Notes and Editorial Reviews
Felicity Lott (
); Jerome Pruett (
); Rita Gorr (
); Ernest Blanc (
); Christian Jean (
Pape des Fous
); Gérard Serkoyan (
); Sylvain Cambreling, cond; College of St. Pierre Ch &
Children’s Ch; Monnaie SO & Ch
ERATO 2564 67900 (3 CDs: 157:28) Live: Brussels 1/1983
Once a highly popular opera,
has fallen out of favor in the past half-century, and with that omission from the active repertoire many artists have lost touch with its performance tradition. The best recording is generally held to be the 1956 version with Berthe Monmart, Solange Michel, André Laroze, and Louis Musy (astonishingly, still available on Philips 442082), but the dry, tubby sound does not lend itself well to an opera in which both the richness of orchestration and theatrical atmosphere of each scene need more space around the performers. Thus, this reissue of a reissue—a recording first released back in the days when dual LP-CD issues were common, and rereleased on CD only in 2000—is especially welcome to the opera’s many fans.
Even in the tradition of French operas, the structure and pacing of
is highly unusual. It is not conventionally melodic like the operas of Massenet or Saint-Saëns; in fact it never really divides itself into aria-duet-ensemble-chorus in the traditional way, but rather unfolds like a dramatic play with incidental music. If you think even of the most famous extract, Louise’s aria “Depuis le jour,” you will realize that this is not
Just to give one example among many, the daybreak scene at the beginning of act II unfolds slowly, with highly detailed orchestration, just like a real sunrise, the music only becoming gradually animated as more and more characters enter the stage. In fact, it is possibly because the opera is populated much like a real town or city—there are no fewer than
solo roles, of which onstage, because of who’s out there at the same time, only three can be doubled—that today’s cost-conscious opera houses shy away from it. Why stage an unpopular opera that requires such a huge cast? It is for this reason, in addition to unfair prejudice leveled at it by pro-Wagnerian critics over the past 130 years, that
is also seldom performed any more.
I asked to review this recording, which I hadn’t heard before, because of the presence of three singers I highly admire: Felicity Lott, Rita Gorr, and Ernest Blanc. They do not disappoint, not in the least, and in a role like this Lott’s rapid vibrato (tighter here than in her more recent recordings) sounds quintessentially French, therefore perfect for the role. It was weird for me to hear Gorr and Blanc in modern digital sound; I associate their voices so much with the more confined sonics of classic mono and early stereo releases. Gorr lost some power by 1983, but not her delicious tonal combination of velvet and brass, and her acting is first-rate (as I figured it would be). Blanc is a revelation. His voice always sounded somewhat small and dry on the old LPs, but here it opens up into a resonant, powerful instrument. If it hadn’t been for his characteristic timbre, I wouldn’t have recognized him. Jerome Pruett is a British tenor who sings French very well. His voice is really no match for a Georges Thill or Alain Vanzo, but Thill’s old recording of
is disappointing all round and Vanzo never recorded it. Curiously, his timbre is almost identical to that of Christian Jean, the tenor who sings the Noctambulist/King of the Fools, except that Jean’s voice has a slow wobble and he “lifts” up to his high notes, whereas Pruett has neither defect.
Sylvain Cambreling’s conducting alternates between lively forward momentum and moments where the music seems to float in a rhythmless fashion, which is apropos to a score like this. No orchestral detail is too small for him to bring out, yet he doesn’t bring undue attention to these details. To my ears, the flow of the opera is perfect for its peculiar character.
The 2000 reissue of this recording included a full libretto. This one does not.
FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
Works on This Recording
Louise by Gustave Charpentier
Ernest Blanc (Baritone),
Gerard Serkoyan (Bass),
Rita Gorr (Mezzo Soprano),
Jérôme Pruett (Tenor),
Felicity Lott (Soprano)
Brussels Théâtre de la Monnaie Orchestra,
Brussels Théâtre de la Monnaie Chorus
Written: 1900; France
Date of Recording: 01/1983
Venue: Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie, Brussels
Length: 112 Minutes 40 Secs.
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