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Meyerbeer - Les Huguenots / Sutherland, Arroyo, Tourangeau, Vrenios, Ghiuselev, Bacquier, NPO, Bonynge
Giacomo Meyerbeer, Richard Bonynge, Joan Sutherland
Meyerbeer - Les Huguenots / Sutherland, Arroyo, Tourangeau, Vrenios, Ghiuselev, Bacquier, NPO, Bonynge
Genre: Classical


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Unsurpassed Recording of Meyerbeer's Best-Known Opera
Mike Leone | Houston, TX, United States | 11/26/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)

"A hundred years ago, Meyerbeer's operas were among the bread-and-butter staple of the world's most famous opera houses. Nowadays, all of them are rarities. There are various theories as to why these operas have disappeared from the repertoire--the difficulty of the music, the rise of Wagnerism, and so forth. Fortunately, the beautiful arias Meyerbeer wrote for these operas have at least kept the names of the works themselves in the mind of the public, and so the occasional performances that these operas receive are important and well publicized events in the music world.Of the half-dozen or so mature Meyerbeer operas that are still revived (the youthful works are mostly footnotes in the music history books), Les Huguenots is probably the most popular. Its several big arias have received many recordings and some have even made it to the cinema. Jeanette MacDonald's performance of the page's aria in the 1937 film Maytime is a classic, but not everybody knows that Marion Talley had beaten her to the punch by singing this same aria in her single film called Follow Your Heart, made in 1936 (she also performed part of the Act IV duet with tenor Michael Bartlett in the same film).Fans of this opera have mostly had to rely on private recordings, and fortunately there have been some very good ones, such as the 1962 La Scala and the 1971 Vienna performances, both of which however are cut. But Les Huguenots lovers have true reason to rejoice at the reissue of this recording originally released at the beginning of 1970, and which reunites the cast and conductor of the 1968 Covent Garden concert performance of the opera.I think the true star of this recording is conductor Richard Bonynge. Although his conducting can sometimes be less than incisive, I find him to be darn near perfect here, with the scene of the Blessing of the Swords being a particular standout.Among the singers, the most famous is easily Joan Sutherland as Queen Marguerite de Valois. Sutherland and her husband Bonynge were particular champions of the music of Meyerbeer, having recorded several of his arias in their two-LP set of French arias made around the same time as this recording. Fortunately, that French set and this Huguenots were made when Sutherland was at the top of her very considerable form. The only disappointing aspect is that Marguerite's role is not larger than it is. Of the opera's five acts, the Queen is only onstage for Act II and for a brief appearance at the end of Act III (her silent return at the very end of the opera does not matter for our purposes here). But this recording is a must for all Sutherland fans.Martina Arroyo has very good credentials for this kind of music, having, among other things, also appeared in the same composer's L'africaine in Vienna in 1977, of which there is a good-sounding private recording, and recorded Verdi's French grand opera Les vepres siciliennes in its standard Italian translation as I vespri siciliani for RCA Victor earlier in the decade. She is in very good form as Valentine, and the nearly complete recording fortunately reinstates her Act IV aria which is usually omitted in live performances, including the two I mentioned above. The principal contribution of Huguette Tourangeau as the page Urbain is another often-cut piece, the second-act aria "Non, non, non, vous n'avais jamais, je gage." Meyerbeer added this low-lying aria for Covent Garden contralto Marietta Alboni, whose voice was so deep that she sang the baritone role of Carlo at the first Covent Garden performance of Ernani, after the two men the company first invited to sing the role turned it down. Tourangeau's upper range is not that strong, and she and Sutherland sometimes trade lines in their Act II ensembles, but she is still very enjoyable.Perhaps the most controversial casting in this set is that of tenor Anastasios Vrenios as Raoul. Raoul is a pivotal role, being the only one of the seven leads to sing in each of the five acts, and is also a very difficult part for one tenor to encompass. For the first act and most of the second act, the role requires a lyric tenor suited to Donizetti's Don Pasquale; the second-act finale and the rest of the opera require a dramatic tenor of the kind who would be successful in Verdi's Il trovatore. Vrenios is definitely the former, and so he sensitively sings Raoul's first-aria "Plus blanche," and admirably partners Sutherland in the second-act duet "Beaute divine," which is often trimmed so much as to become almost a soprano solo. Vrenios doesn't really have enough voice to cope with the heavier music of the rest of the opera, although his enthusiasm is always in evidence. Both he and Arroyo are somewhat cavalier in their treatment of the French text.Nicola Ghiuselev displays a gruff Slavic bass which is more than appropriate for the crusty old retainer Marcel. In the less showy parts of Saint-Bris and Nevers, Gabriel Bacquier and Dominic Cossa are always adequate.There are some very minor cuts in the opera, mostly in the third act. Interestingly, the legendary Mapleson cylinder of the third-act finale made live from the stage of the Metropolitan Opera at the turn of the last century contains a little extra music that is not in this recording.Each recording of Les Huguenots that I have heard has something to add to my enjoyment and appreciation of the opera. Still, this recording is my first choice. Highly recommended."
At last
Mike Leone | 12/07/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)

