Notes and Editorial Reviews
One of the greatest recordings of French opera, unchallenged and unsurpassed for 40 years.
If you have never hunted elephants "the Zanzibar way", now could be the time to start. Apollinaire's play, written in the 1900s, did not reach the stage until 1917. Poulenc was at the first performance — which gave the word "sur-realiste" to the language - but he did not compose the opera until 25 years later, during the Second World War. Les mamelles de Tiresias is Poulenc's Cosi fan tulle; the story is absurd, naïve, although the puns and rhymes of Apollinaire's poetry are a constant delight. (Mostly untranslatable, Therese-francaisefraises-Zanzibaraise, it goes on throughout the piece.) What Poulenc has
done is to express a whole range of deep emotion in the music, the homesickness of the exile, the longing for children, the mystery of masculine/feminine desires. He described the music as "producing laughter while still allowing tenderness and real lyricism".
I think it was Leonard Bernstein who pointed out that the ensemble "Monsieur Presto a perdu son pan, puisque nous sommes a Paris" bears a striking resemblance to "Can't help lovin' dat man" from Kern's Show Boar Something of the harmonic structure reappears in the finale of Carmelites— make of that what you will, if you care for amateur psychology.
Poulenc found his ideal interpreter in Denise Duval, who created the role of Therese in 1947, and went on to sing it wherever the opera was given right up until the time of its first American (concert) performance in 1960. Duval combines the "wild touch of vaudeville", as Ned Rorem put it, with her typically forward, slightly nasal, French soprano. Other survivors from the premiere include Serge Rallier as the Journalist, Emile Rousseau as the Policeman and Robert Jeantet as the Director. The veteran Paul Payan created the role of the Husband, but it is difficult to imagine that he was better than Jean Giraudeau, who the year before had partnered Duval in Ravel's L'heure espagnole.
"The work that is dearest to me" was how Poulenc described Mamelles at the time of this recording in 1953, and he judged Cluytens's conducting "sensational" and wrote, "it is one of the greatest joys of my life". What can one add? It is one of the greatest recordings of French opera, unchallenged and unsurpassed for 40 years. The filler, Poulenc's early cantata Le bal masque is an ephemeral work, but it is done with style and vigour by Jean-Christoph Benoit and Pretre. No libretto, nor even a synopsis, is included with this CD, which seems an even greater shame than usual, since the text is of such a complicated pattern. Highly recommended, nevertheless.
-- Gramophone [12/1995]
Works on This Recording
Les mamelles de Tirésias by Francis Poulenc
Emile Rousseau (Baritone),
Jean Giraudeau (Tenor),
Marguérite Legouhy (Mezzo Soprano),
Denise Duval (Soprano),
Robert Jeantet (Baritone)
Paris Opéra Comique Orchestra,
Paris Opéra Comique Chorus
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1944; France
Date of Recording: 09/1953
Le bal masqué by Francis Poulenc
Jean-Christophe Benoit (Baritone),
Maryse Charpentier (Piano)
Society of the Conservatory Concerts Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1932; France
Date of Recording: 03/1965
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