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Opera - Released March 1, 2011 | Warner Classics International
Distinctions Diapason d'or - 4 étoiles Classica
Béatrice et Bénédict, Berlioz's last completed work, is based on Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, but the libretto, by the composer, dispenses with most of the intrigue of the original and reduces the plot to a single premise: Béatrice et Bénédict mask their affection for each other by squabbling, and then finally come to their senses and get married. Although designated an opera, it is closer in effect to an opéra comique because of its very extensive use of spoken dialogue. The effectiveness of a recording of an opera with this amount of dialogue depends at least in part on the persuasiveness of the spoken drama, and on that count this version is largely successful because it uses professional actors. They make the comedy plausibly fun, so that the listener is fully engaged, not just waiting around impatiently for the music to start up again. A great amount of attention has been given to production values, with impressive sound effects and realistic spatial blocking. The vocal performances are for the most part well taken, but the women outshine the men. Soprano Sylvia McNair in the relatively small role of Héro practically steals the show. Her aria, "Je vais le voir," is the undisputed highlight of the album because of the music -- this is Berlioz at his most melodically eccentric, most deeply felt, and most inspired -- and because of McNair's radiant, soaring performance. A close runner-up is the gorgeous, graceful women's trio, "Je vais d'un coeur aimant être la joie et le bonheur suprême," with McNair, Susan Graham as Béatrice, and Catherine Robbin as Ursule, Héro's lady-in-waiting. The rhapsodic duet with McNair and Robbin, "Nuit paisible et sereine!" also deserves mention, as does Béatrice's aria, "Dieu! que viens-je d'entendre?"; Berlioz's writing for women in this opera is consistently spectacular. In the opera's leading role, Graham sings with warmth and smooth lyricism, but because of the fragmented nature of the opera, it's difficult for her, or almost any other cast member, for that matter, to establish much of a sense of dramatic momentum. An exception is baritone Gabriel Bacquier as Somarone, a comic character invented by Berlioz to lampoon the pomposity of the composer Spontini. Bacquier is in excellent vocal form and he is a natural comedian, and he alone performs the spoken dialogue as well as singing. The remaining singers, Jean-Luc Viala as Bénédict, Vincent le Texier as Don Pedro, and Gilles Cachemaille as Claudio, are adequate at best. John Nelson, leading the Orchestra and Chorus of l'Opéra de Lyon, delivers an exceptionally polished performance and keeps things moving at a vivacious clip. The sound of the 1991 recording is disappointingly one-dimensional (except, paradoxically, for the sections featuring the actors), dull, and sometimes distant.
Opera - Released November 24, 2017 | Warner Classics
Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions 4F de Télérama - Gramophone Record of the Month
We will gladly forgive the occasional "weakness" in sound technology in this recording of Troyens by Berlioz (recorded live in concert in April 2017). In light of the first-rate quality of the music and vocals that appear on the disc (a majority of which are French voices, with Stéphane Degout at their head) this immense work is from the Strasbourg Philharmonic Orchestra and the three choirs which have been brought together – because the work demands immense swelling choirs – which are the choir of the Opéra national du Rhin, the Opéra National de Bade, and the Strasbourg Philharmonic's own choir. This recording rests, of course, on the complete original edition, which gives the listener a chance to hear Les Troyens as the work was performed in 1863, at the Théâtre-Lyrique, in which some intense chopping saw Acts I and II condensed into one part and Acts III to V into another, producing two distinct operas (La Prise de Troie and Les Troyens à Carthage). We also get a taste, naturally, of Berlioz's immensely rich orchestral innovations: with every new work, he would invent some exciting new prototype from scratch, never content to rest on his laurels. The listener should note the presence of six saxhorns, recently invented by Adolphe Sax (of whom Berlioz was an indefatigable champion, even if he didn't often use his instruments in his scores, no doubt because of the poor quality of the early instrumentalists who learned - however well or badly - Sax's instruments); bass clarinet, and an army of percussion pieces including several instruments which must have been rare in those days: crotales, goblet drums, tom-toms, thunder sheets... clearly, this is a milestone in the Berlioz discography. © SM/Qobuz
Opera - Released October 13, 2017 | Warner Classics
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