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Bizet: Les Pêcheurs de Perles
Les pêcheurs de perles dates from 1863 and represents much more than a mere operatic exercise written by a twenty-five-year-old composer. Pêcheurs is, as a matter of fact, the only other Bizet opera, beside Carmen, to have remained in the repertoire. This opera contains memorable passages, which have ensured its long-lasting success and which many great singers (beginning with Caruso) have recorded and performed: for example the aria of Nadir Je crois entendre encore; the beautiful aria of Léïla Comme autrefois, dans la nuit sombre and, above all, the superb duet between Léïla and Nadir Ton cour n’a pas compris le mien.
This Venetian production features an extraordinary Annick Massis as Léïla and the refined staging of Pier Luigi Pizzi.
Bizet: Les Pêcheurs de Perles
Sung in Russian
Nadezda Kazantseva (Leila), Sergei Lemeshev (Nadir), Vladimir Zakharov (Zurga), Trofim Antonenko (Nourabad)
Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra, Chorus Of The Moscow Radio, Onissim Bron
Usually despatched in 4 - 5 working days.
Michel Plasson et l’Opéra français
recorded in 2002
Angela Gheorghiu (Carmen), Roberto Alagna (Don Jose), Inva Mula (Micaëla), Thomas Hampson (Escamillo), Elisabeth Vidal (Frasquita), Isabelle Cals (Mercédès), Nicolas Rivenq (Le Dancaïre), Yann Beuron (Le Remendado), Ludovic Tézier (Moralès), Nicolas Cavallier (Zuniga)
Les Pêcheurs de Perles
recorded in 1989
Barbara Hendricks (Leila), John Aler (Nadir), Gino Quilico (Zurga), Jean-Philippe Courtis (Nourabad)
recorded in 1998
Natalie Dessay (Lakmé), Gregory Kunde (Gerald), José Van Dam (Nilakantha) & Delphine Haiden (Mallika)
recorded in 1983
Richard Leech (Faust), José van Dam (Méphistophélès), Cheryl Studer (Marguerite), Thomas Hampson (Valentin), Martine Mahé (Siébel), Nadine Denize (Marthe), Marc Barrard (Wagner)
recorded in 1979
Mirella Freni (Mireille), Alain Vanzo (Vincent), Jane Rhodes (Taven), José van Dam (Ourrias), Christine Barbaux (Vincenette), Gabriel Bacquier (Maître Ramon), Marc Vento (Ambroise)
Roméo et Juliette
recorded in 1983
Alfredo Kraus (Roméo), Catherine Malfitano (Juliette), Jocelyne Taillon (Gertrude), José van Dam (Frère Laurence), Gabriel Bacquier (Capulet), Charles Burles (Tybalt), Jean-Jacques Doumène (Le Prince), Jean-Marie Frémeau (Gregorio), Gino Quilico (Mercutio), Ann Murray (Stéphano), Kurt Ollmann (Pâris), Roger Trentin (Benvolio)
Roméo et Juliette
recorded in 1994
Roberto Alagna (Roméo), Angela Gheorghiu (Juliette), Claire Larcher (Gertrude), José van Dam (Frère Laurence), Alain Fondary (Capulet), Daniel Galvez-Vallejo (Tybalt), Alain Vernhes (Le Prince), Till Fechner (Gregorio), Simon Keenlyside (Mercutio), Marie-Ange Todorovitch (Stéphano), Didier Henry (Pâris), Guy Flechter (Benvolio)
recorded in 1988
José van Dam (Guercoeur), Hildegard Behrens (Truth), Nadine Denize (Giselle), Gary Lakes (Heurtal), Anne Salvan (Goodness), Michéle Lagrange (Beauty), Nathalie Stutzmann (Suffering), Hélène Joesoud (Shade of a Woman), Isabelle Manent (Shade of a Girl), Jean-Luc Viala (Shade of a Poet)
recorded in 1992
José van Dam (Don Quichotte), Alain Fondary (Sancho Panza), Teresa Berganza (Dulcinée), Isabelle Vernet (Pedro), Marie-Ange Todorovitch (Garcias), Christian Papis (Rodriguez), Nicolas Rivenq (Juan)
recorded in 1994
Cheryl Studer (Salomé), Nadine Denize (Hérodiade), Ben Heppner (Jean), Thomas Hampson (Hérode), José van Dam (Phanuel), Marcel Vanaud (Vitellius), Jean-Philippe Courtis (Le Grand Prêtre), Martine Olmeda (Une jeune Babylonienne), Jean-Paul Fouchécourt (Une voix)
recorded in 1982
Ileana Cotrubas (Manon), Alfredo Kraus (Le Chevalier des Grieux), Gino Quilico (Lescaut), José van Dam (Le Compte des Grieux), Charles Burles (Guillot de Morfontaine)
La Belle Helène
recorded in 1984
