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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
There should really be a thread for Ernest Reyer, the well known critic who was also the composer of a number of operas which enjoyed considerable fame in French speaking countries until the early twentieth century, when they began to drop out of the repertoire. Most famous among these rarities is the once celebrated grand opera Sigurd, which has some of the most melodic and moving music I've ever heard, but which is unfairly remembered mostly for sharing its source material with the Ring cycle, composed at the same time in a very different musical idiom. There is a decent recording, rather heavily cut, which was conducted by Manuel Rosenthal in the early 1970s, but Jesus Etcheverry's Orphée LP of excerpts, made around 1960 (?), seems to be better known and was probably more widely available on its original format. I came across the following reference to the Etcheverry on an old thread, and thought that a couple of CD reissues might be of interest:

There´s an LP with Reyer´s "Sigurd", excerpts:

LP Reyer:"Sigurd", Opera i 4 Akter: Uddrag (1884)/J.Etcheverry, solister, O/vogue ldm 30136

I´ve owned it, but would have to check whether it is still in my possession.


I have it on a Malibran CD, and it's just been released by CRQ Editions, publishers of the now defunct Classical Recordings Quarterly. The number is CRQ CD159. I haven't heard the CRQ issue, but Malibran's transfers sound good. (They are generally reliable for LP era reissues, though their transfers of earlier material can be hit and miss.) David Cutler has reviewed the CRQ CD for The Record Collector, September 15:

...This version is only of highlights and lasts just over an hour. It starts off with Sigurd's entrance. Gustave Botiaux, who was most popular with L'Opéra Comique, was a splendid lyric tenor but not without some reinforced steeliness when needed. He is easy throughout the range, except perhaps in some of the ruinous low notes. Track 3 contains the aria 'Esprits gardiens' and what is missing perhaps is the grandeur and grace of a more heroic voice that some earlier French ténors could command- notably Agustarello Affre, whose deeper and stronger voice are really effective in this aria. An ageing José Luccioni on a 1957 clip is also remarkable. Botiaux, born around 1926, had a successful career in Brussels and Paris singing also Italian works, including La Fanciulla del West and Cavalleria Rusticana, only later graduating to Pagliacci in his 40s. He retired in 1973. Lyne Cumia and Jacqueline Silvy are the two sopranos, and Silvy is married to Botiaux. Born in 1924, she made her debut in 1949 and in 1960 appeared at the Paris Opéra and Opéra Comique. She seems to have the rounder of the two voices and is rather less acidic. She is also lighter and brighter, having a lovely lyric soprano, something akin to a Pierrette Alarie's, but with more strength. Although the two duet well at the end of their Act 4 duet 'Jeune reine, ma soeur', Cumia sounds more heroic in louder passages, for example at the end of her duet with Sigurd later in the same act. We hear only briefly from well known baritone René Bianco as Gunther. Born in 1908, he had a long career, making his debut in 1934 as a bass before tackling baritone roles. He sang in a broad repertoire from Rameau to Hindemith and Milhaud as well as Verdi. He continued to sing until the 1980s and died only in 2008, just short of his hundredth birthday.

This CRQ CD has an unfortunate error in track 8, which actually starts with a passage by Sigurd 'Un souvenir poignant' (scene 7) and not as listed. However, we should always be grateful to the magazine for continuing to issue these rarities as it has, itself, ceased publication. This is a disaster for all those interested in older recordings and one trusts it is only temporary. This is not to swim against any tides, but it performed the function, like The Record Collector, of keeping us informed and passing on knowledge to new generations.

Sigurd is an extremely rare work and this disc should be of interest to every collector. It sounds well, although if you listen through headphones there is some distortion in louder passages. If you are fond of Berlioz, let alone the Ring, then this is surely for you.


Mr Cutler is quite right about 'Esprits gardiens': Affre still remains the great Sigurd, and his recorded excerpts of that hero's music are among the greatest treasures of French singing. Botiaux, on the other hand, phrases without that very nineteenth century nobility that Reyer's music calls for, and indulges in scooping that would make his fin de siecle predecessor turn in his grave. Nevertheless, Botiaux has a bright, attractive voice and his Sigurd stands comparison with Guy Chauvet's on the Rosenthal recording- and we would be very lucky to hear the equal of either of them today.

I think this tragically brief video clip is the 1957 Luccioni recording Mr Cutler mentions. Yes, the great Corsican tenor is losing his looks somewhat (and for some reason is dressed more like a bank manager than a mythological hero) but the voice is still youthful, heroic, magnificent. How sad that he never recorded the complete opera!


http://www.malibran.com/acatalog/REYER.html
http://crqeditions.co.uk/crqeditions.php
 

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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
Exciting news: a forthcoming three CD set of remastered historical recordings of of operatic excerpts by Reyer and Lalo has been announced:

http://www.marstonrecords.com/html/future.htm

At least one recording of each excerpt recorded between 1902 and 1930- wow! I'm agog to hear anything from La Statue in particular. I hope Marston hurry up with this one!
 

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Sigurd is one of my favourite operas - and I'd rather listen to it than Götterdämmerung! (Heresy!) "Le bruit de chants", "Salut, splendeur du jour" and "Des presents de Gunther" are the most famous songs, but the opera abounds in beautiful and powerful melodies: Uta's "Je savais tout!", the arrival of Sigurd and the swearing of the oaths, the chorus of priests and trio in Act II, "Le bruit des chants", "the Gunther/Brunehild duet, the big ensemble in Act III, the duet in Act IV.

I've heard Salammbô a couple of times (CD of the Marseille production from Opera Passion); there are some beautiful passages - the hymn to the veil, the titanic love duet, Salammbô's Air des Colombes - but I find it hard to get a grip on the opera. It's not a "number" opera, so, while the music is often very fine, it's hard to isolate particular moments; and the action is confused, even with the score.

Le Sélam, his Symphonie orientale, is quite beautiful, and has many imposing passages:
 

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Reading his two books of musical criticism. He thought Meyerbeer the greatest dramatic composer of the age, and championed both Berlioz and Wagner (without being in any way a Wagnerian parti pris) - a man after my own heart! He was also Massenet's best friend and the critic chosen tipo represent the French press at the Cairo premiere of Aida.

His Statue is now in the list of operas I really want to hear. Berlioz and Massenet both admired it, Bizet thought it the most important work produced in France for decades, and another critic, writing decades later, thought it as important as Faust!
 

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Well, there is no Grand Opéra without cuts, and "Sigurd" is no exception.

Most probably you are aware of Mr. David Le Marrec's insights on the cuts suffered by "Sigurd". Details are available at his website:

http://operacritiques.free.fr/css/index.php?Sigurd-d-ernest-reyer
Carnets sur sol? Of course! A great site.

Reyer detested cuts; he refused to attend the abridged Sigurd mounted at the Paris Opera. (And if Wagner is staged uncut, so should French opera be!)
 
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