Never mind the Symphonie espagnole and Le roi d’Ys, Edouard Lalo is the last of the great unknowns in 19th-century French music. His mature instrumental works combine the wisdom drawn from his professional playing experience with the familiar flair for rhythm and colour. They are likely to transform any opinion you may hold: it isn’t often that the inspiration of Beethoven was so well digested in France. The first two trios don’t really count as mature, and although they contain fine things, especially in the scherzos, their characteristic soul, sweep and dash are often clumsily handled. With No. 3, form and feeling are as one, the first movement’s surges integral to its progress to a hushed end, while the slow movement builds a powerful span from a sustained melody. Between them comes the irresistible piece better known in Lalo’s later arrangement as a Scherzo for orchestra. These performances have the necessary robustness without stinting on delicacy.
This production resuscitates Gounod s original composition, largely forgotten. A triumph for Minkowski, conducting at the Opera national de Paris, it attracted more than 1 million viewers when broadcast on TV! No competition on DVD or Bluray At last, Mireille one of the most original works of the 19th century has found its rightful place at the Palais Garnier. In 1854, a young Provençal poet, Fredéric Mistral, founded a literary association with a few other people, the aim of which was to uphold and illustrate its language and culture. They called this school Félibrige, a word of mysterious origin - a blend of joy, books and freedom. In 1859, he took things one step further and gave Félibrige its battle flag and masterpiece, Miréio, a vast epic love poem. As it happened, Gounod, whose Faust was created that year, read Mireille shortly after publication and was full of enthusiasm and went to Saint-Rémy de Provence to seek out this passionate music. Due to its singularity and density, the work has had a difficult career and was revised and altered several times. In 1939, Guy Ferrant and Henri Busser, disciples of Gounod, restored the original and Mireille was finally restored from the fine midsummer's morning and its dancing to the gripping scene in the desert-like Crau region.
The production and video direction are by British film-maker Ken Russell who puts his own stamp on the production. Russell told an interviewer he felt the plot was "silly" so he turned Marguerite into a young nun, eliminated the Walpurgis Night ballet, had Marguerite use sign-language for Valentin's deaf-mute children, and had Mephistopheles disrespectfully urinating in the stoup in church. However, the overall effect is visually engrossing, the vivid sets and costumes by Karl Toms are effective. And the singing is outstanding. Tenor Francisco Araiza handles the title role with confidence. Ruggero Raimondi, while he may not have the impressive lower register of many devils of the past, is a superb actor. Soprano Gabriela Benackova is in magnificent voice as the innocent Marguerite, and other major roles are impressively sung.
Here from the iconic Verona arena is Charles Gounod’s masterpiece Roméo & Juliette, performed there for the first time since 1977. This new production was entrusted to Italian director Francesco Micheli, making his arena debut, who opted for a personal, highly original version: “An arena within the Arena, like a blood-red Elizabethan theatre. A senescent world that will not let its own children live.”
Rolando Villazón’s Roméo wins Juliette’s heart, with impassioned, refined singing of an emotionally and vocally demanding role. Directed by Bartlett Sher, who telegenically captures the fantastic natural scenery of the famous Felsenreitschule, this first ever production of Gounod ‘s Roméo at the Salzburg Festival benefits from Québecois conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s innate understanding. Only 25 and film star beautiful, soprano Nino Machaidze embodies Juliette with unforced girlish charm, gorgeous tone and emotional heat.
Double Tony Award winning stage director Desmond McAnuff’s production, hailed by the New York Times as “rich with ideas and theatrically daring”, presents Faust as an atomic scientist inhabiting a dark world shot through with Cold War resonances. Alongside Kaufmann, a typically gold-standard Met cast includes the “phenomenal” Rene Pape as Mephistopheles and the “ideally-suited” Marina Poplavskaya as Marguerite. Star conductor Yannick Nezet-Seguin draws an “elegant, darkly textured performance” from the Metropolitan Opera orchestra.
The Romantic Piano Concerto series reaches 62 and makes an interesting (although temporary) departure: these four works are for pedal piano (a piano which includes a separate keyboard for the feet, to be played rather in the manner of an organ). Gounod was inspired by the talent of the young and apparently very attractive Lucie Palicot (born circa 1860) whom he heard performing Alkan’s music for pedal piano in 1882. Gounod is far better known for his operatic and liturgical compositions: these works show a different side to this nineteenth-century luminary….