in the 1983 set. The others even out reasonably well, but it is not these on whom the choice depends.
On the merits of the cast, and perhaps still more on those of the choral singing, orchestral playing and recorded sound, I would certainly recommend the new version above its rivals."
-- JBS, Gramophone [6/1998]
Reviewing original release of this recording. Read less
Works on This Recording
Roméo et Juliette by Charles Gounod
Claire Larcher (Mezzo Soprano),
Angela Gheorghiu (Soprano),
Daniel Galvez-Vallejo (Tenor),
José van Dam (Bass),
Roberto Alagna (Tenor),
Till Fechner (Baritone),
Didier Henry (Baritone),
Guy Flechter (Tenor),
Marie-Ange Todorovitch (Soprano),
Simon Keenlyside (Bass),
Alain Fondary (Baritone),
Alain Vernhes (Bass),
Christophe Fel (Bass),
Anne Constantin (Soprano),
Doris Lamprecht (Mezzo Soprano),
Yann Beuron (Tenor)
Toulouse Capitole Orchestra,
Toulouse Capitole Chorus
Written: 1867; France
Date of Recording: 10/1995
Venue: Halle-Aux-Grains, Toulouse, France
Length: 2 Minutes 23 Secs.
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