Not everything merits digging up!
Julian Grant | London, Beijing, New York | 03/13/2000
(1 out of 5 stars)
"I have a soft spot for Massenet and enjoy searching out his lesser known operas, but this, the last to be premiered in his lifetime, really sounds as if the bottom of the barrel is being well and truly scraped. In recent years the Festival Massenet have explored some of the late operas with varying success - 'Amadis' (see my review) was memorable, 'Cleopatre' less so even though it had its moments, and this may have prompted the festival at Martina Franca to explore further - this recording is of a live performance there. 'Roma', premiered in 1912, is based on a play that Massenet had seen 35 years earlier - and had been a vehicle for Sarah Bernhardt, who played the role of the blind grandmother Posthumia (this sounds as if it would be better featured in 'A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Forum' - I can just see Zero Mostel in the part) , who stabs her grand-daughter, a sinning vestal virgin to save her from being buried alive - I'm sure this play must have been dated even then, as an opera plot it looks back to Italian versions of Ancient Rome by Donizetti, Pacini and the like c. 1840 - what Massenet is doing with it in 1912 (the year before the 'Rite of Spring' - is a wonder, and a worry! The musical invention is so thin it is almost non-existent - a prescription, rather, in how to cook up an opera and taking the line of least resistance throughout - Massenet sounds terminally exhausted and is unable to rise even to the melodramatic intervention of Posthumia in her Granddaughter's trial. Only in the love music in the third act do things charge up a little - but it's pale stuff (self-quotations mostly) compared to 'Werther' or 'Manon' - or even as yet unrecorded Massenet operas such as 'Ariane' and 'Bacchus'. The recording quality is variable - an underlying vibration comes and goes (traffic outside the theatre?) the orchestral playing is adequate, some of the singing more than that - particularly Iano Tamar's vestal virgin and the cameo of a slave from Gaul sung by Jean Vendassi. But this opera is a lost cause - Massenet's reputation is not well served by such a sorry exhumation."
Scott Jelsey | Houston, TX United States | 11/11/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Have to chime in on this one, partly to offset some of the other reviews. Roma is a very enjoyable opera in the late Massenet style. The singing is generally outstanding and the recording is clear and very vivid. There is some stage and audience noise, but nothing too distracting. Massenet may not be breaking new ground here, but there is some colorful music along the way, and it's never boring. A must for Massenet devotees."
Andrea Moreno | Syracuse, NY United States | 04/11/2002
(2 out of 5 stars)
"The audio balance (or whatever it's called) on this recording is so awful, it kills whatever good is going on. The higher voices are clear and upfront enough, the orchestra - which thankfully is interesting and expressive - is VERY loud, the bass and baritone leads sound like they are singing as loudly as they can from back stage. I think Francesco Ellero d'Artegna (bass) and Nicolas Rivenq (baritone) might have voices too small for the parts anyway, but really it's hard to tell. I might recommend this only if you like Massenet and are not acquainted with mighty soprano Iano Tamar. Her diction is not clear but she is a sensual and fearless singer and I've come to like her very much. A better vehicle for her is I think the Pacini opera "L'ultimo Giorno di Pompei", another live recording from Martina Franca that is lovely in every regard."