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Jules Massenet: Le Mage
Catherine Hunold (Anahita), Kate Aldrich (Varedha), Luca Lombardo (Zarâstra), Jean-François Lapointe (Amrou), Marcel Vanaud (Le Roi d’Iran), Julien Dran (Un Prisonnier touranien/Un Chef iranien), Florian Sempey (Un Chef touranien, Le Héraut), Chœur Lyrique Saint-Etienne Loire, Laurent Touche (Chorus Master), Orchestre Symphonique Saint-Etienne Loire, Laurent Campellone (Conductor)
Recorded live at l’Opéra Théâtre de Saint-Etienne, France (November 9, 11 and 12, 2012) – 138’54
Ediciones Singulares #ES 1013 – Booklet in French and English

One of Jules Massenet’s least known operas with only 31 performances to its credit at the Paris Opera, Le Mage (1891) is sure to stun those with an affinity for this prolific French composer. Part of the festivities surrounding the centenary of the death of Jules Massenet, Palazzetto Bru Zane – Centre de musique romantique française convened late 2012 in Saint-Etienne to stage this seldom heard work in concert format. After release of the marvelous compilation of Thérèse (Read here), Ediciones Singulares continues the same course of excellence of physical presentation that is absolument superbe.

With a libretto by Jean Richepin, Le Mage centers around the mythical Persian character Zarâstra in a plot not unlike that of Aida (1871). Massenet’s music is a richly woven blend of Far Eastern exotica with striking similarities to Lakmé (1883), Samson et Dalila (1877) and sections of Bizet’s Djamileh (1872), but the passages are not nearly as memorable as in the aforementioned. The booklet is likely the most important tool in understanding the immensity of this grand opéra by showing just how many theatrical novelties were incorporated that would give Le Mage ample justification to using the phrase, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

Laurent Campellone brings an erudite reading to the dais that draws out the best in orchestral values and vocal intensities from principals and chorus. As usual, Massenet’s music sweeps in lavish attire. Catherine Hunold has a powerful drive: forceful, even mordent at times that makes her the perfect vengeful Anahita. It is nothing short of remarkable, especially evinced in her show stopper aria, “Ah! Comme ils déchirent mon cœur, ces cris de fête” (ref: “Mon cœur” from Samson.)

The lead protagonist, Luca Lombardo sings with a timbre fitting for such a role even though the voice is a bit wobbly, sliding up and down notes, giving his character thinned impressions of occasional tentativeness. Nonetheless, Lombardo does great justice to his wonderful aria “Ah! Parais” from Act II, Scene II. Act III (“The Holy Mountain”), featuring Zarâstra as the focal point, has some extraordinary “Magnificent Massenet” music.

Jean-François Lapointe’s Amrou is resolute and stalwart. His incendiary diatribe with Hunold in Act II is not unlike that of the High Priest/Dalila discourse from Samson et Dalila and it is superb. The characters’ tensions mount through Massenet’s music. Kate Aldrich as the Turanian queen penetrates the recording with a shrilly magnitude, yet she doesn’t necessarily convince us of a lyrical tenderness that translates into an infatuated, amorous connection with Zarâstra.

Without exception, Le Mage opens Act IV with the compulsory ballet. The 12-plus minute divertissement (a scourge for many opera aficionados) works effectively and helps add flavor and opulence to the score. Campellone manages the 10-movement section in fine fashion.

Le Mage follows in sync with those traditional expectations of French grand opéra. We are extremely grateful to have a recording of such caliber. Similar to the ending of Samson et Dalila, Le Mage finds the temple of Jahi ablaze, ending Act IV. While the music on this CD gives us a good idea of Massenet’s enormity, a complete staging would make Le Mage a truly ultimate spectacle. Excellent on all counts and highly recommended.

Palazzetto Bru Zane Website

Christie Grimstad




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