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Thread: Saint-Saëns' ASCANIO soon to be released on CD

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    Senior Member NickFuller's Avatar
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    Default Saint-Saëns' ASCANIO soon to be released on CD

    Saint-Saëns' adaptation of an Alexandre Dumas novel set in the Renaissance will have its first commercial recording next year - and the work, critics say, is a masterpiece.

    The 1890 grand opera was performed in a concert version in Geneva in November, conducted by Guillaume Tourniaire, and will be published by B Records in late September.

    "Love, jealousy, hatred, power are the springs of a drama rich in surprises, which keeps the spectator in suspense," Yvan Beuvard wrote in FORUMOPERA last year.

    "The plot is complex, entangling three couples Ascanio - Colombe d'Estourville, Benvenuto Cellini - Scozzone, the Duchesse d'Etampes and François I. ... No act leaves you indifferent: the meeting of Ascanio and Colombe and the intervention of the beggar in the second scene; Scozzone's song; Colombe's song with the lively ensembles of the second act; the superb third act, powerful, festive, dazzling, with François I and the admirable divertissement; the conspiracy of the fourth, with Cellini's greatness of soul; finally the concise and strong dénouement. The three and a half hours of music never leave an impression of length.

    "The orchestra sounds like a full-fledged actor. The writing and orchestration are a model of French music, always clear, powerful, and refined. Having known only the song and piano version of the original edition, we did not imagine such a richness of colour, articulations, and dynamics. The opulent orchestral writing, almost cinematographic before its time, can bear comparison to Wagner's while using other means. It anticipates, prepares, illuminates, comments, enriches, and prolongs what the sung text tells us. Never any fat or padding; all makes sense. Instrumental soli, each more admirable than the last, lightens the textures. The ample divertissement [of 12 dances] is to be discovered urgently. Its richness of inspiration and orchestration force admiration, each of the pieces seducing: from a pastiche dance of [Claude] Gervaise, to the farandole (one thinks of Campra and Milhaud at the same time), it's a delight."

    The opera was indifferently received at its premiere; Arthur Pougin deemed it second-rate, and George Bernard Shaw called it unoriginal and derivative.

    Others, however, thought it a masterpiece; Charles Gounod and Charles Malherbe wrote long defences of the work.

    See:
    https://www.forumopera.com/breve/asc...-bientot-en-cd
    Last edited by NickFuller; Jul-13-2018 at 06:26.

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    Sounds interesting and I definitely want to hear this . Samson & Delilah is the only Saint-Saens to have gained a lasting place in the operatic repertoire for some reason. I haven't heard any of his other operas but would like to .
    Back in the 90s, there was a revival of his opera Henry V111 at one of the regional French opera companies , and this was released on CD , but I doubt it's easy to find now . The critics generally liked it .

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    Senior Member Anankasmo's Avatar
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    So i like S-S quite much and i would consider him my favourite composer but in all honesty he was never a great composer of operas. Not because his music is bad but because of his quite classical sense of Drama. Therefore i and the consensus find his operas raher boring when reading the plot. S-S was not a dramatist in the first place i think. But the music is quite often really beautiful when seen detached of the actual play and text. Just like in Samson and Delilah. I also read that Asciano is a masterpiece and i am really looking forward to listening to it...... S-S certainly has earned a complete recording of his works whether it be instrumental or operatic. I guess the Palazzo Bru Zane will do the recording as they have done with many other unknown French operas of the late 19th century?
    Last edited by Anankasmo; Jul-16-2018 at 08:22.

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    Quote Originally Posted by superhorn View Post
    Sounds interesting and I definitely want to hear this . Samson & Delilah is the only Saint-Saens to have gained a lasting place in the operatic repertoire for some reason. I haven't heard any of his other operas but would like to .
    Back in the 90s, there was a revival of his opera Henry V111 at one of the regional French opera companies , and this was released on CD , but I doubt it's easy to find now . The critics generally liked it .
    That's the Compiègne Henry VIII. It's my favourite of his operas - magnificent music, fine characterisation, and the founding of the C of E!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Anankasmo View Post
    So i like S-S quite much and i would consider him my favourite composer but in all honesty he was never a great composer of operas. Not because his music is bad but because of his quite classical sense of Drama. Therefore i and the consensus find his operas raher boring when reading the plot. S-S was not a dramatist in the first place i think. But the music is quite often really beautiful when seen detached of the actual play and text. Just like in Samson and Delilah. I also read that Asciano is a masterpiece and i am really looking forward to listening to it...... S-S certainly has earned a complete recording of his works whether it be instrumental or operatic. I guess the Palazzo Bru Zane will do the recording as they have done with many other unknown French operas of the late 19th century?
    I've heard nine (!) of Saint-Saëns' operas, and they leave me rather cold, except for Samson and Henry VIII. His music doesn’t do anything wrong, but it doesn’t do much right either. It’s clear, it’s correct, but it lacks inspiration and passion. (Too classical?) I agree, though, that there are beautiful things in the operas.

    It's rather like Gounod; not a natural dramatic composer, but some wonderful things there. Take, for instance, La reine de Saba - a lousy opera, the sort that gives French grand opéra a bad name, but what an overture!

