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Jules Massenet: Thérèse
Nora Gubisch (Thérèse), Charles Castronovo (Armand de Clerval), Etienne Dupuis (André Thorel), François Lis (Morel), Yves Saelens (An Officer), Patrick Bolleire (A Second Officer, A Municipal Officer), Charles Bonnet (A Voice), Chœur de l’Opéra national Montpellier Languedoc-Roussillon, Noëlle Gény (Chorus Master), Orchestre de l’Opéra national Montpellier Languedoc-Roussillon, Alain Altinoglu (Conductor)
Recorded live at the Opéra Berlioz/Le Corum, Montpellier, France (July 21, 2012) – 69’ 46
Ediciones Singulares #ES 1011 – Booklet in French and English

If ever an enterprise existed that was tailored with such focus, it would be the Palazzetto Bru Zane – Centre de musique romantique française whose mission is to uncover music under the French banner between the years of 1790 and 1920. Through academic research and partnerships with various recording companies, Bru Zane has been able to broaden the exposure of period-specific compositions which are, indeed, meticulously chronicled and well constructed, an example of which we have here in Jules Massenet’s Thérèse.

Jules Massenet had a persistent intuitiveness. He never parked in idle nor mired himself into complacency. Massenet always toyed with new musical inventions, and in this specific case, Thérèse, has many effectual “bells and whistles” from a sound perspective (i.e. noisy yelling from crowds, rifle butts being struck on the ground, drum rolls) in this drame musical. Massenet traveled in and out of several operatic categories, but in Thérèse we find pervading naturalist influences similar to those found in La Navarraise (1894) and Sapho (1897). Loosely defined, the ‘naturalism’ content, based on libretto by Jules Claretie, can be thought of as the French alternative to Italian verismo.

The French Revolution provided an attractive episodic backdrop for many composers, specifically Umberto Giordano’s Andrea Chénier immediately comes to mind. A recent personal review of Ottorino Respighi’s riveting Marie Victoire (Read here) has just as many if not more interesting parallels in plot, subject and musical techniques to those found in Thérèse. Copiously detailed and drawn out, Marie Victoire is more than double the length of Massenet’s creation. Slightly running over one hour, Massenet takes us on a musical journey that is economical, compact and forever changing, measure for measure. The listener is immediately drawn into the story through Massenet’s genius thereby disallowing any grain of distraction to pervade.

Alain Altinoglu delves into this music with unabashed freshness and brevity. His wife in real life, Nora Gubisch, makes a persuasive Thérèse, her mezzo voice running through some tricky sections with the greatest of ease. Particularly compelling is her psychological verbal tumult when she reaches the decision to join her husband at the guillotine instead of following her lover, proclaiming with magnetic energy “Vive le Roi!” before the curtain falls.

Several memorable passages exist within Thérèse, but they come and go with the wink of an eye. Charles Castronovo has a buttery lyricism when enveloped as Armand de Clerval, and his notes are so penetrating during the Armand/Thérèse love reminisce in Act I, that it brings an unexpected tear to the eye. Though not focusing on singing about childhood memories as noted in the aforementioned, Etienne Dupuis, however, sings with beautiful melodic lift about the duty as a Girondist in the role of Thérèse’s husband, André. Particularly delightful is the dreamy music he sings with his wife early on in Act I while being accompanied by lovely runs of the harp.

Massenet’s Thérèse is an overlooked gem, one that springs out of the gates with unexpected pacing but dares enough to draw tracings of other compositions. A discerning individual will be able to pick out the subtleties: Puccini weasels its way into love sequences, Werther’s intensity pops up in a moment’s notice, dashes of Manon and Don Quichotte chording surface in a heartbeat while even a flash of La fanciulla del West is bound to strike.

The album presentation is one of the finest ever created, housed in a vinyl cover that looks like a mini novel. Color and text have been carefully selected in order to ensure maximum aesthetics. Translated in French and English, the latter’s grammar is flawless, the graphics/art wonderful, the depth of historical facts bountiful and informative, the sound recording clear and unadulterated. All these attributes add to the sheer attraction of this Thérèse.

Those who relish Jules Massenet but don't necessarily venture beyond Werther, Manon and perhaps a few others will want to look into collecting this limited edition (a limited and numbered edition of 3,000.) Highly recommended.

Palazzetto Bru Zane Website

Christie Grimstad




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