"At last, the release of this demostration of Sutherland's immense powers. This is a coloratura role exclusively. And although she is only on stage for perhaps 25 minutes, it is a 25 minutes of the most taxing coloratura moments that any composer had put on paper. The coloratura feats here has to be heard to realize. We are talking 64th notes, so fast that only the most agile of coloratura can hope to attempt. And thus, this is powerful evidence that La Stupenda is the utmost master of the art of the coloratura."
The Best and the Most complete
Mike Leone | 11/27/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Firstly, it must be stated this is NOT a live recording, and Franco Corelli does NOT sing in it. There have been reviews of this Opera that have mistaken it with a live Italian version. This is the Original French version of the opera and is a studio recording. This version of the opera is basically complete. There are repeats that are sometimes cut, and some measures left out. Some dances are not there. However, we have an entire aria that is there (one for Valentine) which is not included in the published score, but is in the manuscript. It is a wonderful addition. The singing in this opera is stupendous all around, even if the tenor is somewhat weak and has a very reedy voice. This tenor (Vrenios) sings the music adequately and includes all the very high notes, which in the live Italian version of this opera Corelli does NOT do (I stress this because if you read the reviews of that recording everyone is going on and on about all his high B's and C's and D's; he sings a few high B flats, one High C, and NO high D flats at all, that is the facts, and all the cadenzas are left out). I have heard this tenor in other recordings, and the voice is very different. He does have very powerful high notes in the traditional manner. That makes me wonder if Bonynge was trying to have the tenor sing in accordance to the time the opera was written. High notes from the chest were seldom heard, and tenors sang them either in a full falsetto or in a mixed falsetto middle voice. To my ear, that is the sound he is trying to achieve. It works, though there is some strain, but it is so different from the sound we are used to I am not that sure it comes across that effectively. Sutherland sings the role of Queen Marguerite, and she does an incredible job with it. This is NOT the most difficult coloratura role in all opera as some would have you believe, but it is a real challenge considering this is the first thing the singer sings when they come on the stage. I have to admit, I bought this recording way back when it was released on LP, and the only reason I bought it was because of Joan Sutherland; everyone else singing I had never heard of at that time. I soon learned that this was not "the star" female role in this opera, no matter how hard that one scene is. The star female role falls to Martina Arroyo. Unlike many interpreters of this role (Valentine), Arroyo sings all the music, and all the high notes, and all the cadenzas (which Simionato does not do, even though her performance is electrifying). The creator of the role was Madame Cornelie Falcon who was noted for having a huge dark soprano that often was not that secure above a high B flat. Meyerbeer wrote lower options for her to sing (Arroyo does not use any of these options). One of the greatest interpreters of this role was Pauline Viardo-Garcia (for whom Meyerbeer would eventually write the very difficult role of Fides). She did use some of the lower alternatives. From the female lead persepective, this role carries the opera, not the role sung by Sutherland (as important as that role is). I think Arroyo does a super job. Like with Sutherland, I find her recordings often leave out the vital energy of the voice. In performance she is really quite exciting, but in all her recordings she sounds sort of not fully involved, which is simply not the case. Her voice is fairly huge, and it seems we never get a good representation of huge voices; even Sutherland's is not a real reflection of the wonder she really is. All the male leads are exceptional, and Ghiuselev sings the "Piff Paff" song with real vigor. The "male role" of Urbain is well sung by Huguette Tourangeau. I have to admit, she is not my favorite singer most of the time. However, she is wonderful here, and the first act ends on an interpolated high D (which strangely sounds exactly like Sutherland's high D; which of the two actually sang it? Sutherland doesn't appear in this act). Included in this recording is the second act aria for Urbain that was written for the contralto Marietta Alboni. In the score, it appears strange to see an aria written so low while the first act aria is written much higher (including a high C). Well, the reasons for that are simple. The original key of the first act aria is lower; it was originally written in G but would later be published in later additions of the opera in B flat. Thus we have the treat of hearing this wonderful singer sing in a more "soprano" range in the first act, and a good contralto range in the second. In this recording, we also get a small cameo role from a very young Kiri Te Kanawa which is a treat to hear. This is by far the best version of this opera to buy if you are interested in what Meyerbeer wrote, and what he was trying to get across. Tradition eventually removed the very vital 5th act from the opera, and in all old live recordings one will find the opera ends with the great duet between Raul and Valentine. Though love is an element of this opera, the real issue is the fight over religion. Removing this act removes the real issue that everyone is talking about all through out the opera. Fortunately, we have that act once again where it should be. It is expensive, but this is well worth the money for all the wonderful singing you are getting. As an aside, Meyerbeer isn't just singing. He was a master of orchestration, and like any composer who was a master of the orchestra, it is vitally important to hear what he wrote. Fortunately, in this studio recording we can hear what he was offering us in regards to orchestration."