Notes and Editorial Reviews
Olivier Messiaen's multi-movement works are carved out of large, sonorous blocks fashioned from material that radiates more than develops. This is especially true of his sole opera. Each of the eight tableaux depicts a scene from the life of St. Francis, revealing his steady progression toward grace. Messiaen's plain-spoken libretto is more presentational than dramatic, while his music unfolds with monumental patience, evoking the mood of a pageant rather than a drama. Chant-like passages interweave with ear-tickling percussion flights and joyful modal excursions. Jose Van Dam yields nothing to his younger self in the world premiere Seiji Ozawa recording, and, if anything, sings with more insight.
Dawn Upshaw makes a perfect Angel with her warm, translucent sonority and impressive French. As the Leper, Chris Merritt is less dramatically compelling than Ozawa's Kenneth Riegel, but has the prettier voice. Kent Nagano's stunning Hallé Orchestra outplays Ozawa's Paris Opera forces on every conceivable level, and is gorgeously recorded to boot. It is safe to say that this live recording from the 1998 Salzburg Festival will rule as the benchmark St. Francois for years to come. Full texts, translations, and an in-depth interview with the composer are included with this seminal release. [12/11/1999]
--Jed Distler, ClassicsToday.com
This recording was nominated for the 2000 Grammy Award for "Best Opera Recording."
'Saint François d'Assise,' Messiaen's only opera, brings together a lifetime of musical experimentation and a highly personal set of musical languages. As a devout Catholic, Messiaen aptly chose St. Francis' life as a topic to set to his own mystical music. Glacially slow tempos often bring time to a transfigured halt, but alternate with the vivid harmonies and rhythms familiar from Messiaen's orchestral scores. Birdsong is a constant presence--each character is assigned one as a recurring leitmotif--culminating in the score's greatest moment, the "Grand Concert of the Birds," a marvel of controlled chaos.
If any late 20th-century opera aspires to the epic qualities of a Wagnerian "Gesamtkunstwerk," this is it: Messiaen wrote the libretto and made very clear specifications regarding movement, color and lighting, all of which combine with his music in an end result that is both religious ritual and opera. José van Dam, who created the demanding title role in 1983, is a powerful presence in this live recording from the 1998 Salzburg Festival, and Dawn Upshaw--the lone female soloist in this baritone-dominated work--is appropriately radiant as the Angel. Conducted by Kent Nagano, who studied the score with the composer, this can be recommended to fans of Messiaen or to anyone interested in modern opera as a truly definitive recording.
Works on This Recording
Saint François d'Assise by Olivier Messiaen
John Aler (Tenor),
Akos Banlaky (),
Dirk D'Ase (),
Tom Krause (Baritone),
Urban Malmberg (),
Guy Renard (Tenor),
Jeanne Loriod (Ondes Martenot),
Valerie Hartmann-Claverie (Ondes Martenot),
Dominique Kim (Ondes Martenot),
Chris Merritt (Tenor),
Dawn Upshaw (Soprano),
José Van Dam (Bass Baritone)
Arnold Schoenberg Choir
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1983; France
Date of Recording: 08/1998
Venue: Live Salzburg, Austria
Length: 239 Minutes 9 Secs.
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