Subject: I have found a CD that I think you would enjoy
|Gabriel Faure, Charles Dutoit, Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo|
Faure's Forgotten Opera
Christopher Forbes | Brooklyn,, NY | 01/24/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Chances are you didn't know that Faure wrote an opera. Chances are that, if you did know this, you've never heard it. Penelope has suffered from neglect since very soon after it was premiered. Though it was in the repertoire of many great sopranos, including Regina Crespin and Jesse Norman, it is still very rarely done. It's a shame, because much of the score is really lovely. Penelope is Faure's retelling of the final tale of the Odyssy, Ulysses' homecoming, but told through the eyes of his long-suffering wife. The libretto is written in high French classic style. In other words, it has resonances of Racine and Corneille, both in the language and in the attitude toward the dramatic characters, who are rendered almost as statues. This Attic reserve makes for some difficulty for modern audiences, who are more interested in reality in their opera. (This change of style also indicates why this opera and other French masterpieces like Berlioz' Les Troyens never get much production.)The other issue with the opera is that it is written by a composer who is primarily a song composer. Traditionally, song composers have not fared well in the opera house. (Schubert's operas were godawful. Wolf's Der Corrigedor is charming but not exactly stageworthy. Britten is probably the only example of someone who was comfortable with both song and stage.) Faure can be guilty of the same problems as other song composers who've written for the stage, inflexible form in the set pieces and poor dramatic writing when the action needs to move along. As a result, the more dramatic elements in this opera don't seem to move all that well. But the set pieces are gorgeous. Particularly anything sung by Penelope. Faure touches heaven in the music for this character. My previous experience with this opera was on an old live LP featuring Regina Crespin. The sound quality was terrible, but the singing was lovely. Crespin cannot be matched in this role, but Jesse Norman does an heroic job trying. She sings Penelope with a commanding presence. As the other reviewer said, Ms. Norman does very well with Queens and Empresses. Part of it is the lovely range of her voice, from silky smooth high pianissimo to an almost velvety low range, and a fortissimo that is heraldic but never forced. Part of it is also that Ms. Norman, while a great singer, is not much of an actress, so roles that require more "human" dimension seem out of her league. (One can't imagine Ms Norman as Mimi, and she'd probably ham up Tosca unbearably.) That being said, she is marvelous here. The recording quality couldn't be better, with the orchestra led by the very fine Charles Dutoit. This is a very fine disc indeed."
Norman's noble Grecian Queen
K. T. D. Lee | London | 03/23/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I know this is one of the very few, if not the only, recording of this unique opera, which makes it even more worth getting. It is understandable why this work has not caught up in opera houses, because like the fate of Gluck's Alceste (also recorded by Norman), people go to the opera to see murders, liaisons, scandals, mad people and miracles; nowadays people don't find the sorrows of a faithful, suffering wife exciting enough. Same with Schumann's song cycle - just too politically-incorrect.But the singing of Ms. Norman makes this worthwhile. Strangely, the opera only comes alive after the appearance of the title character, so it seems not only the listeners are impatient for her entrance, so was Faure. The Overture is very Wagnerite, and so are many parts of the vocal writing. Scenes without Penelope seem bland and lifeless.The highlight of the set is scene 4 (track 5 of disc 1) in Act 1, very extended, very engaging. Ms. Norman's voice is so noble and commanding, ideally suited to this role. She seems to be perfect for Queens and Empresses; just sample her Dido, Cleopatre, Alceste, etc. I have to admit, because her part becomes progressively smaller in the next two acts, I seldom listen to the second disc. But the above mentioned scene is just so good that, like the Spring Duet in 'Die Walkure', it is worth buying a whole set for.The rest of the cast lend solid support; Alain Vanzo is suitably world-weary as the hero, and the mezzo singing the role of the nanny is very dramatic. But the spotlight is no doubt on Penelope."
Faure's Unjustly Neglected Masterpiece
G P Padillo | Portland, ME United States | 12/01/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I finally replaced my long-lost LP set on CD of Faure's magnificent opera,
Penelope and have spent the last two days reacquainting myself with it. I'd
fond memories of it, but like all works one loses touch with, so many
exquisite moments reintroduced themselves to me as if for the first time.
I'm truly embarassed at how much of this lovely work I'd forgotten.
While many have decried its somewhat static nature as possibly not capable
of holding a modern audience's interest, I find this hard to believe. If
memory serves me correctly, the last few productions it received, one in
Berkeley, California and one in England, both times it was received
enthusiastically. With all the wonderful rediscoveries many operas have had
in the past few years, perhaps it's time to re-examine Penelope.
Beginning deceptively Wagnerian in its prelude - lots of beautiful
chromaticism and giving way to shimmery strings Faure uses an orchestral
language highly original unique and never less than beautiful. Faure admits
to using Wagner's style of leitmotifs - but in his own way (more
orchestrally than vocally) "It is Wagner's system, but there is none better"
he wrote. The vocal lines surely sound like Faure. Gloriously so. Faure
weaves music that ranges from neo-ancient modal sounding to music so fresh
and modern sounding it could have easily been composed last night. His
cadences and chord structure feel both exotic and familiar.
The "Love Theme" woven throughout from early on to the end, is unusual in
that it seems to expand and contract as necessary to the situations at hand
as well as the vocal lines. Nowhere is it more thrilling and tear inducing
than at the close of Act I where it begins tentatively at the conclusion of
the vocal line (Ulysse's gently sung "Je vous suis . . . ") and in a matter
of bars builds to a shimmering theme of hope, thirds rising and rising and
then backwards ending as gently as the Agnus Dei of his Requiem. (Insert
wistful sigh here.)
Jessye Norman in the title role is captured at just about zenith hour. The
voice is steady, rich, and flows evenly in all registers and her top never
sounded so secure or pinpoint accurate as here. It is an amazingly touching
portrayal, noble and frail at once. In her private moments (as Act 1 "Je
suis seule . . . ") she exhibits her longing for Ulysse, tender longing and
impatience combined, yet in the presence of the suitors she is all business
showing strength and determination ("Tous, je vous hais!). Faure gives her
music throughout of exquisite beauty and fleshes out a wonderfully, French
heroine. (Norman's Act III outcry "Ah! Malheureux! Malheureux! can
The beloved Alain Vanzo is a stunning Ulysse. Unlike Monteverdi, Faure has
Ulysse at court nearly from the start, but in his old man costume. Those
who believe Vanzo not a great actor need only listen to him in this role -
THIS is vocal acting of consummate skill. Gentle in his public scenes with
Penelope disguised as the old man, when alone there is something he does
with the voice I cannot describe - it's still clean and glorious - but there
is a "heft" factor which doesn't sound like he's beefing up a more slender
voice (as so many lighter tenors have done) - rather it's the manner in
which he deploys the text and his sense of style. It is never less than
stunning. His brief soliloquy arioso in Act I "Epouse cherie! Epouse
cherie!" is 90 seconds or so of some of the most beautiful, heartfelt
Before going off too much here, the rest of the cast, including Jose Van
Dam, Francois Leroux, Jocelyne Taillon, Jean Dupouy, Philippe Hottenlocher
and others, all with the forces of Monte Carlo under Charles Dutoit seem to
be caught up in this rare project and make the drama come alive as though it
were a live performance.
Seemingly unavailable for years (well, I couldn't find it) it's again
available from Erato and at a pretty cheap price!
This is a real treat, folks. For anyone unfamiliar with Penelope, treat
yourselves to a listen.
Exquisite is not compliment enough for this work -
stunning from first note to last.