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Gounod: Mireille / Minkowski, Mula, Castronovo, Ferrari, Vernhes [DVD]

Gounod / Mula / Castronovo / Prso
Release Date: 01/11/2011 
Label:  Fra Musica   Catalog #: 2  
Composer:  Charles Gounod
Performer:  Sylvie BrunetNicolas CavallierFranck FerrariInva Mula,   ... 
Conductor:  Marc Minkowski
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Paris National Opera ChorusParis National Opera Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
Length: 2 Hours 32 Mins. 

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GOUNOD Mireille Marc Minkowski, cond; Inva Mula ( Mireille ); Charles Castronovo ( Vincent ); Franck Ferrari ( Ourrias ); Alain Vernhes ( Ramon Read more class="ARIAL12">); Sylvie Brunet ( Taven ); Nicolas Cavallier ( Maitre Ambroise ); Amel-Brahim Djelloul ( Clémence ); Paris Natl Op O/Ch FRA MUSICA 502 (2 DVDs: 152:00) Live: Paris 9/2009

It’s good to have this Mireille on DVD. I’ve liked the opera since purchasing the turgid Cluytens recording several decades ago, and I’ve enjoyed both earlier and later versions since. French operatic conventions at their most banal organize, hem in, and occasionally push out Mistral’s Provence, but Gounod’s lengthy pastoral scenes possess an uncomplicated, lyrical charm.

So here we have a live performance, and in a setting that is respectful of the work, to the point of reducing scenic elements to their most basic in an effort to get artificial settings out of the way. The raised expansive wheat fields cleverly conceal diagonal pathways, and Taven’s cavern appropriately recalls Provence’s old abandoned stone ruins. Only the act III scene of Ourrias’s death falls flat, the attractively painted river backdrop and the simple, horizontal pathway across the stage in the ferryman’s boat (right at land’s edge) failing in the slightest to conjure up the huge waves that sink both boat and cargo in the midst of their crossing. To be fair, it’s also the weakest scene musically in the opera, and I’m not sure that much could have been done visually that Gounod wouldn’t have immediately undone.

The costumes by Franca Squarciapino are good for period, class, and color variety; the blocking by Nicolas Joel efficient; and Vinicio Cheli’s lighting among the most atmospherically effective I’ve seen in some time. The acting in general is fine, and in Inva Mula’s case, better than that. But it has to be said that she isn’t at her best in act I or the early part of act II, lacking suppleness, displaying some pitch issues, and moving quickly off one high note. Not until “Que j’épouse et que j’aime” does she revel in the sound and technique of her best work. Charles Castronovo sings with great stylistic refinement and plenty of voice—the finest singing in this repertoire I’ve heard since Gedda and Vanzo—while Frank Ferrari gets points for his dark, well-schooled bass, as well as losing some for pedestrian phrasing. Alain Vernhes has the range for Ramon, but his voice is colorless, and he pushes to make up for a loss of resonance on occasion. Nicolas Cavallier is overemphatic. But Sylvie Brunet’s rich mezzo and easy production make her Taven memorable, while Amel-Brahim Djelloul possesses an excellent lyric soprano with great focus and warmth. Marc Minkowski conducts with sensitivity, balance, and energy easily superior to not only Cluytens, but Cambreling and Plasson as well.

The set includes an extended multi-interview piece about the opera, and more specifically what Gounod achieved in it. It’s not deep by any means, but gets a few decent points across. Video format is 16:9; audio is supplied in Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1. Subtitles are available in English, German, French, Spanish, and Italian.

Definitely recommended. It’s doubtful Mireille will be caught live for DVD again anytime soon, and despite a few drawbacks, there’s more than enough here to enjoy.

FANFARE: Barry Brenesal

Format: NTSC 16:9, DTS 5.2
Language: French
Subtitles: English, French, German, Italian, Spanish
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Works on This Recording

Mireille by Charles Gounod
Performer:  Sylvie Brunet (Mezzo Soprano), Nicolas Cavallier (Bass), Franck Ferrari (Baritone),
Inva Mula (Soprano), Anne-Catherine Gillet (Soprano), Charles Castronovo (Tenor),
Sébastien Droy (Tenor), Ugo Rabec (Bass), Amel Brahim-Djelloul (Soprano),
Alain Vernhes (Bass)
Conductor:  Marc Minkowski
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Paris National Opera Chorus,  Paris National Opera Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1864; France 

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