The protagonist of Saint-Saëns' Proserpine, premiered at the Opéra-Comique on March 14, 1887, is no reincarnation of the ancient goddess, but a Renaissance courtesan well versed in culpable amours. According to the composer, she is a "damned soul for whom true love is a forbidden fruit; as soon as she approaches it, she experiences torture". Yet for all the innocence of her rival Angiola, the unexpected happens: "It is the bloodthirsty beast that is admirable; the sweet creature is no more than pretty and likeable." Visibly enraptured by this delight in horror, Saint-Saëns indulges in unprecedented orchestral modernity, piling on the dissonances beneath his characters' cries of rage or despair. HeRead more concluded thus: "Proserpine is, of all my stage works, the most advanced in the Wagnerian system." The least-known, too, and one which it was high time to reveal to the public, in its second version, revised in 1899.
The cast is led by Véronique Gens in the title-role, her ever-expressive colouring of text superb, from scornful and haughty courtesan to desperate lover. Frédéric Antoun is a stylish Sabatino. Andrew Foster-Williams’s biting baritone makes for a splendid Squarocca. The Munich Radio Orchestra impress, particularly in the pulsating entr'acte depicting Proserpine’s flight back to Florence.