Notes and Editorial Reviews
There is something hypnotic and marvelous about this opera, composed by a man better-known during his lifetime as a sea-captain than a composer. Polyphème was first performed in 1922 (it was completed in 1914) in Paris and revived a couple of years later; it then disappeared without a trace until (apparently) this recording. It's easy to note the Debussyian and Ravelian influences in both orchestration and mood, however, I cannot imagine actually seeing a performance of this work: it's more of a tone poem with words, taking two hours and 40 minutes to accomplish dramatically what could have been done in a half hour. This is not a criticism, it's an observation; we have the luck to be able to
hear it without going anywhere.
The score is lush and lavish; you feel awash in it. It tells the story of Acis, Galatea, and the Cyclops Polyphemus, but it's about as different from (both of) Handel's settings as possible. The libretto, by Albert Samain, most of the time gives us Polyphemus' viewpoint--he is a tragic monster. At one point, in one of his many very long monologues, he describes seeing himself for the first time and the horror he felt. It's enormously moving. At the opera's end, he blinds himself (off-stage, happily, though we hear him scream) because he has witnessed the love between Acis and Galatea. Earlier he makes Galatea's brother, Lycas (a soprano role), describe the couple's wooing. It's more than reminiscent of Golaud's behavior with Yniold in Pelléas and just as tortured.
The opera takes place in nature, near the sea, and not surprisingly sea-sounds permeate almost everything. The vocal lines are exclamatory and conversational, but there is great lyricism as well. Both sopranos are lovely, with the Lycas of Valérie Debize sounding boyish and concerned for Polyphemus (they seem to be friends) and Sophie Marin-Degor as Galatea expressing impatience as well as love for Acis and nature, all with a pretty yet spicy timbre. Yann Beuron's Acis (he's described by our anti-hero as an "effeminate shepherd") is light-voiced but ardent, a lovely high French tenor. And as the Cyclops, Armand Arapian is totally caught up in his plight and his anger, with his self-hatred absolutely clear. His dark sound is menacing and powerful. The chorus has some beautiful moments and the orchestra plays handsomely. Conductor Bramwell Tovey obviously loves this score. The sound is glorious. This is a new and also oddly familiar listening experience, and I recommend it highly.
--Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com Read less
Works on This Recording
Polyphème by Jean Cras
Armand Arapian (Baritone),
Sophie Marin-Degor (Soprano),
Yann Beuron (Tenor),
Valerie Debize (Soprano),
Remi Corbier (Tenor),
Laure Baert (Soprano)
Ile de France Regional Chorus,
Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Date of Recording: 04/2003
Venue: Conservatory of Music, Luxembourg
Length: 159 Minutes 41 Secs.
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