    Here are my thoughts on the seven rarer operas:

    La princesse jaune
    Very slight plot - the tenor takes opium and fancies himself transported back to Japan - but a delightful overture, and some picturesque Japanese music.


    Le timbre d'argent
    Heard this at the Opéra-Comique last year. (Can't say I "saw" it - atrocious sightlines; from where I sat, I could still only see half the stage.)

    The long overture, a buffo aria in the style of Offenbach, and "Le bonheur est chose légère", the only aria recorded from the opera, were striking; the rest of the first half was boring.

    I stayed for the second half, though; I'd have regretted it if I'd left. Things improved. The score seemed richer, especially the charming duet for the secondary couple, and the trio and Alleluia at the end.

    I don't think it adds up to a coherent opera. The plot is bizarre: the hero is given a magical bell which will make him rich, but every time he strikes it someone dies. He leaves his fiancée for an erotic dancer, tries to repent, but the devil pursues him and he goes mad. He breaks the bell, and wakes up. The action of the opera was all a dream! Korngold's Tote Stadt does something similar, but is psychologically oriented and more convincing. S-S's opera is a phantasmagoria; scenes often seem stuck in without much sense; and the characters are unengaging - there's little emotional connection. If I wanted to be pretentious, I could say that it's both metatheatrical (drawing attention to stage effects as an end in themselves) and a precursor of Existentialist and Absurdist drama.


    Etienne Marcel
    Only recording is badly cut, and in poor sound. Some good crowd scenes.


    Proserpine
    Proserpine is neither Classical nor a classic. She isn’t the queen of Hades but a 16th-century Italian courtesan who falls in love with the wrong man, tries to kill his fiancée, and stabs herself when he rejects her. Parisian audiences didn’t take her to their hearts. She appeared before them for a mere ten performances in 1887, briefly surfaced 12 years later, and then sank without trace until the Palazzetto Bru Zane, dedicated to the rediscovery of French Romantic opera, brought her back.

    Proserpine itself isn’t easy to warm to on first or even second listening, but it’s interesting to hear a French composer grappling with Wagner. The melody lies in the orchestra – the vocal line is largely heightened recit, bar some exquisite ensembles in Act II. Contemporary audiences found the “advanced” composition difficult to grasp, but the orchestration, to a modern ear, sounds more like Gounod than Wagner or his followers, including Saint-Saëns’s rival Massenet, though Massenet might have made a better job of a love triangle involving a courtesan, a religious girl, and an idealistic young man. The story fails to grip, partly because Proserpine and Sabatino, the tenor role, only share scenes in the first and last acts – and he prefers the convent-educated Angiola.


    Phryné
    An Offenbachish opéra-comique set in classical Athens (showing S-S's Hellenistic tastes). Light music, sometimes too light, in the French semi-conversational style.


    Les barbares
    A hard opera to warm up to – Romanised Gauls and German Barbarians a century before Christ, with a Vestale who falls in love, à la Spontini. The libretto is static - like Samson, it's a kind of oratorio - and the score rarely catches fire. Notable for the long prelude, but really no arias or detachable numbers; like Proserpine, it’s largely declamation. (And without the set pieces of Wagner or Strauss.) The first two acts fail to grip, and suddenly S-S finds himself with the third. Fully half the act is ballet/chorus, but there's a good chorus of celebration once the Barbarians have left, and an an excellent (if churchy) hymn of praise to Apollo. Ends powerfully.


    Hélène
    Weak story, and an uninspired score that badly wants to be Wagner. The prelude even quotes from the Magic Fire Music. Like Wagner, both music and libretto are by the same hand, and it’s through composed, seven scenes without any formal numbers – or any tunes, either. There are a couple of interesting phrases, but, like Proserpine, it’s largely heightened recit over an uninteresting accompaniment. The most effective scene is Pallas’s warning to the couple, and there Saint-Saëns has a Wagnerian model for a contralto supernatural messenger of woe.

    The love duet should be epic; the situation and the historical context call for something on the lines of the love duets in Les Huguenots, Les Troyens, or Tristan. Saint-Saëns showed in Samson et Dalila that he could write sensuous music. Here the lovers declare their feelings in a tranquillo adagio. The duet doesn’t convince us; it doesn’t quicken the pulse. Even the Big Tune, entrusted to the orchestra, fails to come off.

    Was this the face that launch’d a thousand ships and burnt the topless towers of Ilium? The face that set ablaze a small box of matches, more like.

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    Senior Member Fritz Kobus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by superhorn View Post
    Sounds interesting and I definitely want to hear this . Samson & Delilah is the only Saint-Saens to have gained a lasting place in the operatic repertoire for some reason. I haven't heard any of his other operas but would like to .
    Back in the 90s, there was a revival of his opera Henry V111 at one of the regional French opera companies , and this was released on CD , but I doubt it's easy to find now . The critics generally liked it .
    The Henry VIII is quite good and, yes, hard to find for a reasonable price. But deals do occasionally pop up.
    "My brothers, there's not a sinner in the world to whom the way of redemption is closed!"
    --Minne in Puccini's La Fanciulla del West.

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