Notes and Editorial Reviews
Jérémie Rhorer, cond; Nathalie Manfrino (
); Hjördis Thébault (
); Sébastien Guèze (
); Philippe Do (
); Armando Noguera (
); Pierre-Yves Pruvot (
class="ARIAL12">); Alain Buet (
); Le Cercle de l’Harmonie les Éléments
NAÏVE 209 (2 CDs: 109:33
Text and Translation) Live: Venice 10/13, 15-16/2010
The music of scene 1 is unknown yet familiar: where have I heard that before? It’s
in ambience, attitude, and instrumentation. Cherubini’s 1791 “heroic comedy”
was a popular success, achieving over 200 performances in its first year. As a “rescue opera,” it became a model for Beethoven, as did
(1797) and the even more successful
Les deux Journées
(1800). All three were performed in Vienna in 1802, and the latter is startlingly close to
, even in its melodies. Cherubini’s reputation suffered a fate we know all too well from the 20th century: political repression, as Napoleon didn’t like either the man or his music.
It has been more than two decades since the previous recording of
(Sony S2K 47290). Although sung in French, Riccardo Muti’s La Scala forces gave a strong impression of a dramatically potent Italian opera. That recording of a 1991 live performance included a great deal of spoken dialogue, which is pared down to a bare minimum here (Rhorer’s slightly quicker tempos account for little of the 24-minute difference in timing). When dialogue is as witty—and as familiar—as that in
, it is welcome on a recording; in this case it merely follows the action, typically setting the scene or expressing character and motive.
The major difference between the two performances is that Le Cercle de l’Harmonie is a vibrant period ensemble; its string complement of 7/5/4/5/3 is large enough to deliver plenty of punch at the big dramatic moments. As is so often the case, my first reaction is that the gut strings are dull; long before the completion of the overture I am totally taken with the period sonority, which captures “the nervous fire” (Dr. John Hale, in
15:4) of Cherubini’s orchestra. The thrilling battle music of the finale scintillates in this recording.
Both Lodoïskas have a few difficulties with pitch; Muti’s Mariella Devia is more solid, but Rhorer’s Nathalie Manfrino is more dramatically expressive. As Floreski, Muti’s Bernardo Lombardo has a sweeter ring to his tenor, while Rhorer’s Sébastien Guèze is more impassioned. Philippe Do is a virile, dynamic Titzikan (the true hero of the piece, who comes to the rescue of the rescuers, Floreski and his servant Varbel), and Pierre-Yves Pruvot is a convincingly villainous villain. The male chorus plays a comparatively minor role in this opera, so there’s not much choice between the men of La Scala and Les Éléments (18 strong). Several elements lead me to prefer the new recording, primarily a throw-caution-to-the-winds spirit that enlivens the whole. Naïve enjoys warmer acoustic settings (in Venice and in Rome) than Sony’s La Scala. Both recordings are live, but the new set is more successful in separating voices from instruments; it is also virtually free of the stage noises which plagued the Sony recording. It does include smatterings of applause here and there.
Naïve’s package is a CD-sized 148-page hardcover book containing several essays, a two-page synopsis, complete libretto, bios and pictures of performers, chorus, and orchestra—all in French, English, and Italian (Sony’s libretto added German to the mix).
As successful as it was in 1791,
lacks the rollicking wit of
, the dramatic power of
, and the magnificent humanity of both. But that’s only to say that it falls short of being a treasured masterpiece; it is an enjoyable opera as well as an important historical influence, and this recording is the best we have had.
FANFARE: James H. North
Works on This Recording
Lodoďska by Luigi Cherubini
Nathalie Manfrino (Soprano),
Hjördis Thébault (Mezzo Soprano),
Philippe Do (Tenor),
Alain Buet (Bass),
Armando Noguera (Baritone),
Sébastien Gučze (Tenor),
Pierre-Yves Pruvot (Baritone)
Les Elements Chamber Choir,
Le Cercle de l'Harmonie
Written: 1791; France
Length: 8 Minutes 57 Secs.
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