"The "Pearls" is a most fortunate opera. Bizet would be pleased that this waif-child favorite of his has gotten such excellent recorded attention over the years. It's a beautiful thing: lovingly drawn characters with real dimension, the exotic setting, pages and pages of inspired music to match. Every one of the recorded representations of it has its salutory qualities...and this is another deep-cut jewel to add to the velvet box.Rosenthal, like Paul Paray, was an illuminating and long-lived podium personality. He's quite elderly but very much present here. Sometimes he has to scoot things along to deal with the perfunctory machinations of a performance, something that he wouldn't have had to do if he'd been in the studio. His work is full of its usual felicities: an Italianate care of the singers, total command of florid passages, excellent aesthetics in scene and tone-building, a dramatic, colorful sense of orchestration. He was a maitre to be reckoned with and here he presides over a cast of singers we'll never hear the likes of again.Maybe it's too many canned foods and too much Disney, but France doesn't produce its characteristic voices anymore. There are no more Vanzos or Bacquiers to sing like this, certainly no more Micheaus. It's a dead tradition. Thank the deities we have recordings of things like this or it would be like Monteverdi merely speculating about what the ancient Greeks sounded like.Vanzo and Micheau are deeply affecting, probably getting more measure of their assignments than any of their confrers on record. Bacquier is commanding, gusting and fudging, but doing such an artistic job of it, it's no wonder Rosenthal lets him go. The orchestra is lovingly prepared and idiomatic and the ensemble is so good there's more than a whiff of the opera house, something studio presentations can't replicate.I wouldn't junk my Pretre, Dervaux, Fournet, Leibowitz, they're all cherishable (especially Mattiwilda Dobbs with Leibowitz). All of them do M. Bizet proud. It's an embarassment of riches to have old Rosenthal's boat out on the bay, too."
Pricelessly beatiful singing
Mr JB | Karlskrona Sweden | 04/06/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is wonderful. As the lovers, Vanzo and Micheau make a effortlessly beautiful couple and Baquier as Zurga also blends throughout the opera. Vanzo's tenor must be one of the 20th century's most beautiful voices: it's sweet and smooth, sometimes almost feminine, yet powerful when needed. This recording also captures the nerve of the drama (as far as it's possible with such a poor plot) - just listen to the second half of the famous Nadir/Zurga duet `au fond du temple sainte' (I could add a dozen more examples). And add to this the price. It's hard to get better singing so cheap, definately not possible concerning this complete opera.The only things that stops me from giving this recording 5 stars is the sometimes badly balanced sound from the orchestra (coming from the fact that it's a live recording - although free from annoying sounds from the audience) and a few, but just a few, moments of uninspired conducting from Rosenthal. It's also a shame that the libretto isn't included, but at this price...I think this recording wins over most of it's much more expensive competitors. EMI's coupling of Gedda/Micheau, for example, doesn't stand a chance - Gedda sounds dull & strained compared to Vanzo, and Blanc as Zurga is easily outshone by Baquier. Dont hesitate to buy this just 'cause it's so cheap and from an small label - the bigger label's productions can at their best make a draw with this recording - Noone defeats it. A few french and Verdi arias sung by Vanzo are included as a bonus."
A Genuine Pearl
Jeffrey Lipscomb | Sacramento, CA United States | 05/17/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"What a shame that the exquisite French style of singing and orchestral playing, so magnificently on display here, has become something of a lost art. I have owned six different recordings of this lovely little opera but, in the interest of shelf space (and sanity!), I recently decided to keep just two of them: this wonderful Rosenthal-conducted 1959 live performance, and the 1953 studio recording conducted by Jean Fournet. The old Rene Leibowitz set (now on Preiser) featured fine conducting and the lovely Leila of Mattawilda Dobbs - but the tenor and baritone were not at the same level . The Dervaux was okay, but Gedda sounded too strenuous and Micheau was nowhere near as commanding as she is here with Rosenthal. I was more reluctant to let go of the Cluytens set - fine conducting, an excellent if small-voiced tenor (Legay), and the finest Zurga on records in Michel Dens (although Bacquier here is very nearly as good, if a trifle hammy). I also had the recent Plasson set, which offers the complete original text and modern recorded sound. Sadly, it is all downhill from there: the conducting is a bit wooden and unimaginative, the French orchestra lacks the wonderful billowing horns and fruity woodwinds of earlier French ensembles, and the singing - well, it's just not in the same league.Fournet's set, with the old Orchestre des Concerts Lamoureux, is the best studio effort. The playing is richly old-fashioned, the great Leopold Simoneau is ineffably poetic, and his real-life wife Pierrette Alarie is a lovely small-scale Leila, a bit fragile but utterly charming. The only real weakness is Rene Bianco's rather wooly-voiced Zurga - but he has his heart in the right place, and his voice blends nicely with Simoneau's in the great duet scene. I cannot decide between the more subtly expressive singing of Simoneau (with Fournet) versus the refulgent beauty of Vanzo's higher tenor (with Rosenthal). What an embarrassment of riches to have them both!Rosenthal has long been one of my favorite conductors - his recordings of Ravel, Debussy and Offenbach are non-pareil. The real surprise in this set, for me, is the stunningly gorgeous singing of Janine Micheau - this is one great performance!If you love fine French singing and conducting done with heart and style, you really need to have both Fournet and Rosenthal. After all, aren't two Pearls always better than one?"
Opera of uncompromising beauty
Michael J. Gast | West Chester, PA United States | 09/10/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Alain Vanzo displays one of the sweetest, most beautiful tenor voices of all time in this lyric and moving opera by Bizet. He and Gabriel Baquier steal the show with their magnificent renditions of Nadir and Zurga. What a shame that there is no libretto. Still the music is among the most haunting and captivating you will ever hear. A small jewel, this one....."
French Opera/French Tenor
L. E. Cantrell | Vancouver, BC Canada | 01/21/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Operas and singers have a national sound. For tenors, we here in North America almost always think of the rounded, passionate Italian sound or of the (often) less flexible, more direct sound (bark) of the German school. (My old teacher was certain that the Italian way was the was the ONLY way--not that I ever accomplished much along that line.)To hear a French tenor such as Vanzo or Simoneau, in all his unearthly elegance for the first time is almost shocking. Once accustomed to the sound, however, one wonders how on earth we have allowed all those Italian bellowers to go about mucking up the French repertory. Listen to Vanzo's very French take on some tenor warhorses in the recital portion of the second disk and hear how the great ones like Corelli and Bjoerling (not to mention the Pavarottis and Bocellis) got them wrong."