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Gounod: Mireille / Diederich, Borst, Papis, Vanaud, Et Al

Release Date: 11/06/2007 
Label:  Cascavelle   Catalog #: 3098   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Charles Gounod
Performer:  Christian PapisJean-Jacques BergerMarie-Christine ClementDanielle Borst,   ... 
Conductor:  Cyril Diederich
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Orchestre des Rencontres MusicalesLausanne Theatre Municipal Opera ChorusEpalinges Children's Chorus
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 2 Hours 28 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

GOUNOD Mireille Cyril Diederich, cond; Danielle Borst ( Mireille ); Christian Papis ( Vincent ); Marcel Vanaud ( Ourrias ); Bernadette Antoine ( Taven ); Jean-Philippe Courtis ( Ramon ); Recontres Musicales O, Lausanne; Theatre Municipal Op Ch, Lausanne; Epallinges Children’s Ch Read more class="BULLET12b">• CASCAVELLE 3098 (2 CDs: 146:31 Text, no Translation) Live: Lausanne 11/93

Like his two other most popular operas, Gounod’s Mireille (pronounced roughly “Mee-RAY”) was written during the heyday of France’s Second Empire, presided over by the original Napoleon’s nephew, who called himself Napoleon III. When the Empire collapsed as a result of the Franco-Prussian War and was replaced by the more sober, bourgeois Third Republic, Gounod did not completely abandon opera but concentrated on the religious music that makes up the bulk of his compositions. The annotations in this set are useful, but one section really threw me: “In September 1863—the year in which Berlioz composed his Roméo and Juliette , one year later than the birth of future composer François Bizet—Gounod was feverishly putting the finishing touches on Mireille .” Since the premiere of his Roméo and Juliette was in 1839, I doubt that Berlioz wrote the piece in 1863—and who was François Bizet? Georges was born in 1818—but I digress. Referring to Mireille as a “popular” opera may be going a bit far, since it is seldom performed outside the French-speaking world; but it is a beautiful, if somewhat puzzling and problematic piece.

Gounod and his librettist, Michel Carré, based their opera on Frederic Mistral’s Mirèio , an epic poem 6,000 lines in length, written in the Provençal language, partly to help preserve it and encourage its use. I do not know how faithfully the streamlined plot of the opera follows that of the poem, but the libretto and music are a curious mixture that I think has made audiences uneasy through the years and caused the opera to be subjected to various alterations, including a happy ending. Basically, what happens is this: the action takes place in Provence during the mid 19th century. Mireille loves Vincent, a poor country boy. Her father disapproves of the match and favors the suit of Ourrias, Vincent’s rival. Ourrias tries to murder Vincent, then flees and is killed through the intervention of supernatural forces. Hearing that Vincent has been seriously wounded, Mireille walks through a wilderness to locate him, only to die of sunstroke or exhaustion after she finds him. Most of the first two acts are pleasantly bucolic. Yes, her father disapproves of the match, but this is merely a cloud on the horizon. Everything is going to work out all right, or so we may be led to think. Then comes act III with its goblins and demons and a mysterious, unearthly boatman. This is followed by the tragic final acts, where the frustrated, heartbroken Mireille braves the wilderness to be united with her true love, Vincent, only to die at the end. I’m exaggerating, but it’s like being yanked from the world of L’elisir d’amore to Der Freischütz to La traviata ! To tighten the emotional screws (and the similarity) a bit more, her father shows up at the last minute to give permission for her to marry Vincent. It certainly should not remind you of Faust , in part, because Gounod tried to capture some of the local color. There are dances and orchestration that suggest the sun-drenched country, though the opera never actually gets “folksy.”

I am sure that many opera-lovers have at least one favorite that just doesn’t seem to register with many others (I have several); you can understand why they don’t like it, but its faults are minimized by what are (to you, at least) its many virtues. Such is the case with me and Mireille. I like the piece more than, say, Roméo and Juliette , and would love to see it performed (it was done at Juilliard some years ago before I knew I liked it). At least on this new Cascavelle release, I can imagine that I’m seeing it performed, because it is taken from one or more live performances in Lausanne, Switzerland, back in 1993. The perspective gives you one of the best seats in the house, and the action transpires before you on stage. Everything comes across clearly and there is only enough stage noise to let you know that something’s happening up there. Not only that; it’s a good performance. There have been several recordings of the opera. I was able to compare this one with two others but not, unfortunately, the Plasson, which I was most interested in hearing. My context was supplied by the 1954 Aix Festival-based recording by André Cluytens (Janette Vivalda, Nicolai Gedda, Michel Dens) and a 1959 RTF broadcast, led by Jules Gressier (Andrée Esposito, Alain Vanzo, Gabriel Bacquier). They are both far from negligible and even have some points of superiority to this one, but they are not stereophonic recordings like this one and the difference is telling, as far as I’m concerned. The title role on the Diederich recording is sung by Danielle Borst, who is otherwise unknown to me but who made a good impression. The part of Mireille, with its range of emotions and music that runs from fancy showpieces to simple folksiness to droopy sadness, is an emotional and vocal workout for the soprano. According to the notes on the Cluytens set, Janette Vivalda, after her initial success, wrecked her voice by singing Mireille too much. Borst comes through the ordeal with honor, and one can easily forgive the slight edge that her top notes sometimes take on. Christian Papis, lacks Gedda’s easy, bright top and isn’t an old smoothie like Vanzo, but he, too, delivers a plausible and sometimes, even eloquent performance. Marcel Vanaud may not turn out to be a Michel Dens or Gabriel Bacquier, but is a powerful, involved Ourrias. Some of the singers have merely generic, functional voices, but they all get the message across. The orchestra, spread before us in the pit, sounds great, and Diederich seems to believe in this opera. I caught an apparent “theater cut” in act III (he leaves out a few little ghostly choruses), but it doesn’t spoil the performance and is more puzzling than annoying.

On the other hand, Gressier, in addition to a few earlier ones, makes a huge cut in act IV that qualifies as a bleeding chunk and compromises his otherwise excellent performance. Esposito is my favorite Mireille, even better than Vivalda and Borst, though not by much—and Vincent fits Vanzo, as so many lighter roles did, very snugly. The Cluytens seems to be uncut (I was working without a score) and even includes, as an appendix, an alternate aria for Mireille (whose name Gedda, though he sings stylishly, tends to pronounce as “Mee-RYE”). As I mentioned earlier, the more recently recorded Plasson set, with Mirella Freni and Vanzo, looks promising, and I wish I could have heard it along with these others; however, I will have, until the time that I do, no trouble living with this Cascavelle set. There are French/English annotations but the libretto is in French only (the Gressier comes without one and that on the Cluytens is also in French).

FANFARE: James Miller
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Works on This Recording

Mireille by Charles Gounod
Performer:  Christian Papis (Tenor), Jean-Jacques Berger (Baritone), Marie-Christine Clement (Soprano),
Danielle Borst (Soprano), Chris de Moor (Bass), Valentine Deschenaux (Soprano),
Yves Coudray (Tenor), Hiroko Kawamichi (Soprano), Jean-Phillipe Courtis (Bass),
Bernadette Antoine (Mezzo Soprano), Marcel Vanaud (Baritone)
Conductor:  Cyril Diederich
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Orchestre des Rencontres Musicales,  Lausanne Theatre Municipal Opera Chorus,  Epalinges Children's Chorus
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1864; France 
Date of Recording: 11/1993 
Venue:  Live  Opera House, Lausanne, Switzerland 
Language: French 

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