G. Stewart | Chesapeake, VA USA | 04/04/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Debussy is by far my favorite composer. I have never particularly cared for opera but do have a special place for choral works. I chose this as my first opera that I was determined to appreciate, hoping that my beloved Debussy would help me to turn the corner.
The performance by Orchestre National d'Ile de France led by Jacques Mercier is a wonder, plush & full of life; amazing. The choir, Choeur du Festival de Brighton led by James Morgan, match the orchestra with powerful & spirited performance; mesmerizing & enchanting. I love the music & the choir but still couldn't truly appreciate the solo vocal performances or the narration (but I will continue to try to grow in to opera). Honestly, I prefer the Fragments Symphoniques which Debussy's close friend, composer Andre Caplet (who transcribed much Debussy and purportedly assisted in composing this opera), later arranged, sans voice; I recommend Le Martyre de Saint Sebastien if interested in checking out the four piece orchestral suite.
This opera was met with instant scandal; the Archbishop of Paris threatened excommunication over the work. I doubt Debussy would have cared as he was well-versed in many religions & a hedonist. The subject of the opera, not Debussy's score, is what truly brought about the reaction of the church & critics. Debussy, in typical fashion, waved off the scathing remarks with little more than a cursory remark about the worthlessness of critics & socialites who disparaged him & his work; he once said that critics were a, "countless race with no other function than to shroud poor masterpieces in a fog of considerable words and epithets". The religious reaction was based upon the portrayal of Sebastian as an `effeminate'. The addition of massive bloodshed to the performance did much to many a weak stomach.
Ultimately, however, Debussy composed the music for this opera for the money, commissioned by poet Gabriele d'Annunzio because d'Annunzio loved Debussy's piano works. Debussy churned out the orchestral work in a period of about two months without regard for the poet's plans for the staging & this only serves to display the master's ability to create amazingly original & moving music, regardless of the circumstance.
I will continue to listen to this and I believe that it will continue to grow on me, but I give it 4 stars because my dear Debussy composed amazing music and the orchestra and choir's performances are stunning.