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Gaspare Spontini: La Vestale
Marina Rebeka (Julia), Stanislas de Barbeyrac (Licinius), Tassis Christoyannis (Cinna), Aude Extrémo (The Chief Vestal), Nicolas Courjal (The Supreme Pontiff), David Witczak (A consul, Chief of Haruspex), Flemish Radio Choir, Thomas Tacquet (choirmaster), Les Talens Lyriques (Christophe Rousset (conductor)
Recording: Riffx Studios de La Seine Musicale, Boulogne-Billancourt, France (June 17‑20, 2022) – 132’03
Bru Zane BZ1051 (Distributed by Naxos of America) – Book in French and English

Born in the papal state of Maiolati on November 14, 1774, Gaspare Spontini studied music at one of the prestigious Naples conservatories. With successes of comedy in Italy under his belt, this led him to Paris in 1803 where he began tapping into the classical style of Gluck’s tragédie lyrique with help of the Empress Joséphine de Beauharnais. La Vestale premiered in 1807, and it held an impressive track record of over 200 performances by 1830, in contrast to his future work, Olimpie (1815) that left a checkered response amongst Parisians.

La Vestale is a powerful gem: Spontini’s music flows quickly, and it’s filled with episodic potency. Long lasting are the vocally rich sequences of choruses, airs, duets that are held in marriage by frameworks of recitativo accompagnato (and occasional recitativo secco). This Bru Zane recording anticipates the live performance of June 22, 2022 in Paris. Spontini’s score also hints at occasional Bellini, Donizetti, (and even Mozart) notations, yet the majestic footprints of Berlioz can be ascertained. Indeed, one of the admirers of the work (unaltered) was Hector Berlioz.

Marina Rebeka transports Julia’s music with ample steam and elegance: Spontini’s notes comfortably perch upon her tessitura, and it closely brackets the timbre of a falcon. One of the most beautiful projections occurs during Act II’s “Toi que j’implore”. While frequently maintaining grand crests and refraining from abrasive harshness, the voice nicely contrasts to Aude Extrémo’s deeply poignant and unflinching tones as the Chief Vestal: her carriage is authoritative and commanding. Frequently paired, Licinius’ (Stanislas de Barbeyrac) and Cinna’s (Tassis Christoyannis) voices (low tenor and high baritone, respectively) project with radiance, yet they blur, at times, in distinction.

Holding prolific command is Les Talens Lyriques. Particularly convincing is during the closing of Act II when Julia is slowly escorted to her (presumed) death. Here, we discern Verdi shadings, but stronger alignments to Meyerbeer. David Witzak’s dual roles as The Chief Haruspex and the consul, provide well‑illuminated animation that also contain lustrously crystalline channels. A favorite and frequent contributor to Bru Zane releases, Nicolas Courjal’s The Supreme Pontiff is firmly grounded, at times, gravelly testy and irritable; the Licinius/Pontiff duet (ref: “C’est à toi de trembler”) in Act III anticipates Robert le Diable of 1831.

“Immaculate” can describe Christophe Rousset’s reading of La Vestale. The pacing pushes the plot and music in forward fashion that doesn’t falter. There’s an incessant feeling in the reading that gives La Vestale a forwarding “push” of events‑to‑come with tempos anxiously thoughtful, articulate yet illustrative.

Those who have affinity for œuvres pushing closer to French grand-opéra of the early 19th century will find Spontini’s masterful and most well‑known work, La Vestale, a beautifully rendered, energetic kick.

Christie Grimstad




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