Passable, but not good
John Cragg | 10/16/2003
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I came to this recording long after buying the studio recording, which Horne, MacCracken, Scotto, and Jerome Hines, released by Columbia. I thought it would be wonderful to experience this vast opera in live performance. I am sure it would be. This recording is not complete, and it doesn't give a very good representation of the work. The sound quality is simply horrible, I mean horrible. Meyerbeer may not have been Wagner in his orchestrations, but he was very meticulous about what he wanted (often writing the changes in various colors of ink to test them out in performance), and we as listeners are simply robbed of that experience. I much prefer Gedda in the Role of Jean to MacCracken (who is not a favorite singer of mine to begin with), even though he is past his prime. My reasoning is simple: the role of Jean is so awful to sing and has nothing really to it (the result of Meyerbeer having a poor tenor to premiere it, while having the great Pauline Viardot Garcia as Fides) and Gedda actually has enough musicality to make something of it. Of course, Horne is unbeatable, simply stunning in the mother role of Fides. The rest of the case simply fades into oblivion and makes no impression at all. The booklet provided is completely useless, especially for those coming to this opera unprepared. Although sometimes companies make too much of the history of an opera, and all the tiny details of its composition (often provided for operas that are so familiar such informatino is more than a boring repeat), this is an opera that needs such explanations (it used rolerskates, a new invention at the time, in the ballet music to give the impression of skating on a frozen lake; although that fact adds nothing to the music, it is an interesting little bit of information and gives quite the images when listening to the music). I really miss biographies about the artists, which are becoming rarer and rarer these days, which is sad, for we are hearing more and more new singers we know nothing about. In this case, it would have been fun to hear what Horne herself wrote about singing the role of Fides. Perhaps she is so famous now a standard biography is not necessary, but singers commenting on the roles they are singing can be very enlightening. I rated this a three star because it is not worth more than that. For those who love everything live, and are Horne fans, I guess you should buy this to add to your collection and for no other reason. For those who want to know the opera, and hear good singing, buy the Columbia studio recording I mentioned earlier, if you can find it. I am not sure it has been released yet in CD."
Great music, great singing - lousy sound
John Cragg | Delta(greater Vancouver), B.C Canada | 03/13/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Meyerbeer had extensive training and experience in Germany and Italy before moving to Paris to write French Grand Opera. Le Prophete is indeed French Grand Opera, but while Meyerbeer has moved on from his Italian bel canto base, his vocal writing in this opera is infused with the spirit and some of the techniques of the Italian operatic world in which he had cut his operatic teeth, and the French requirement of ballet music finds Meyerbeer in his element - whereas most of the transplanted Italians seem to have produced less than felicitous results for this chore. All in all, a fascinating work, either taken on its own merits, which are great, or for its place in opera history.In this production Marilyn Horne at the peak of her powers produces much outstanding music. Gedda ably abets her, even though by then he was indeed past his prime. (The one hitch with the casting is that the relative ages of the singers sounds quite inappropriate to the story.) The rest of the performers are at least adequate. The real shortcoming - and it is serious - is pretty poor acoustics. This is surprising since using a radio orchestra and the lack of audience noise makes one presume that this set derives from a "live" radio broadcast rather than a stage or concert performance, and by 1970 radio sound was a lot better than what comes through here. It is a pity, for the poor quality seriously distorts the music, greatly degrades the singing, and generally reduces the pleasure to be obtained from this set. The weakness from the producers is made more serious by the laughable inadequate booklet. There is no libretto, the index cues give the first lines of the section without indication of who might be singing it, and the comment is totally uninformative. If there were an alternative, I would go for it, but the only other one listed by Amazon anyway seems to be the same production (the record company is Myto) - though I have no idea whether the higher price of this alternative is justified by better sound. How we could use another production by a good company!"