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Bizet: Les Pecheurs De Perles / Fournet, Simoneau, Alarie

Release Date: 11/08/2011 
Label:  Guild   Catalog #: 2382/83   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Georges Bizet
Performer:  Pierrette AlarieLéopold SimoneauRené BiancoXavier Depraz
Conductor:  Jean Fournet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Lamoureux Concerts Association OrchestraElisabeth Brasseur Chorus
Number of Discs: 2 
Low Stock: Currently 3 or fewer in stock. Usually ships in 24 hours, unless stock becomes depleted.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

BIZET Les Pêcheurs de perles & Pierrette Alarie ( Léïla ); Léopold Simoneau ( Nadir ); René Bianco ( Zurga ); Xavier Depraz ( Nourabad ); Jean Fournet, cond; Elisabeth Brasseur Ch; Lamoureux O GUILD 2382/83, mono (2 CDs: 138:45)
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& PIERRETTE ALARIE OPERA RECITAL Pierrette Alarie (s); Pierre Dervaux, cond; Lamoureux O


This is, of course, a famous mono recording of Bizet’s second-most-famous opera, though outside of France it has only been an audience favorite since 1950. It was reissued by Philips in 1993, a version still available on Amazon, as is a 2003 reissue by Opera d’Oro. None of the three versions contains a libretto. Both the Philips and Opera d’Oro releases have been criticized for their rather thin, shallow sound and tinny high range. Guild has corrected this, removed a remarkable amount of surface noise, and added a 10-inch LP recital by soprano Pierrette Alarie. The result is a handsome reissue (despite the fact that Alarie’s last name is misspelled on the front cover) of a recording that many still consider the finest-ever of this opera despite cuts in the score.

As for the cuts: Bizet was only 25 when he wrote this opera; the score was quite uneven and needed heavy revision (carried out after his death) before it could be restaged and become an audience favorite in 1886. I’ve never cared much for the whole score, just as I’ve never cared for the whole score of Rossini’s Guillaume Tell, so for me what is presented here sounds just right. All of the best music is retained, and much of the deadwood is omitted. The second complaint (not often raised, but occasionally) is that in the first act, conductor Fournet downplays the drama in lieu of greater lyricism. I feel that many of the other recordings are overwrought in act I, so for me this performance sounds just fine.

For those who remember Léopold Simoneau’s voice as meltingly sweet and honeyed, but haven’t actually heard it in a decade or two, relistening to him is a revelation. Yes, the voice was very pretty, but it is not meltingly so, as for instance were the voices of Edmond Clément, Joseph Rogatschewsky, Heddle Nash, and Beniamino Gigli. Despite the small size of his voice, Simoneau had a certain amount of metal or squillo in the tone, as did tenor Alain Vanzo. This serves to his advantage, particularly in act II where he opens up the tone to sing more dramatically. Alarie was one of the more interesting coloratura sopranos of her time, a woman who began her career as a dramatic stage actress before turning to opera. She cannot compete in matters of sheer voice (in the famed aria “Comme autrefois”) with either Luisa Tetrazzini or Amelita Galli-Curci, yet in some respects she is finer than either, being more scrupulously musical and interpretively interesting. Baritone René Bianco often comes under criticism for his vocalization of Zurga, but I have no problems with him. It’s a typical French baritone sound of the era, with a quick vibrato; crisp, flawless diction; and a slightly dry timbre. I find his voice far more likeable than that of Ernest Blanc, who was used constantly by EMI and almost universally praised by critics. Xavier Depraz takes the small and often ungrateful role of Nourabad and makes something quite interesting and dramatically valid of it. In short, the performance is refreshingly well paced, musical, grateful to the ear, and quite satisfying as a French love story set to music.

Thus the question arises, is the Guild version worth the extra money? I say yes, for three reasons. First, Guild is selling the set on its website for only about $2.50 more that the other versions. Second, this set has better sound. And third, it includes the Alarie recital, which is not available elsewhere. It’s a surprisingly good recital, including the lyrical arias from Carmen, Lakmé, and Mirielle that show off her interpretive skills rather than just coloratura fireworks. If you already have the Philips or Opera d’Oro version and like it, you may choose not to switch. If you have one of those versions and dislike the thin, pallid sound quality, opt for this one.

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

Les pęcheurs de perles by Georges Bizet
Performer:  Pierrette Alarie (Soprano), Léopold Simoneau (Tenor), René Bianco (Baritone),
Xavier Depraz (Bass)
Conductor:  Jean Fournet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Lamoureux Concerts Association Orchestra,  Elisabeth Brasseur Chorus
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1863; France 
Date of Recording: 10/1953 
Language: French 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 Better still June 3, 2012 By roger horn (Clarion, PA) See All My Reviews "I read a review saying the sound on this was an improvement on the old Philips issue, which I've had for a long time. It is one of my favorite recordings of any opera whatever and I am happy to say that the sound is indeed rather better here and it is worth the purchase price." Report Abuse
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