Notes and Editorial Reviews
Sapho comes from the middle period of Massenet’s long, productive career. Premiered in 1897, it followed Manon by 13 years, Werther by five years, and preceeded Cendrillon by two years. Composed as a vehicle for Calvé, Sapho had limited appeal and remains one of his least performed and recorded operas. The music is very lyrical, expressive, and sentimental, quite reminiscent of Manon and the tender moments in Werther and Thaïs. The problem with the opera is the libretto. Not much happens. It lacks action, and although there is much reflection and affection, there’s tension of the something-might-happen variety. The plot is similar to La traviata (woman with a past attracts younger man from good family; all’s well until her past
is discovered), Thaïs (woman with past reforms), and Carmen (innocent young woman, like Micaela, who is in love with a man from a good family who loves a Wicked Woman). The story is so similar to La traviata it comes across as Violeta-lite. It’s an “I love you—No, I don’t—Yes, I do—No, you don’t, we must part” plot. The excesses of the story, the exaggerated outrages and expectations of innocence are risible, but while listening to it, you have to dwell in another time and another place. Much of it is lachrymose and overly sentimental, and the ending is absurd. He comes in, they profess love, they quarrel, they reconcile, he falls asleep, she writes him a farewell note and leaves. All of this in five minutes. Get real!
Massenet’s ear-pleasing, heart-tugging score keeps this opera on life support. This tale of human interest may benefit from listening to the opera and following the text, as opposed to watching it, although Bill Parker’s translation has some unintentional humor. “By cracky” and “that would be ducky” sound out of place in 19th-century Paris.
A good cast has been assembled. Milla Andrew makes the most of Fanny LeGrand. Andrew brings out the coquette in Fanny early in the opera, the joy of domestic bliss during the opera’s interior, the desperation and regret when her past is revealed, and the resignation at the end. This is the same Milla Andrew who recorded several works for Opera Rara using her entire first name Ludmilla.
Andrew has a good partner in Alexander Oliver. His lyric tenor is ideal for the ardent, innocent Jean. Jenny Hill as Jean’s sweet cousin Iréne and Laura Sarti as his mother Divonne also contribute appealing performances.
The recording is identified as “Live performance, London, September 1973”; however, there are no distracting stage or audience noises. I suspect this CD is made from LP records because some surface noise is faintly audible. It is in stereo and the sound is okay. Opera d’Oro makes this recording available in two price ranges. At the higher price, as part of their “Grand Tier” series, it includes a booklet that has interesting notes and a libretto. The packaging is more attractive, also.
A studio recording of Massenet’s Sapho was made by EMI/Pathé Marconi in 1978 and circulated in the US on the Peters International label. That recording featured Renée Doria as Fanny and Giné Sirera as Jean Gaussin. Both are quite good in the roles, although Doria sounds considerably older than Milla Andrew. It gives the role a very different dimension. The EMI sound is superior to the Opera d’Oro, but the performances are equally good. If the EMI/Pathé Marconi should ever be released on CD, Opera d’Oro will have some serious competition; but at this time, if you like Sapho or you like Massent’s operas and have not encountered Sapho, don’t be afraid to give this Opera d’Oro a listen. Having the libretto makes opting for Opera d’Oro’s higher priced “Grand Tier” edition a worthwhile investment. Incidentally, Massenet’s Sapho and Gonoud’s Sapho, in spite of their shared title, are different stories and have nothing in common.
David L. Kirk, FANFARE
Works on This Recording
Sapho by Jules Massenet
Mila Andrew (Mezzo Soprano),
George MacPherson (Baritone),
Alexander Oliver (Tenor),
Bernard Dickerson (Tenor),
Nelson Taylor (Baritone),
Jenny Hill (Soprano),
Laura Sarti (Soprano)
BBC Symphony Orchestra,
BBC Symphony Chorus
Written: 1897/1909; France
Date of Recording: 09/1973
Venue: Live London, England
Length: 125 Minutes 20 Secs.
Sapho: Act I, "Eh! jeunesse, regardez-nous" (Caoudal, La Borderie, Chorus, Jean)
Sapho: Act I, "Est-ce vraiment un songe....Ah! qu'il est loin mon pays" (Jean, Fanny, Chorus)
Sapho: Act I, "Allez, jolis farceurs" (Fanny, Caoudal, Jean, La Borderie, Chorus)
Sapho: Act II, "O Magali, ma tant amado" (Jean, Césaire, Divonne, Irène)
Sapho: Act II, "Chers parents!" (Jean, Irène, Divonne, Césaire)
Sapho: Act II, "Petit, voice ta lampe" (Divonne, Jean, Césaire, Irène)
Sapho: Act II, "Ils s'en vont, c'est la solitude! (Jean)
Sapho: Act II, "Bonjour, m'ami!" (Fanny, Jean)
Sapho: Act II, "O Magali, ma tant amado" (Fanny, Jean)
Sapho: Act III, "Le beau soleil pour les amours! (Fanny, Jean)
Sapho: Act III, "Par ici! Par ici!" (Caoudal, La Borderie, Chorus, Innkeeper)
Sapho: Act III, "Si nous ne trouvons pas, en nous mettant à table" (Caoudal, Chorus, Innkeeper, La Borderie)
Sapho: Act III, "Tiens, vous voilà!" (Caoudal, Jean, La Borderie, Chorus, Fanny)
Sapho: Act III, "Ah! oui...patir très loin" (Jean, Fanny)
Sapho: Act III, "'Je t'aime, Sapho'" (Jean, Fanny)
Sapho: Act IV, "Eh bien?" (Divonne, Jean)
Sapho: Act IV, "Et mon coeur, pour le tien" (Divonne, Jean, Irène)
Sapho: Act IV, "Si j'avais un jour quelque peine" (Irène)
Sapho: Act IV, "Jean!...Mon père!" (Césaire, Jean, Irène)
Sapho: Act IV, "Ne m'en veux pas d'être venue" (Fanny, Jean)
Sapho: Act IV, "Pendant un au je fus ta femme" (Fanny, Jean, Divonne)
Sapho: Act V, "Demain, je patirai, puisqu'il le faut" (Fanny)
Sapho: Act V, "Fanny!...C'est vous?" (Jean, Fanny)
Sapho: Act V, "Vais-je rester ici?" (Fanny, Jean)
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