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Camille Saint-Saëns: Déjanire (World Premiere Recording)
Kate Aldrich (Déjanire), Julien Dran (Hercule), Anaïs Constans (Iole), Jérôme Boutillier (Philoctète), Anna Dowsley (Phénice), Chœur de l’Opéra de Monte-Carlo, Stefano Visconti (choirmaster), Orchestre philharmonique de Monte-Carlo, Kazuki Yamada (conductor)
Recording: Auditorium Rainier III, Monaco (April 12‑16, 2022) – 104’07
Bru Zane BZ 1055 (Distributed by Naxos of America) – Book in French and English

“The artist who does not feel completely satisfied by elegant lines, by harmonious colors, and by a beautiful succession of chords does not understand the art of music.”
Camille Saint-Saëns

While Camille Saint-Saëns maintained a beautiful, classical structure within his music, he was also influenced by Wagner and Schumann. Despite the aforementioned style, the Paris-born composer kept within the boundaries of French musical structure. Form, the unwavering boundary within his music, carried forth throughout his career. When one turns to his final tragédie-lyrique, there’s no exception. In summation, Déjanire beholds maturity and finessed character-development. And while this shell surrounds most of the personages, the music remains rather desiccated. What’s striking in this opera is how Kazuki Yamada’s Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo paves a thinly rich template of tone. Music guides the singers’ temperament with elegance.

The full-blown opera’s (favorably premiered on March 14, 1911 in Monte Carlo, though later moved to the Paris Opéra in December of the same year) origin was originally structured as incidental music, used to mount Louis Gallet’s epic verse-drama. The event was to highlight the recently-opened Béziers Arena of 1898, at the strong behest of co-owner Fernand Castlebon de Beauxhostes. Open-air operas, set amidst a grand coliseum, enacted the same events surrounding the theatre located in Orange: an impressive edifice, imposing choruses, striking orchestral coloration and well-delineated vocal roles. All of these factors were major contributing factors encasing the opera’s magnitude and immensity.

Kate Aldrich, chairing the eponymous role, demonstrates a soprano voice that’s grown into balanced maturity and firm richness, when compared to her earlier timbre revealed during Le Mage. Today’s voice is more akin to her Statira in Olimpie. In similar suit, Anna Dowsley’s Phénice, confidante to Déjanire, prognosticates in a deep-seated contralto timbre, never over-fazed by the surrounding turmoil. Saint-Saëns composes music for Iole (Anaïs Constans) which continuously reaches inside a planet of plaintive benevolence: her ardent softness and demure extractions are penetrating and stunning as found in the close of Act II’s “Prière” (“Pallas, vierge prudente et sage”)…ravishing. Holding the opera’s framework together rests inside the voice of tenor Julien Dran. Here, we experience a voice that elicits ire, jealousy and revenge, yet he never overexerts his boundaries. Furthermore, M. Dran nests into Hercule's notes, never overarching with excessive magnanimity.

M. Yamada’s baton yields balance and well-suited tempos. This allows the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo to play a significant role in moving along the plot with Gallic decorum. Inside Déjanire one will hear interesting percussion, adding degreed evocations. Hard to discern earlier works, Déjanire occasionally remarks upon Samson et Dalila or even Les Barbares.

French art critic and historian best summarizes Déjanire’s élan: “Saint-Saëns’ score is distinguished above all by a noble eurhythmy. It is expounded in perfectly harmonious plastic features, clear and supple, diversely but always aptly affirmed, at once punctuating and forming the work” Though the acoustical richness is attenuated and quasi one-dimensional, this World Premiere Recording is a fascinating journey into Saint-Saëns’ maturity and deftness of French protocols of Romanticism during the turn-of-the-century. Intriguing and refreshing.

Christie Grimstad




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