Camille Saint-Saëns: La Princesse jaune, opus 30  – Mélodies persanes, opus 26 
Judith van Wanroij (Léna) , Mathias Vidal (Kornélis) , Anaïs Constans (a voice  / in the graveyard ), Philippe Estèphe (the breeze) , Jérôme Boutillier (empty splendour) , Eléonore Pancrazi (the lonely woman) , Artavazd Sargsyan (sword in hand) , Axelle Fanyo (spinning [an opium dream]) , Orchestre national du Capitole de Toulouse, Leo Hussain (conductor)
Recording: La Halle aux Grains, Toulouse, France (February 11-13, 2021) – 79’58
Bru Zane BZ 1045 (Distributed by Naxos of America) – Book in French and English
Alongside Bizet’s Djamileh and Paladilhe’s Le Passant, Camille Saint-Saëns’ La Princesse jaune completed the triple bill back on June 12, 1872. The evening was a failure. Specific to La Princesse jaune, the Opéra-Comique gave four more performances before it was yanked from the repertoire. Even though the œuvre made a comeback in 1914 (by having Saint-Saëns tinkering the work and assigning new singers), the shy-of-one-hour opéra-comique hasn’t seen much of a comeback until now.
With Japonisme being the craze at the time, the creation of La Princesse jaune was a perfect fit for Saint-Saëns since his wanderlust to distant lands was established early in his career. The music, highly pentatonic in form, is complimented by Saint-Saëns’ unusual use of percussive inventions; this 2021 rendition is fastidiously managed by Leo Hussein who trends towards a slower tempo when compared to Francis Travis. Strengthened by the libretto, written by Louis Gallet, La Princesse jaune is a charming miniature.
Judith van Wanroij and Mathias Vidal sing with sparkly precision. While Chandos’ 1996 live recording featured Maria Costanza Nocentini and Carlo Allemano in the roles of Léna and Kornélis, respectively, their voices come across deeper, richer and more mature. Conversely, Bru Zane’s vocal stars’ overall timbres are brighter, lighter and youthful. Thus, the age of innocence and naïveté surface beautifully. But Mlle van Wanroij can also rule her dialogue and snap with sharp reactions in declamatory fashion. The contrast is finely matched by M. Vidal whose tone has vibrant theatricality: inflections are superb and ravishing, especially when Saint-Saëns’ notes are whittled down to a controlled pianissimo line: Kornélis’ vision (“Vision dont mon âme éprise”) is a sensual though politely restrained soliloquy. It highlights Gallet’s thoughts, and it exemplifies how connected Camille Saint-Saëns was to his author and longtime friend.
As a supplement, Bru Zane is the first to record Mélodies persanes that have been reconfigured into orchestral form with each song being assigned to a different artist and the ability to transpose in order to tailor to a specific voice: the possibilities are endless. Each experience adds colour and verve by allowing the performer’s tessitura to tightly fit inside the musical box...it’s a unique and mystic experience, especially when reading the fluid texts by Armand Renaud, a Parnassian poet. Breaking up the elements of voice, the composition has a preamble (“Prélude”) which sets up the piece with a mildly Persian élan, and an elusive “Interlude”, bridging ténor and soprano passages.
La Princesse jaune may loom in the shadows of Samson et Dalila, but this pocket-sized cabochon demonstrates how Camille Saint-Saëns could hatch such a dreamy mirage with impeccable elegance.
Bru Zane Website