John Aler (Pâris), Charles Burles (Ménélas), Gabriel Bacquier (Agamemnon), Jean-Philippe Lafont (Calchas), Jacques Loreau (Achille), Colette Alliot-Lugaz (Oreste), Roger Trentin (Ajax I), Gérard Desroches (Ajax II), Jessye Norman (Hélène), Nicole Carreras (Bacchis)
Orphée aux Enfers
recorded in 1979
Michel Sénéchal (Orphée), Mady Mesplé(Euridice), Jane Rhodes (L'Opinion Publique), Charles Burles (Pluton-Aristée), Michel Trempont (Jupiter), Bruce Brewer (John Styx), André Mallabrera (Mercure), Jean-Philippe Lafont (Mars), Jane Berbié (Cupidon), Michèle Pena (Diane), Danièle Castaings (Junon), Michèle Command (Vénus)
recorded in 1981
Teresa Berganza (La Périchole), José Carreras (Piquillo), Gabriel Bacquier (Don Andrès), Michel Trempont (Don Miguel de Panatellas), Michel Sénéchal (Don Pedro de Hinoyosa), André Batisse (Tarapote), Hugues Brambilla (Premier Notaire), Henri Amiel (Deuxieme Notaire), Pierrette Delange (Guadalena), Michèle Command (Berginella), Sonia Nigoghossian (Mastrilla), Michèle Command (Frasquinella), Pierrette Delange (Manuelita)
La Vie Parisienne (Paris Life)
recorded in 1975
Régine Crespin (Métella), Christiane Chateau (La Baronne de Gondremarck), Mady Mesplé (Gabrielle), Luis Masson (Le Baron de Gondremarck), Michel Sénéchal (Raoul de Gardefeu), Michel Trempont (Bobinet)
recorded in 1983
Marilyn Horne (Padmâvatî), Nicolai Gedda (Ratan-Sen), Jane Berbié (Nakamti), José van Dam (Alaouddin), Marc Vento (Gora), Laurence Dale (Badal), Charles Burles (Brahmin)
Michel Plasson has long been one of the world’s most fervent champions of French music. Whether in charge of the Orchestre du Capitole de Toulouse or the Dresdner Philharmoniker, or in the course of regular guest engagements, he has been the staunch advocate of a sometimes undervalued heritage. Today, he continues in his extraordinary mission with such orchestras as the China National Symphony, of which he is Principal Conductor.
A tireless artist, if he leaves the concert platform it is for the orchestra pit of an opera house: beyond his activities in the symphonic repertoire, showcased in a previous boxed set from EMI Classics, he is also a noted conductor in the theatre. In recent years, he has led Carmen in Shanghai, Thaïs in Athens, Le Roi d’Ys in Beijing, La Damnation de Faust in Tokyo – and at Paris’s Opéra Bastille, a production of Werther that will long be remembered. Fittingly, his operatic repertoire has been captured on disc.
His 1979 Werther, a set not included in this box, was recorded with the London Philharmonic rather than with his Toulouse orchestra, which appears in all the operas assembled here. Alfredo Kraus sang the title role opposite the warm-hearted Charlotte of Tatiana Troyanos. In the increasingly international word of opera, stars come at a premium, but they need worthy singers around them, and that set introduced some rising French talent such as Christine Barbaux and Jean-Philippe Lafont. Subsequent operatic recordings followed this model. The first of these was Manon from 1982, recorded with the Toulouse forces that henceforward became a fixture. Kraus, here a delicate Des Grieux, succumbed to the precious charms of Ileana Cotrubas, while José Van Dam, in his absolute prime, brought all his nobility to Count Des Grieux, and young singers in the early stages of their careers, like Ghyslaine Raphanel and Colette Alliot-Lugaz, were given valuable exposure.
Surprisingly, until the release of the complete Hérodiade, a set made in 1994, the only studio recordings of the opera were two discs of highlights – one of them, in any case rather undistinguished, was showing its age, while the other’s incompleteness proved all the more tantalising for the splendour of its cast: Régine Crespin, Rita Gorr, Albert Lance and Michel Dens. The arrival of Plasson’s team – Cheryl Studer, Nadine Denize, Ben Heppner, Thomas Hampson and José Van Dam – was thus all the more eagerly awaited. It fulfilled all expectations and the recording put Hérodiade, which for several decades after its premiere had been a fixture in opera houses, back on the agenda.
Maybe the gem among these four Massenet recordings is the Don Quichotte of 1992, with Van Dam in a signature role that he chose for his farewell to his ‘home’ opera house, La Monnaie in Brussels. Alain Fondary, as his faithful Sancho Pança, gives a lesson in Gallic style, while Teresa Berganza, in the Indian summer of her career, is a lovable, vulnerable Dulcinée. The young singers lined up for this recording were Marie-Ange Todorovitch, Christian Papis, Isabelle Vernet and Nicolas Rivenq. By the time the recording was made, the productive relationship between Plasson and the musicians of the Capitole de Toulouse was nearly 25 years old. The orchestra, renowned in France and around the world, had developed a richness of sound that did not preclude clarity, while Plasson had established a style – eloquent and precise in expression, never overstated, with naturally balanced tempi. More than just ‘typically French’, it favours simplicity over effect or overblown sonority and illuminates Massenet’s inspired orchestral writing.
With a precedent established and the route opened, it was a matter of fulfilling ambitions through hard work and perseverance. Further success awaited, like Mireille in 1979, with the charming Mirella Freni, sweet and full of tone, the authoritative Jane Rhodes, the elegant Alain Vanzo and the powerful presences of Gabriel Bacquier and Van Dam, all in a landmark interpretation of a work that has been shamefully neglected on disc. And then there is Faust in a recording that reflects the composer’s original wishes (and also includes an appendix with the numbers that were discarded or replaced, for instance Méphistophélès’ ‘Song of the Beetle’, superseded by the famous ‘Song of the Golden Calf’, and certain short episodes cut for reasons of dramatic flow). It is gratifying when a recording respects musicological considerations – and features a cast of the quality of Cheryl Studer, Richard Leech, Thomas Hampson and, once again, José Van Dam.
Plasson led two recordings Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette, the first in 1982 with Alfredo Kraus and Catherine Malfitano, and the second thirteen years later in 1995 with Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghiu; Alagna, establishing himself as the world’s most popular French tenor gave a vibrant interpretation of the most famous lover in Shakespeare. He again showed his mettle in the 2002 recording of Carmen, with Gheorghiu incandescent in the title role. The distinguished Bizet scholar Hervé Lacombe explains that this version – opéra rather than opéra-comique – uses the recitatives prepared by d’Ernest Guiraud in place of dialogue, but includes the Act 1 scene and pantomime with Moralès that Guiraud had removed, presumably for the sake of the drama. The recording also offers something of a discovery: an initial draft of the ‘Habanera’, later replaced by the aria we know and love.
Another return to original sources came with the recording of the 1863 version of Bizet’s Les Pêcheurs de perles, made in 1989 with Barbara Hendricks, at her loveliest as Leila: in this version, Zurga is not stabbed to death after he has helped the lovers escape, the Leila/Zurga duet, also in the final act, takes a different shape and the celebrated tenor/baritone duet between Nadir and Zurga from Act 1 concludes with a simple verse ’Amitié sainte’, discarded when the opera was revived in 1893. If the work has achieved popularity over the years, it was not a great success at its premiere.
Lakmé, recorded in 1997, again offers Van Dam, this time as Nilakantha, and, in the title role, Natalie Dessay, proving a more than worthy successor to Lily Pons, Mado Robin and Mady Mesplé. If Lakmé represents something of a one-off, so even more do Albéric Magnard’s epic Guercœur, recorded in 1986, and Albert Roussel’s Padmâvatî, from 1983. It took some bravery on Plasson’s part to present such little-known works to the musical public, even if he could count on the presence of such names as Hildegard Behrens, Marilyn Horne, Nicolai Gedda and Van Dam. By choosing to do so, he showed himself to be a true proponent of French music – one of the few people to have assumed this role.
When it comes to Offenbach and opéra-bouffe, Plasson and his musicians from Toulouse can be relied upon never to descend into easy and distorting vulgarity, and more than a touch of glamour is assured by the presence in La Belle Hélène (recorded in 1984) of the sensuous Jessye Norman and in La Périchole (1981) of two Spaniards in Mexico: the inimitably elegant Teresa Berganza and – the very epitome of the latin lover – José Carreras. Complementing them are Bacquier, providing a brilliant comic turn, and a supporting cast featuring Michel Sénéchal and Michel Trempont. La Vie parisienne (1976) and Orphée aux Enfers (1978) bring almost entirely French line-ups, with luxury casting in the form of Régine Crespin as Métella and Mady Mesplé as the glove-maker Gabrielle. Orphée, presented in its second version, dating from 1874, is a four-act ‘fairytale opera’ brought to rollicking life by a cast including Jane Rhodes, Mady Mesplé, Michel Sénéchal, Jane Berbié, and Charles Burles, all impeccably versed in authentic French wit: humour, fantasy and dynamism, but with a sense of class, decorum and restraint. Plasson and his colleagues bring distinction to Offenbach, adding the necessary sparkle to his lightness of touch – and further lustre to the reputation of French opera.
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